The wonderful Diana Athill has died on 23rd January of this year, calmly and quietly, the way she did most things, at the age of 101.
Fifty years of her working life were spent at the publisher Andre Deutsch, where she edited some famous, and famously difficult, authors including V. S. Naipaul (of him she said: Whenever I needed to cheer myself up and count my blessings, I used to tell myself, At least I’m not married to Vidia.) She also worked with Jean Rhys and Norman Mailer, neither of whom were easy to deal with.
In 1958, when she was 41 she began writing short stories and was encouraged and amazed to win the Observer Short Story Competition, for the great sum of 500 pounds.
Here she is speaking of the best moment of her life (winning that prize) and the worst, the break up with the love of her life.
She wrote a memoir of her failed love affair in 1963 and went on to write five more successful volumes of memoirs, including her prize winning Somewhere Towards the End when she was 91.
In spite of her plummy voice and upper-middle-class origins, Diana Athill remained an open-minded and unsnobbish person with a great talent for friendship. She had an eight-year relationship with the Jamaican playwright Barry Reckford. In June 2010 she was the subject of a BBC documentary Growing Old Disgracefully.
She lived as she wished. Katherine Whitehorn said about her, She displayed almost no regrets, despite having lived a life which most women of her class and era might have thought regrettable in the extreme.
Musing on her life, before her hundredth birthday, she said she practised ...a relaxed philosophy, which is to enjoy yourself as much as you can without doing any damage to other people.
It also helps to accept what life serves up and deal with it without complaining – and talent and hard work don’t go astray.