I have heard editors say that the stories they publish are the ones that they revisit over and over in their minds after reading – the stories that the brain refuses to put down. If this compulsive lure is indeed the hallmark of great writing, then Tobias Hill’s The Hidden is at the head of its class. The novel is compelling, tantalizing, and occasionally frustrating in its complexity. Patterns, layers and parallels tease at the mind, eluding verbalization. At first, an interview with Hill seemed the perfect opportunity to unravel some of the ideas that had half-formed during my book review of The Hidden. However, the patterns still danced just out of reach of the mind refusing to solidify into concrete questions.
Poet and novelist Tobias Hill has won the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award for his short story collection Skin (1997) and has twice been short-listed for the Mail on Sundays/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. In addition to The Hidden , his novels include: The Love of Stones, Underground, and The Cryptographer. His collections of poetry include Year of the Dog, Midnight in the City of Clocks, Zoo, and Nocturne in Chrome and Sunset Yellow. Hill is the Royal Society of Literature Fellow at Sussex University.
Q: In the Q&A sheet that was attached to the press release for The Hidden, you state that in the research phase, you often "find new discoveries taking the narrative in unexpected directions." Were there any specific such discoveries and deviations from the plan in the writing of The Hidden?
A: Yes and no. There were large deviations, but the new paths I ended up following didn't open up through research. The main change came about because the politics of our times changed, and the meaning of Sparta changed along with them. Ten years ago I meant to write a book about Sparta and secrets...but I'm a slow writer. The world overtook me. The novel I ended up writing still deals in secrets, as planned, but it's also about the nature of fear, the uses of fear, and the beliefs (or lack thereof) of those who use fear as a tool. I didn't intend to write a book about contemporary terror, I intended to write one about excavation, concealment and classical Sparta - but after 9/11, terror and Sparta became inseparable in my mind.