Saturday, 21 November 2009

An Evening With Susan Hill

On Friday Becca (whom you will know as Oxford Reader) and I took a trip to Abingdon, to hear Susan Hill talk about Howards End is on the Landing. Anybody who has even glanced at book blogs over the past month or so will have heard about this non-fiction book, where Susan Hill goes through her bookshelves and reacquaints herself with books long-loved, never read, forgotten, or which have mysteriously appeared from nowhere. Reviews have been at both ends of the spectrum, and most places in between, but I'm a firm enthusiast - it's still prime candidate for my favourite book of 2009, and I waved my pom-poms for it here.

Susan Hill started off by, as she recognised, preaching to the converted - as regards the book industry. HEiotL makes it clear that Hill has no personal desire for an eReader or similar - and while she doesn't mind other people having them, she (like all of us) is horrified at the suggestion that books will consequently become obsolete. I'm certain that this won't happen, the Death of the Book has been predicted more or less since the book was invented, but I do worry that bookshops will have to close, and all transactions will have to take place online. Most of Susan Hill's audience were not, shall we say, in the first half of their lives - so the responsibility lies with the younger generation! What a great way to persuade myself that I need to buy more books.

At each of the different events where Suan Hill has spoken, she's apparently chosen different bits to read from Howards End is on the Landing. At our event, she read two extracts which demonstrate the book's scope in tone - one about Roald Dahl, one about Iris Murdoch. That she
has known both these people (and shared a doorstep with TS Eliot) is quite something in itself - and she has turned both acquaintances into very different chapters. Her tales of working with Roald Dahl on judging panels were hilarious; her memories of meeting Iris Murdoch before and during her dementia brought a tear to my eye.

Susan Hill - both in this book and on her blog - isn't shy of an opinion, like any good Yorkshirewoman. What I'd forgotten, when I went to see her talk, was that this would come with a Yorkshirewoman's warmth and wit. It was a lovely evening, enhanced by seeing Annabel (aka Gaskella) again, and a completely unexpected bumping-into Margaret (aka Books Please). If you click on those links, it'll take you to their blog posts about the evening, as they've been quicker off the mark than me...


  1. Wonderful! I'd have enjoyed your evening.

  2. As you know I had a ticket for this and was prevented at the last minute from getting there. What a shame. It sounds like a great evening.

  3. Lovely write-up Simon.

    Do you think we should organise an Oxon bookbloggers get-together sometime? Then we might get a chance to have a proper chat!

  4. Wouldn't that be fun, Annabel?

    Harriet - yes, I was going to ask, I hope you were ok?

  5. Yes thanks -- just had an unexpected visitor so couldn't get there.
    I definitely second the blookbloggers get-together -- nice idea.

  6. I'm so glad you enjoyed the evening!

    And although I'm not a proper book blogger, I hope if you do organise an Oxford meet up that I'd be allowed to sneak along...

  7. Thanks for sharing, it's always fascinating to hear authors speak about their books and experiences. Glad you had your copy signed!

  8. Oh I am so jealous I could spit... well maybe not something as uncooth as that but I am green with envy!

  9. I'm hoping this eventually gets published in the US. I'm determined not to do any online ordering at the moment (as I whittle away at that credit card bill), which makes ordering UK books nearly impossible! In any case, I think I'd like to give this one a try--I think I would enjoy the essays even if I might not always agree with her. So, did she say whether she really did not buy any books during the year?

  10. What a great opportunity! Would have loved to have heard her read the Dahl bit.

    I also loved the book, but have been surprised at the wide range of opinions especially those seeing Hill as "anti-blogger." Can't see it myself but do understand how her "slow read" sentiments could rankle some.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  11. NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!...

    [scream of anguish followed by 51 year old man lying on the floor throwing a tantrum]

    Pause to regain breath and re-establish a calm demeanor...

    I saw a hard cover edition of Howards End is on the Landing last weekend, in a charity shop for a ridiculously low price AND I DIDN'T BUY IT!!!

    Unfortuntaley I was almost 400km away from home and won't have the opportunity to go back for at least a couple of months.

  12. I found the perfect way to recover from the despair I displayed in the previous comment.

    I went to Susan Hill's website and ordered a copy of the book direct from her. It will cost more than the one in the charity shop but as compensation I can know that the author will receive something from my purchase and the book will be autographed.

    Overall I think this result is far more satisfying.

  13. Definitely sounds like a good solution, Onesimus! I hope you enjoy it.


I've now moved to, and all my old posts are over there too - do come and say hello :)

I probably won't see your comment here, I'm afraid, but all my archive posts can also be found at