Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Monday, January 05, 2009
Not bad for 91 Diana Athill talks to Kira Cochrane about infidelity, heartache and old age - and the real reason she wants to win the Costa book award
Diana Athill at home in London. Photograph: David Levene/Guardian
Diana Athill's life has been full of unexpected twists. There was the broken relationship that led to a brilliant career in publishing, working with some of the world's most esteemed writers, and being regularly described as "the finest editor in London". At the same time she was engaged in a maze of love affairs that saw her cast more than once as "the other woman". And now, at 91, when most people's lives have slowed down considerably, Athill is enjoying perhaps her most exciting and unexpected new chapter - winning huge critical and commercial success as a writer. Her latest memoir, Somewhere Towards the End, is shortlisted in the biography category for the Costa book awards (formerly the Whitbread); the category winner will be announced tomorrow. She says that she is very pleased about the shortlisting, "but I'm not allowing myself to get excited". In her five decades as an editor, Athill recalls having to "sit with authors of mine who had been shortlisted for prizes at those wretched dinners, saying, 'Now, we mustn't hope, we might easily not win', and then seeing their poor faces when in fact they didn't, and they were bravely pinning on a smile." Much better, she suspects, to let your feelings show. Athill is a stickler for directness.