Diana Athill has to go – thanks for posting your questions
Diana turns 100 on 21 December – remember to lift your afternoon cup of tea or gin and tonic to toast that milestone then.
'Advice for a woman about to turn 30? Have a very good love affair'
Best advice you would give a woman about to embark upon her 30s?
In the early days of Deutsch, was there a sense in your offices that you were building something special or does that kind of knowledge come only with hindsight?
Do you prefer editing or writing your own material?
I am 36 years old and becoming a passionate gardener. I would like to know if there is anything you wish you had planted in your thirties (I am already looking into tree ferns!)?
In your book Somewhere Towards The End you mention planting a tiny Caribbean palm tree which you doubted you would ever see grow big. I sometimes wonder, how big is it now? I do hope it’s still alive.
'Most challenging writer to work with? Jean Rhys needed to be helped to live rather than to write'
Which writer proved the most challenging/interesting to work with and why?
My Dad is a distant (Bright) relative of yours, as am I obviously. He’s 96 and showing encouraging signs of making it to your age. Many Bright descendants in my family tree have lived extraordinarily long lives, if not carried away by war or diseases like TB. Do you ascribe your long life to ‘good genes’, to lifestyle or to an abiding interest in living - or to some sort of combination of the three? Or just to good luck?!
Lisa Kane says:
I just turned 50 and already feel invisible in some workplaces. How do you manage to maintain your confidence and continued belief in the importance of your voice?
'I inherited from my mother a face that lasts well – she died at the age of 96 without a single wrinkle on her face'
OK someone has to ask. You look fabulous - do you have a picture in the attic, feast on virgins or have you sold your soul?
On a serious side, do you think that your love of your work has helped and do you have any tips? Or are you of the opinion (like the great Sir Nicholas Winton) that it is down to choosing your parents carefully?
'I think I only have about 400 books. I had a terrible time cutting them down'
What has it been like, living in one room? I am sincere in the question. Do you depend on your inner life and mind?
I would be interested in your views of writing that is not necessarily orthodox in its depth or audience, but also in the role an editor would need to take in such cases. I am certain you have encountered such writing.
But I am also interested in where you place yourself in the field of writing. How do you see your own writing and how it has developed?
What one book do you really wish you’d had a hand in publishing?
'Losing your memory has its advantages because sometimes you can pick up a book and not remember you've read it at all'
mcdz has plans for what sounds like a cracking afternoon:
Hello! I don’t really have just one question, so much as a series of questions that would turn into a conversation that would flow from point to point and back and around and up and down, involving lots of tea and cake. So, I’m free for tea and cake if you are? If not, then I suppose the question I would start with would be, are there any writers that particularly excite you right now? Any old favourites you’ve reread with new perspective? Any old favourites that you’ve reread and wish you hadn’t? Thank you, and happy birthday for the 21st!
'Being Jean Rhys's editor was simply like being her nanny'
In an interview, William Boyd said that his editor was now really ‘just someone to contact at his publishers’. I wonder what you think of writers who go on to belittle the importance of good editing? And do you think the importance of an editor wanes as a writer progresses through his/her career?
'One of the great advantages of getting older is that one does grow out of minding what other people think of you'
Do you feel that you have mostly changed as a person during your life - or are there aspects of yourself which remain as true now as they were 70 or 80 years ago?
michael goldberg says:
I’m a great admirer of your writing and find you a positive realistic. How can we follow your lead in these depressing times?
I know you have been count yourself as fortunate to live in an excellent care home. What qualities make it so special - please mention specifically the ones every care home should aspire to.
'Working with women has always seemed to me to be extremely easy and more efficient than working with men'
Big admirer of the exceptional perspective that comes with your age, your gender and your great personal gifts (these regardless of age and gender).
Nevertheless I focus on gender and wonder if working relations between women, also inter-generational, have changed and how? Men seem to be so good at creating alliances that further their careers. Women?
'VS Naipaul was so intelligent and amusing when he was young'
I was wondering if you could explain what it was like to work with VS Naipaul. Was he really as exasperating as is made out?
(A little about Naipaul’s reputation here).
Diana Athill says:
Where do you see the publishing industry heading in the next 20 years?
'I have a very relaxed philosophy - enjoy yourself as much as you can without doing any damage to other people'
You are most generous with the charity you give to others, including me a nobody in the USA who received a kind and flowing response to a benign note I sent to you. I was so impressed I have read everything that I can find with your signature. Thank you first and tell us anything about your philosophy of life.
Diana Athill is with us now
And we’re starting with a big question, from CathyRozel:
You have lived through a century. Do you see humanity surviving another?
Diana Athill webchat – post your questions now!
On 21 December 2017, Diana Athill will be 100 years old. This is an achievement in itself, though Athill has never been one to congratulate herself for simply hanging on in there. A 50-year career in publishing at Andre Deutsch, working closely with an illustrious portfolio of writers including Jean Rhys, Philip Roth, John Updike and Margaret Atwood among many others, would be more than enough to satisfy most people. But after retiring in 1993 at the age of 75, she simply cracked on with her second career as a memoirist, in the process eclipsing many of the writers whose work she used to edit.
Athill’s books detail her extraordinary life in vivid and unflinching detail, from her childhood at Ditchingham Hall, Norfolk, to working for the BBC during the second world war, to her overseas travels and affairs with various fascinating, unstable men – one, Egyptian writer Waguih Ghali, committed suicide at her home; another, the African-American activist Hakim Jamal, was assassinated. Her most recent memoir, 2015’s Alive, Alive Oh!, reflected on losing a baby at the age of 43 – and almost dying herself in the process. Yet having survived to an age that most people never get to experience, she writes powerfully about what really matters from her special vantage point.
Now’s your chance to tap into that century of accrued wisdom, as Athill joins us for a webchat on Monday 11 December at 2pm. Simply post your comments below!