Maggie Noach

Literary agent for children's authors


Margaret Irene Noach, literary agent: born London 18 August 1949; married first Andrew Delory (marriage dissolved), second Alan Williams (one daughter); died London 17 November 2006.

Maggie Noach was the most flamboyant of literary agents; her natural place was at the centre of every social gathering she attended. Petite, stylish, amused as well as amusing, she was also a tough negotiator as well as strongly supportive of those she represented. Expert in spotting potential in younger children's authors whom she would then encourage to grow in confidence, she enjoyed a remarkable record in coming up with eventual prize-winners.

The only child of distinguished non-observing Jewish parents, she was born in 1949. Her mother, Ilse Hellman, was an Austrian child development specialist who later trained as a psychoanalyst, working for years with Anna Freud. Intense and driven, she handed over most of the child-care to Gretel, an adored nanny whom Maggie had remained in constant touch with ever since, looking after her in turn when she was old. Maggie's Dutch father, Arnold Noach, with whom she had a closer relationship, was a much-travelled Professor of Art History at Leeds University.

Growing up in Chelsea at a time when the King's Road was no more than an ordinary domestic shopping street, she was educated privately at the all-girls Francis Holland School. It was there that she picked up the drawling tones that so distinguished her speech, much to the satisfaction of her mother - who was determined that her daughter would not acquire her own heavy Viennese accent, occasionally imitated in later life by Maggie for the entertainment of friends.

Aged 19 and determined to have some fun in reaction to the somewhat rarefied atmosphere in her own home, Maggie Noach ignored university in favour of working as a secretary for A.P. Watt, London's leading literary agency. A first marriage to the photographer Andrew Delory did not last long. A second, to Alan Williams, son of the actor and playwright Emlyn and already twice married, also ended in amicable separation. But it did produce Sophie, born when Noach was 40 and ever after that the love of her life.

Along with Williams, Noach also put together her only book: The Dictionary of Disgusting Facts (1986). This title was no exaggeration, what with entries such as "Sootkin", defined as "A small mouse-shaped deposit formed in the vaginal cleft of poor women who did not wear undergarments - common until the 19th century".

In 1982 Noach established her own literary agency, and soon found that her natural talent for friendship brought out the best in her writers, some of whom followed her from A.P. Watt. Her shrewd eye for talent in teenage fiction rarely let her down, with writers like David Almond, Jean Ure, Graham Marks and Linda Newbery going from one success to another.

Much in evidence at the annual Bologna Children's Book Fair, she was well versed in the tricky business of auctioning off particular titles to the highest bidder, ceaselessly mediating between interested parties until a final deal was clinched. Her "wide-eyed laughter", as one observer described it, could be heard wherever she was holding court. Sometimes accompanied by one of a series of beloved small dogs, whom she would mischievously claim played an important part in selecting viable manuscripts, she was adept at mixing business with pleasure for all concerned.

A great reader not only for her work, with E.F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia stories a particular favourite, Noach was also a loyal member of the Church of England. A keen canvasser at election times for the Conservative Party, she still signed a letter along with many other children's writers printed in The Guardian in 2003 opposing the war in Iraq. In 2001 she was elected Chairman of the Anthony Powell Society, which was to become another of her abiding interests.

Her death came as a complete shock. She went into hospital with pains in her back but otherwise still her normal, vibrant self: and complications experienced during an operation on her spine led to massive heart failure. She leaves behind many authors who benefited from her support - particularly at a time when quality teenage fiction needs all the skilled advocacy it can get.

Nicholas Tucker

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