By Abbie Maguire
The Ninth Book
“This is now my eighth blog for YourThurrock and still, every time I look at the plain white light of my computer screen glaring back my reflection, my fingers poised to expose what I think on my chosen subject, I feel the need to out do myself from a prior blog I usually have penned a little over two weeks previously. Whether it’s my perfectionism transpiring, I’m never quite sure, but bombarding myself with constructive criticism has become almost a rite of passage in my writing. I do it with poetry, articles, prose – everything. It’s become almost irresistible not to do; I have an implacable desire to be the best writer I can possibly be. Like most other writers whose work I have read with eyes of inspiration, I have no interest in how long it takes me, so long as I get there one day and have a readership to prove it.
I distinctly remember one English lesson at William Edwards when my teacher, Mrs Stevens, told us there is a theory that there are only eight original novels ever penned; that the remainder are partly copied, have been emulated, or are almost sheer replicas. The greatest reason for this, other than a mere lack of original thought, is inspiration. I’ve read great books and stopped at the end of a paragraph thinking “I wish I could write like this” or “I wish I’d thought of that.” Of course, the word ‘inspiration’ is quite possibly the most abused word in the English language, aside from the irritating exploitation of the word ‘irony’, and is used without thought or consideration. Envy is another. The only author I can say is truly inspiring is Susan Hill – a woman most certainly famous for the wrong novel.
“It was 9:30 on Christmas Eve” cracks open a book of unmistakable linguistic potency and palpability, beholding all the traits of a chilling English countryside ghost story. It’s riddled with gripping mysteries that are more akin to needles of tension piercing through your skin as you continue to read the unrelentingly frightening prose. The quaint novella is like being in an imagination-mustered maze, chased by the persona’s irrational fear that keeps your fingers grasped on until the final page. There is only one book that I could possibly be talking about is the ‘Woman In Black’, recently sparking much attention following production on its film adaption starring Daniel Radcliffe.
I was introduced to this rattling yarn at the tender age of thirteen by my former English teacher Mr Hogg, who used his favourite novella for many anecdotes following our class project on distinguishing characteristics on a classic ghost story. Whilst this spectral masterpiece is without a doubt one of my favourite winter night reads, I am yet to be unconvinced that Susan Hill is famous for the wrong book, despite the ‘Woman in Black’ only in slight inferior candidacy. Written in 1992 – ten years after penning the ‘Woman in Black’ – ‘The Mist in the Mirror’ is written in a flawlessly gothic style, allowing the reader to be absorbed into Hill’s haunting Dickens-style atmosphere and cling to the edge of the unearthly yet addictive suspense.
Perhaps the most uncanny thing of all is the ghost story’s protagonist. The persona shatters all basic human instinct, when, even as events unfurl like those from a phantasmal nightmare, it seems to only intensify his deluded obsession with explorer Conrad Vane, hidden in a veil of mystery people are unwilling to explain. I envy what she had done.
However, upon picking up one of her latest books, ‘A Kind Man’, I felt almost a sense of betrayal: this is not Susan Hill, or at least the Susan Hill I knew. This novel that I was holding was plain, simple and more importantly, it could have been written by anyone. One of my favourite things about the way Susan Hill writes is that she captures what no one else can capture; most of her books are special and could only have been written by her. I was so reluctant to admit, but I believe Susan Hill has lost the spark only she could light – she can’t write the way she used to. Unfortunate, but a reality of the occupation. I no longer think she’s trying to be the best writer she can be, but just what she thinks people want to read. It’s almost worthy of pulp fiction, which denatures any element of her once refined yet ominous style.
Susan Hill is not alone in regards of being famous for the wrong book. Virginia Woolf joins her with ‘Mrs Dollaway’ and her lesser known work ‘The Lady in the Looking Glass.’ Whilst only mere pages long, the latter work showcases Woolf’s ability to create a beauty among her words that harmonise with the effortless construction of her fragile characters. ‘Mrs Dollaway’ relies in unyielding pretension and a plot undermined by the sentences filled with description that tends to drag. ‘The Lady in the Looking Glass’ is pure elegance and class, much like the woman herself. ‘Mrs Dollaway’ was by far not her best work, but is ironically the one she is most famous for.
As a writer, I can only ask for one thing: to be the author of that ninth book. I may never get there, it could very well be impossible, especially because nobody knows what those eight books are. But none the less, as long as I keep trying, there’s always a chance that whatever I’ve written, nobody else in the world has thought to pen.