Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Susan Hill Mystery

I thought that Susan Hill was supposed to be the champion of book bloggers. Her love-in with Scott Pack seems to have come to an end, but she has been consistently outspoken in her support of book blogs over the last few years.

Two years ago she had a famous spat with the critic and academic, John Sutherland, who had written a very dismissive article about book bloggers. Hill responded with a diatribe against literary critics:

'How dare ... these 'literary mandarins' feel they are above us and by implication, above book buyers and readers? The fact is that the tide has turned and the people have power now. One day, their editors will wake up to the fact and give over their space to curling, or dominoes.'

One literary editor felt sufficiently moved by these comments to send Susan Hill this letter:

Dear Susan Hill,

After reading your Blog about Book Review pages, I would like you to know that no book either published or written by you will in future be reviewed on our Literary Pages.

In the light of your expressed views, I am sure you will neither be surprised or distressed.

It was real handbags at dawn stuff, with heated exchanges between the two sides. Journalist Rachel Cooke joined the Sutherland camp, ridiculing popular book blogs like Dove Grey Reader and Kimbofo.

Susan Hill responded by commenting that: 'the idea that those of us who blog about books and reading might somehow be degrading literary taste is a patronizing and ridiculous one. We are writing about books we love. Why on earth should we not do that in a blog, as anywhere else, and improve literary taste, whatever ‘literary taste’ means ?'

I was therefore slightly suprised to read Ms Hill make the following comment, in response to an excellent article by Robert McCrum in Sunday's Observer:

There is no substitute for a good literary editor and good books pages. They are not only about selling books they are part of a civilised culture. They are on the whole by people who have studied their trade/profession, whose opinion is of value because they have a trained mind. Book Blogs are by amateurs, self-appointed, unedited. They occupy miles of cyber space with endless rehashes of plots and valueless personal opinion. They don`t sell books and they are not worth reading for their own sakes.

What has prompted this complete volte-face? Is it an imposter having a little joke? On the other hand, perhaps this is a different Susan Hill. I've checked on Google and there are a lot of them about:

Suspect No.1 is also a writer. This Susan Hill lives in Montana and the author of Closer Than Your Skin: Unwrapping the Mystery of Intimacy with God, which is published by Random House USA.

I've read her author biog and I think she's too full of Christian charity to have written the above quote.

Suspect No.2 is a prominent American golfer and also an author, having co-written a book called Going for Green. The second Susan Hill also spearheads a campaign called Golfers Against Cancer. Although she looks as if she could be a little fierce at times, she doesn't come across as someone who has the killer instinct of an embittered hack.
Suspect No.3 lives in Detroit and was 1st runner-up in the 2003 Miss Congeniality competition and also got to first place in the state final of Miss Hooters Michigan-2005 (I must confess that this contest had passed me by, but it evidently has some kudos).

She does not do nudes. That's saved me a few minutes on Google and and also ruled out the possibility of my wife discovering the search terms susan hill...naked on my home page.

There is no mention of books in her 'resume' so I think that we can safely eliminate her.

I can't find out any information about Suspect No.4, except that she is Canadian. That alone incriminates her in my view, given Canada's status as a great literary nation. It is quite plausible that this is the guilty Susan Hill. And she wears glasses.

Our final suspect is an Irish acupuncturist who also practices 'moxibustion' (answers on a postcard please) and something that sounds deeply unpleasant: 'bleeding therapy'. I can't see this Susan Hill bothering to post a comment on Robert McCrum's article either. When you can stick needles in real people, who needs cyberspace?

So in conclusion, I'm none the wiser. I think that we can safely rule out the real Susan Hill, but I would love to know who thinks that book blogs 'aren't worth reading' and, more to the point, why they used someone else's name. It's a mystery.


Art said...

great post. good luck in your search!

John Self said...

Susan Hill has always been a great joker. In her own blog, which she kept up fastidiously for years but which has now disappeared, she used to occasionally throw in a googly to make us think she had gone mad. Like the post she made on 6 June 2007 when the Crime Writers' Awards shortlists were released and didn't feature Chris Ewan's A Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam, a book published by her company, Long Barn Books:

"I am not just disappointed, I am hopping mad. This might have made a huge difference to him as the prizes I won in my early writing years really did to me. I haven`t heard of any of the shortlisted books but I am sure they are all very good. That is not the point. I just feel they have made a big mistake in omitting THE GOOD THIEF`S GUIDE. [You might want to read those last few sentences again just to make sure you got them right - JS]

"Call it what you like - frustration, sour grapes, petulance. All right. But I think his book more than deserved to be there and so do a lot of other people. It is also interesting that every single one of the CWA shortlisted books in every single category comes from one of the major publishers.. not a single title from the small independents. [Not so: three on the shortlists were from Quercus, Canongate and Allison & Busby - JS]"

Or her more recent habit of turning her blog into a platform for climate change denial, supported by well known climatologists such as diet book author Nigel Lawson, and board game supremo Christopher Monkton. Her arguments against the orthodoxy on climate change, when posted by commenters to her blog, included, "I'm afraid you're just wrong."

We know she was only joking, really. Hope you're well, Susan, wherever you are.

kimbofo said...

Susan Hill has always confused me. Not that long ago she came out and said book bloggers didn't have the authority to post negative reviews. Excuse me?

Richard de pesando MA(RCA) said...

hmm... if you think this is fun, you should try lurking on a few movie forums, they generally descend into virtual violence at the drop of a hat.

....Susan Hill number 1...."Closer Than Your Skin: Unwrapping the Mystery of Intimacy with God"...sounds quite sordid, and Susan Hill number 2 probably wrote 'Going for Pink" as well as 'Green'

Sara said...

Hmm, intriguing. Perhaps. Or, par for the course? I used to read Susan Hill's blog, but then I became really irritated by it, and stopped. I had no idea that she no longer wrote it, I wonder why. She certainly had a large readership.

Anyway, how rude!

JRSM said...

Wonderfull stuff. As to the climate change denial, I love that Nigel Lawson's arguments basically boil down to, "Well, the weather's lovely at my country estate, so obviously there's no problem!"

Steerforth said...

Going for Pink? Now there's a game show in the making...

I didn't know about her climate change views. How very odd.

Art - nice to see a name name and I liked the blog too.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

An excellent post indeed - it would seem it is her own credibility she is undermining. And if she's dashing off an opinion simply for a joke, she should definitely put 'humour'or 'joke' in the tagline so that her readers know.
Writing's a very serious business.

Zeppo said...

Susan Hill also made a lot of jokes about Sarah Palin in her last entry on September 5 ('She is a Christian and not a soppy wet liberal humanist...she doesn't turn on the tears and talk about glass ceilings'). It was so striking that I printed it out. The comments were beginning to come in when I went to bed, and I suspect the whole of the USA was congratulating her overnight. But next morning, the whole blog was gone! Hence I suppose the lack of a need to defend book bloggers?


Suzan Abrams said...

Susan Hill has her new blog here. In case this doesn't show, it's on her revamped website but doesn't allow for comments.

Steerforth said...

Thank you. Mystery solved.