I'm always in awe of the nature of coincidence. Strange serendipity brought me to Douglas Hill's obituary today. I'd returned to Waterstones to de-bear from my blue costume (I was sweating like a... big blue bear in summer) and was cooling down with a copy of Waterstones's The Bookseller when I came across it.
Douglas Hill is best known for his Last Legionary quartet, which I'm sure many of us read in school. Anyhoo, why has this affected me so?
Back in 2004 I'd just joined Litopia and had simultaneously started writing a new piece of fiction - Mephisto - I'd sent it off to Real-Writers and paid the handsome sum of £50 for a professional critique. It was the first one I'd ever gone for beside attempting to bug Terry Pratchett once in 1998 via e-mail for him to read my fantasy novel and tell me how to make it better (he wasn't best pleased).
Douglas Hill was the poor pro who had to wade through my turgid prose - The Douglas Hill (come on, work with me here people). He was blunt, to the point, and absolutely brilliant. Along with the support at Litopia and Douglas's deft chop at the crap I was secreting I don't think I'd be anywhere near to the writer I am at the moment (hopefully still moving up). Reading back through it, it's fairly amusing. Here's the covering letter that came with it:
The appraisal of your novel extract is enclosed.
It isn't very promising, I'm afraid. Douglas Hill felt you have a lot to learn if you are going to pull off a novel like this. It's clear you have great enthusiasm and a vivid imagination, but writing fiction is hard work, and successful novelists have taken the time to learn the skills before embarking on anything too ambitious.
You may find
Douglas's criticism harsh, but at Real Writers we see little point in telling anything less than the truth as we see it. Douglashas many years of experience in publishing; he is a fantasy writer of some renown, and has also worked both in-house and freelance as an editor. So he knows what works, and what publishers look for; his opinion is worth having, even when he doesn't say what you want to hear.
God Rest in Peace, Douglas. Thanks for your help.