Sunday, November 02, 2008

Pat Kavanagh

Literary agent | Died in 2008

Enigmatic figure of the literary world feared by publishers and valued by authors

Pat Kavanagh, who died from a brain tumour on 20 October, 2008, aged 68, was a literary agent with a stellar list of clients, an exemplary track record and a reputation as one of the leading figures in British publishing.

During her career she represented the likes of Ruth Rendell, Joanna Trollope, Wendy Cope, John Irving, Andrew Motion and Clive James. She was married to another client, Julian Barnes, and was formerly Martin Amis' agent until a well-publicised fall-out in the mid-1990s.

She was known for a straightforward but aloof manner, which, combined with her disarming good looks and a fierce intelligence, helped her become one of the industry's most fearsome negotiators.

"Pat could make publishers shake in their handmade shoes," said Clive James. "Some of the awe she inspired at all levels of the business may have come from the fact that she had a self-assured hauteur and yet was hard to place."

Born to British parents in 1940 in Durban she was educated in South Africa, then embarked on a brief acting career that took her to London. She abandoned the stage for a job with an advertising firm before being hired by the famous agent and producer A D Peters.

Writers regarded her as a valuable advocate and frequently a personal friend, but she was also known as an honest judge of work and a reliable guide through the murky world of publishers' lunches, book launches and meetings with the press. She won her clients many a great deal, but was careful to ensure that they never squandered their advances or indulged in frivolous projects.

She became the subject of a book herself in Jeanette Winterson's 1992 novel Written on the Body, a fictionalised account of an affair she had had with the author.

Novelist Robert Harris, on Ms Kavanagh's books for 27 years, paid tribute to her: "She was fantastically efficient and just the person you wanted to have represent you. There was no one quite like her really. And she was exotic, like a bird of paradise. She was unflappable and she didn't let you get above yourself."

Another client, Blake Morrison, said: "She had the values of an earlier generation. She was old school but she never seemed jaded. We all thought she would always be there, that she would never retire."

Biographer and critic Hermione Lee said: "Pat Kavanagh was my friend and agent and to say the word 'was' in speaking of her is very hard for me to do. I loved and admired her refusal ever to be false or gushing. She was a distinguished human being and the world is a lesser place without her."

No comments: