Inside Story: Stars of the ultimate book group
Literary editors comprise one of Fleet Street's most exclusive tribes. As they gather for the high point of their year at the Booker Prize tomorrow, Joy Lo Dico reads between the lines
Monday 09 October 2006
Many a Telegraph-reading mother dreams of young Sam as their son-in-law. The fresh-faced grandson of Fleet Street grandee John Junor is accused of looking like Hugh Grant. Only 32, he took over the books pages last year and as a former diarist has brought them a touch of social class. He counts Lynn Barber, Nicholas Shakespeare and Lionel Shriver among his scribes. Literary associates include Alexander Masters, Andrew O'Hagan and Nicholas Blincoe. Yet to pen a literary masterpiece, he has managed a good stocking-filler, Daddy, is Timmy in Heaven Now?, a book about pets.
Not a bad word is said about the blond, bespectaled and boyish Prodger. Originally an underling of his predecessor Mirian Gross, he has cleared out some of her regulars such as Paul Johnson in favour of the likes of Tibor Fischer, James Naughtie and Noel Malcolm. Though a fan of Edward St Aubyn, he thinks Hisham Matar will take the Booker this year. Judged the Samuel Johnson non-fiction prize this year. Aged 45, he is a cricket fan, a friend of player-turned-author Ed Smith, and an astute art critic. He studied at the Courtauld and stands in when Andrew Graham-Dixon is away.
Fiercely intellectual New Yorker who has overseen the Times books pages since 1996. Still only 39, she is more likely to be found with an epée poised in a fencing alley than with a cocktail down the at the Groucho Club. Her regular reviewers include Jeanette Winterson, David Baddiel and Peter Ackroyd. She has written a commentary on Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters and has just finished a novel, Seizure, which is due out in April. She says she concurs with Hermione Lee that the only person guaranteed not to win this year's Booker is Sarah Waters because that would be too populist.
After seven years at the helm, 47-year-old Gascoigne is turning herself into a grande dame of literature, having been signed up to be publishing director of Hutchinson at the end of the year. One of the more gregrarious literary editors, she proved her hostess credentials when the ST sponsored the Hay Festival, and the paper's Christmas party is one of the highlights of the literary social calendar. Simon Jenkins, Max Hastings, Miranda Seymour, Lynne Truss, and John Carey can be found on her pages. Her deputy, the gently self-effacing Andrew Holgate, is tipped to be her successor.
The seriously erudite Tonkin, aged 51, has presided over this paper's book pages for the past decade, arriving from the New Statesman. His badger-like tufts of white hair have been there for as long as his colleagues can remember. He judged the Booker in 1999 and re-instated the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for work in translation in 2000. Gordon Burn, Linda Grant and Douglas Kennedy are on his list. He can be found at the best literary parties with his partner, the journalist Maya Jaggi, and if you stay late enough you might witness his fantastically exuberant dancing.
INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY
Jaunty and colourful figure who is often to be found chattering to a wide circle of friends on the books circuit. These include Matt Thorne, Maggie O'Farrell (who was once her deputy) and Geoff Dyer. A graduate of Leeds University, Bolton-born Feay, aged 45, is one of the few non-Oxbridge lit eds. She was a Whitbread Prize judge in 1999 and a consultant on the flegling Richard and Judy Book Club. Top of her troupe of reviewers are Mark Bostridge, Jah Wobble and Danuta Kean. Since taking over in 1997, she has become one of the few literary editors regularly to commission original short stories.
Respected blue-stocking and keen cyclist who keeps the wheels turning on ever more ambitious books pages, Armitstead has great clout with writers of the calibre of Martin Amis and Ian McEwan. She showed her teeth when her colleague Jonathan Freedland demanded that Michael Dibdin should never be allowed to review another book after he penned a stinking review of The Righteous Men by Sam Bourne, Freedland's pseudonym, earlier this year. Dibdin has been recommissioned several times. Aged 47, and in charge since 1999, Armitstead is a theatre authority and former arts editor.
One of the few lit eds with senior experience in publishing, McCrum spent 17 years as editor-in-chief of Faber from 1979, signing up a decade's worth of literature from Milan Kundera, Kazuo Ishiguro, Paul Auster and Mario Vargas Llosa. Suffered a stroke in the 1990s and went on to write a moving book about it. Now 53, he has also written six novels, a history of English and a biography of PG Wodehouse. At the Observer, where he has been lit ed since 1996, he can regularly call on Hilary Spurling, Adam Mars-Jones and Peter Conrad, and he counts Salman Rushdie amonst his drinking buddies.
Mays is one of Paul Dacre's core disciples and second only to Mark Amory in length of service, having been literary editor since 1992. She was a features executive on the Evening Standard when Dacre edited the paper. Associated's budgets mean she can pay high prices to secure the best serialisations, which is how she came to appear at No.37 on an Observer "publishing power list" earlier this year, the only literary editor among the 50 names. Aged 54, she used to step out with journalist and author Geoffrey Wheatcroft and is now married to David Bradbury, a jazz fan and former Mirror sub-editor.
MAIL ON SUNDAY
As the daughter of Miriam Gross, the former literary editor of the Sunday Telegraph, and John Gross, the former editor of the Times Literary Supplement, Susanna Gross has one of the best pedigrees of any literary editor. Currently on maternity leave having had a baby last week, she oversees a section adorned by Craig Brown and Kathryn Hughes, and enjoys the generous budgets that are also available to her daily counterpart Jane Mays. Aged 37, she is married to John Preston, the Sunday Telegraph's TV critic. A top bridge player, she has a sideline in writing about the game.
Ditching a PhD on Vladimir Nabokov after deciding that he was not worth the effort, Sexton, now 48, figured at the Times Literary Supplement, Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Correspondent, eventually becoming literary editor at the Standard in 1997. Dark-haired and saturnine, he counts novelists Zadie Smith and Rachel Cusk among his friends. Changes had to be made to Amanda Craig's 1996 novel The Vicious Circle when it appeared she had drawn characters from life, including possibly one of Sexton. A Booker judge in 2005, he tips Sarah Waters to win the prize this time round.
Bespectacled, balding and affable, 65-year-old Amory is a refined figure of the old school who dropped the Heathcot from his surname in return for credibility among the intellectual gentry. PD James, Philip Hensher and Charles Moore are among his reviewers. Literary Editor since 1983, he has seen four editors come and go and even in his sixties he remains a sophisticated networker. Counts Piers Paul Reid among his heavyweight friends. Wrote a biography of the eccentric artist Lord Berners, and edited the letters of Evelyn Waugh, father of his old chum the late Auberon.
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