Obituary: Tessa Sayle

Maria Theresa von Stockert (Tessa Sayle), literary agent; born Vienna 11 June 1932; married 1955 Murray Sayle (marriage dissolved); died 27 May 1993.

TESSA SAYLE was one of London's most distinguished and distinctive literary agents. Her client list - including Ronald Searle, Mary Wesley, William Styron, Shelagh Delaney, Irwin Shaw, Margaret Forster, Phillip Knightley, Alan Sillitoe and Thomas Keneally - demonstrates her variety and her great professional strengths.

She was born in Vienna and christened Maria Theresa von Stockert. Her strict and aristocratic upbringing soon developed her steely independence. She was in Paris before she was 20 - to learn French in addition to English. She met and married the Australian-born journalist Murray Sayle. They lived in London for several years but she returned briefly to Vienna once the marriage was dissolved.

When she came back to London, she took a job at a small literary agency, Hope Leresche and Steele. Here she remained for the rest of her life, taking it over in 1976 and establishing the Tessa Sayle Agency.

She had found the perfect expression of her vitality and intelligence. Tessa Sayle was a brilliant agent - exhilarated by the discovery of new writers, excited only by quality, a perfectionist with a passion for detail. Everything she had experienced made her a natural agent both for novelists and non-fiction writers. She had a strong sense of justice and history which characterised her response to current events. She quietly developed a reputation for looking after journalists and political books representing The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs, Peter Hain, David Beresford and Gerry Conlon's account of wrongful imprisonment. She had enormous admiration for novelists and would work hard to find the right editor who would appreciate their writing and fight for their interests. Her faith continually paid off - she represented Mary Wesley from the first novel, Jumping the Queue (1983), and leaves a legacy of excellent young writers.

Sayle properly understood the long haul of writing and would immediately be on the phone to commiserate over a poor review (or worse, no reviews). Nothing pleased her more than writers' success. She inspired complete loyalty among her clients and friends.

Publishing can be a volatile mixture of talent, ego and money, but Sayle was always in control. She possessed the elegant knack of often being right without being tiresome. Tact and courteous resolve were natural assets. And always her delicious laugh was ready for situations which threatened to get out of control. Her belief, borne out by her actions, that authors and their work were the only things that counted made her a formidable negotiator and one whom publishers dared not cross.

The greatest pleasure in getting to know Tessa Sayle was the discovery of the exuberant and slightly subversive spirit which lurked behind the most perfectly pressed of linen suits. She was fascinated by people and her eyes would twinkle with delight at fresh gossip. She hosted wonderful parties - elegant dinners and huge drunken gatherings, discussing the details next morning with relish. She shamelessly enjoyed the Frankfurt Book Fair, the trips to New York - clothes packed carefully in tissue paper - and she would delight in the adrenalin of business, catching up with the latest news and racking up more sales for her clients.

Colleagues in publishing held Sayle in warm respect - she became secretary and then president of the Association of Author's Agents. Typically her response to the discovery of brain cancer five years ago was to work even harder. She fought for recovery and the secure future of the agency and its authors. In the final stages, she was still fascinated by life, although very irritated at the inefficiency of illness, and her eyes continued to sparkle at news of her clients and friends now mourning the loss of an irreplaceable spirit.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own