Who is Michael Hill? I often wonder. My mother said I was a Martian. I think she was joking.
I was born in small village on the top of the south Pennines called Norland. It’s above an ex-textile township called Sowerby Bridge which is near Halifax, West Yorkshire. This was in 1941 so I’m no spring chicken. But I do remember the second world war. The red horror of Sheffield being bombed… I was staying with a grandma who lived nearby, and VE celebrations… an effigy of Hitler being burnt on a bonfire at the local pub and a huge flypast… which could have been VJ day. And other things which might find literary outlet someday.
I was educated at local schools; my education was wasted as I spent most of my time reading under my desk. I have been an avid reader in phases all my life. Currently I read historical novels, thrillers and such on my Kindle, and military history in paperback (for the maps and notes). The good thing about my secondary school was that it led me into reading many of the literary classics, most of which I’d read by the time I was 17 or 18. Far too young really, and I keep saying I must revisit them, or most.
My first job was at a small local engineering firm making water pumps for cars. I shudder to think how much I might be responsible for the demise of the British car industry. Then I was told I ought to better myself and got a job at an insurance office.
Backtrack. My father served in the Far East in WW2 and I had my mother all to myself. When he returned there was mutual resentment from which we never recovered. I feel deeply ashamed now and regret it very much. I wish I could say ‘sorry Dad’ and give him the kiss and the hug I never did. Too late. He deserved more. The point of this is my parents took a pub when I was about six (more possible stories). It was rough and unprofitable but they worked like Trojans (!!), turned things round, and made a huge success of it. But their concentration and being was all about that (naturally) and I was neglected. Now (again too late) I fully understand but my childhood was sad and lonely (I thought) and my solace was books and living in my imagination. From that grew my intent to be a writer. There were childhood and adolescence scribblings and by the time I left school it seemed to me the best way to achieve the start of this was to become a journalist. Ah ah. In those days, you (mostly) hadn’t a hope unless you were public school and/or knew ‘somebody.’ I wrote to every newspaper I could find in Britain asking for a job. Amazingly I did get a response, the only one, which was from the editor of the Dewsbury reporter. He took me on (without any experience or training whatsoever) as a reporter at £5 a week. How incredibly lucky was that? He was what could be called a ‘character.’ His boast was that he always sacked everyone he took on (Just before they became proficient enough to ask for a rise). Everyone lived in constant fear waiting for the axe to fall… which it invariably did. If you joined a union it was instant dismissal. I joined the NUJ but it didn’t do me any good. Eventually the moment arrived. ‘Mr Hill you’re fired’ in his languorous drawl. My heart stopped. The dreaded moment had arrived. What was I going to do? I had a wife and two babies to support. And then, to my utter astonishment, after an eternal pause, he said, ‘However, there is a job at the Batley News you can have.’ A definite demotion for me, but a job was a job, and for him, he fulfilled his custom and practice. I don’t know why it happened that way. As far as I know I was the only one given that grace. Everyone else was out on their ear.
I started work as a reporter when I was 20, the Monday after the Saturday I married Kathleen who was carrying Michael. Later came Richard and when I was 23 I moved to work on the Blackpool Gazette. I started doing theatre reviews (which up to then I knew nothing about), became besotted and entranced. When I was 25 I left my family, and went to London where I was going to instantly make my fortune as an eminent playwright. I didn’t.
More backtrack. Television was just rising to prominence and I wrote a TV play when I was 20. Round about when President Kennedy was shot – I remember that vividly but I don’t think there was a connection. I sent it off and wasn’t too surprised when an agent wrote back asking me to go see him (in London, naturally). All went well, fame and fortune beckoning (if only I knew) until he said someone would need to make a few improvements. No-one touched Michael Hill’s work! It was the first of the too many blunders of my literary life. Needless to say London was no picnic (more stories to tell) but I managed to survive and eventually then enjoyed working in the theatres as a stagehand. In between I wrote plays. In which no-one had the slightest interest, and then a couple of novels, ditto. When I was 40 the choice was starving in a garret (theatre was becoming formalised and young techies’ jobs) holding true to my faith, or another radical change of direction. I went back home, my tail between my legs, the bells didn’t ring for me even though Dick too was a Yorkshire lad. I intended getting a lowly job, 9-5 no sweat, with time and intellectual energy to do my writing. There weren’t any. Once again by a fluke of place and time I got a job as a probation officer. No time, no energy left to write, and I didn’t like it, but my guilt was strong and I accepted my salad days were over. Can’t stand the stuff anyway. I became respectable (?), a wage slave focussing on my pension, married Mary and Sarah came into my life.
When I retired I was emotionally and intellectually exhausted. It wasn’t until I was over 70 that I was able to whip myself in front of a keyboard and start typing. As they say: the rest is history.