Entertainment

Author Diana Athill has died at the age of 101

She was hailed for her ‘formidable' and ‘truthful' work.

Author Diana Athill, known for her frank accounts of her life, has died at the age of 101, publisher Granta announced.

The writer and hugely respected editor, who died on Wednesday night after a short illness, published eight memoirs.

She wrote about her passions – gardening, fashion, family and her continuing old age – throughout her nineties.

Previously, she wrote frankly about her love life and did not shy away from the subject of sex as an older woman.

As well as the memoirs, she published a novel and a collection of stories and letters.

Her memoir Somewhere Towards The End (2008), a frank look at old age, won the Costa Biography Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Aged 91 at the time of her Costa win, she was the oldest-ever category-winning author in the history of the awards.

Grant said in a statement: “Granta is terribly sad to announce the death of Diana Athill last night following a short illness. She was 101.”

Athill’s work was published around the world.

She wrote about living in a residential home in Alive, Alive Oh!

She “embraced her new home”, Granta said, “despite having to give up the required number of books to fit into her room there”.

As an editor, she worked with the likes of VS Naipaul and Philip Roth.

Athill worked for the BBC throughout the Second World War and helped establish the publishing company Andre Deutsch.

Her memoirs included Instead Of A Letter (1963), After A Funeral (1986), Yesterday Morning (2002), Make Believe (2004), Somewhere Towards The End (2008), Alive, Alive Oh! (2015) and A Florence Diary (2017).

She was the subject of a BBC documentary, Growing Old Disgracefully, in 2010.

She once told Desert Island Discs she was “constantly falling in love, from the age of four, I think!

“With the garden boy, who had very beautiful brown eyes and he was pumping the hand pump under the lavatory window and he didn’t look up and I wanted to meet his eyes so I spat on his head.

“He looked up and our eyes met and I rushed out of the lavatory, scarlet in the face, with excitement,” she said.

Sigrid Rausing, Granta publisher, said:  “Diana’s work…  was somehow exactly like herself – formidable, truthful, often amusing.

“It is tempting to see one as the counterpoint of the other – sexual passion vs editorial discipline.

“I think the combination strengthened her, certainly as a writer, and probably as an editor (and lover) too.

“She had, in any case, the rare ability to grow seemingly stronger, not weaker, with everything life brought her, transcending the prejudices of her day and learning from mistakes.”

She added: “Diana was an institution at Granta. News of – yet another! – new book was always greeted with unanimous glee and joy in acquisitions meetings. We will miss her indomitable spirit.”

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