I first met Diana Athill in 1984 when the publishing firm she had co-founded with André Deutsch forty years previously was in gloomy straits. The glory days of the Fifties and Sixties when ‘André Deutsch’ had been synonymous with the best kind of literary fiction seemed more and more distant, as the firm struggled to operate in a market that was increasingly dominated by the economic bottom line. A recent half-hearted attempt to broaden the appeal of the list had resulted in some pretty workaday non-fiction titles appearing alongside the glittering likes of V S Naipaul, Jean Rhys and Molly Keane.
Ironically, it was one of these books – a competent but uninspiring ‘how to’ title – that had brought me to André Deutsch on that day in 1984. In my incarnation as a magazine features editor I was trailing around after the author of the book, doing the kind of