UofS Grad Dominates British Literacy Circle

By Verne Clemence

For a local-boy-makes-good story, look no further than University of Saskatchewan alumnus, now acclaimed British writer Douglas Hill. But don't look for his record in the country of his birth. Hill's light remains firmly under a bushel back home.

The Brandon-born Hill, who was raised in Prince Albert and graduated from the U of S with an Honors BA in 1957, moved to London, England, in 1959. There, he has carved out a literary career that includes authorship of some 50 books, substantial contributions to poetry anthologies, the editor's post at the prestigious science fiction magazine New World, literary editor and columnist for the London Tribune, and a contributor of note to scores of literary journals and periodicals in the U.K. and North America.

Though the 60-year-old Hill has made a name for himself as a science fiction writer and advisor and a prominent and respected member of the British Science Fiction Association, he is also known as a prolific contributor of non-fiction in the early part of his career.

Before switching to fiction in 1978, he produced about 20 books on history, science and folklore, while at the same time working as an editor of several anthologies under the pseudonym Martin Hillman, among them Window on the Future (1966), The Shape of Sex to Come (1978), Out of Time (1984), and Hidden Turnings (1988).

But Hill has become best known among readers in Britain and around the world for his fantasy and science fiction books for children. Many have environmental themes, in keeping with one of the author's lifelong interests, and one widely read title, Young Green Consumer Guide (1990), earned him a Friends of the Earth `Earthworm' Award.

A survey conducted recently by the Guardian newspaper in Britain revealed that Hill was the most popular children's author in the country by a wide margin. His books are in constant demand at the Saskatoon library, though his former wife, Delisle-born Gail Robinson, says she was astounded on a recent visit to find that few if any readers or library staff actually knew he was originally from Saskatchewan.

His former wife, Gail Robinson, herself a University of Saskatchewan alumna and an author with two books to her credit, Coyote the Trickster (1975), and Raven the Trickster (1991), as well as a large body of work for literary magazines, drama and radio in Britain and Canada, Robinson is surprised by the lack of recognition Hill has had in Canada while he has become so widely known abroad.

Hill and Robinson were married in 1958 and divorced in 1978. Robinson says they are still close friends and occasional collaborators. Hill wrote an introduction for her 1991 book and the two are in touch regularly, though Robinson splits her time between Britain and Canada, having established a second home in Calgary.

She says Hill is not comfortable promoting his own work and has not toured widely in Canada, though he does frequent readings in schools in Britain. Hill's latest work is a sci-fi series for adult readers, "The Apotheosis Trilogy." The first two, The Lightless Dome, and The Leafless Forest are in the stores (McLelland and Stewart, $7.99 in paperback), and the third is expected out soon.

"But it is a shame someone with such talent and so many accomplishments is not more widely recognized at home," she observes.