Dame Antonia Byatt dies aged 87

Clara Farmer, her publisher at Chatto & Windus, an imprint of Penguin Random House, said: “Antonia’s books are the most wonderful jewel boxes of stories and ideas.

“Her compulsion to write (A4 blue notebook always to hand) and her ability to create intricate skeins of narrative was remarkable. It was always a treat to see her, to hear updates about her evolving literary characters and indulge in delicious titbits of literary gossip.

“Like all Chatto’s publishers before me, I was devoted to her and her writing.

“2024 would have been her 60th (Diamond) anniversary as a Chatto author. We mourn her loss but it’s a comfort to know that her penetrating works will dazzle, shine and refract in the minds of readers for generations to come.”

Dame Antonia Susan Duffy, who wrote under the name AS Byatt won a host of literary awards during a five decade career from the Booker to a Chevalier of France’s Order of Arts and Letters.

Born Antonia Drabble in 1936, Byatt grew up in Sheffield and York, before studying English at Cambridge.

She began teaching at University College London in 1962 and published her first novel, Shadows of a Sun, two years later.

A novel about two rival sisters followed in 1967 appearing two years after her sister, the author Margaret Drabble, published her own novel on a similar theme.

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Possession, a time-jumping tale, tells the story of the love between two Victorian poets that is uncovered by scholars in the modern age.

The book was adapted for a 2002 romance mystery movie of the same name starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Toby Stephens and Tom Hollander.

In 2009 Dame Antonia had success with The Children’s Book which also saw her shortlisted for the Booker Prize and become a winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

Zoe Waldie, her literary agent at agency RCW, said she “held readers spellbound” and called her writing “multi-layered, endlessly varied and deeply intellectual, threaded through with myths and metaphysics”.

She added: “Her formidable erudition and passion for language were combined with a love of scholarship and an astonishing memory, forged learning poetry and rules for spelling and grammar by heart as a child.”

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Ms Waldie also said: “She was interested in so many things; phone calls with her about work were never routine, nor brief, and would reliably and joyfully digress to the topic of a painter or new exhibition, or to a European writer she’d just discovered, or to how the brain works, or to the tennis on television, or travel …

“She was a committed Europhile and relished getting to know her many foreign publishers and translators, on the continent and beyond.

“She was avidly interested in new writing and delighted in championing upcoming authors. We are heartbroken to have lost her, and our thoughts are with her family.”

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