Born in rural Staffordshire and raised during the Depression, Archie Hill is something of an enigma. Virtually no information about him exists in public records or on the internet. What little we do know can be gleaned from his disarmingly honest, autobiographical novels: brutal Black Country upbringing, violence, alcoholism, prison, mental hospitals, living rough on London streets and finally redemption through a love of literature. All his books, the majority of which were published by Hutchinson (now part of Random House), are long out of print.
When his first book, A Cage of Shadows, was published in 1973, it was instantly hailed as a classic. BBC Radio 3 commissioned a spoken word serialisation later the same year. His many admirers included the British film director Joseph Losey. Bouyed up by this success and with the backing of a major publisher, novels continued to appear throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, all to widespread critical acclaim. While he continued to work successfully as a freelance writer and broadcaster, Mr Hill was actively involved in various community projects, helping rehabilitate those who had dropped out of society, just as he had done. But after 1984's An Empty Glass ("The story of an alcoholic"), the books suddenly stopped coming. Perhaps because of an inability to maintain this work rate, a lifelong battle with alcoholism, or for other reasons we shall never know, Mr Hillcommitted suicide in 1989.
A Cage of Shadows was first published in 1973 to enthusastic reviews and announced the arrival of a major new writer. Set mainly in the Black Country during the 1930s, it tells of Mr Hill's brutal upbringing, frequent beatings, an alcoholic father, run-ins with the law. On leaving home, he encountered further degradation in prisons, mental hospitals and on skid row. But a chance meeting whilst incarcerated during the 1950s changed his life completely. Mr Hill became friendly with Klaus 'Doc' Fuchs, atomic spy for Russia, who instilled in him a passion for literature and encouraged him to write. Libel action in 1975 meant copies of A Cage of Shadows were pulped, with an edited version being published two years later. This new Tangerine edition reinstates the original text and is now available for the first time in over 40 years. A genuine, lost classic comparable to John Healy's The Grass Arena in both its content and the troubled history of its publication.