LIVIA GOLLANCZ 1920-2018. A personal memoire by GWEN MOFFAT

Written by Gwen Moffat

Livia Gollancz 1920-2018.

A personal memoire

Gwen Moffat 1924 -

She was one of the first women to head a publishing house. She established a crime list that included le Carré, Sjowall and Wahloo and many members of the CWA. Those not pushing up the daisies will remember her, some fondly, but the odd dissenter no doubt harbouring lingering vestiges of righteous fury.


      On reading the lengthy obituaries last month people who didn’t know her suggest that she must have been difficult to get on with. In fact she could be hell. But fifty years ago life was different: courteous, harsh, highly emotional, old-fashioned pockets of the literary world harking back to the twenties. Livia herself was a splendid Luddite, cleaving to her manual typewriter when her staff had changed to electric machines, but then this was in the days when even a steam telephone was still a tool struggling novelists could do without until the royalties reached a point where they paid the bill.

     The offices of Gollancz were in a tall Dickensian house near Covent Garden. Preliminary discussions would be held here, in the glorious clutter of Livia’s personal space; in-depth problems would be sorted at her Chiltern cottage. I never saw the hills: a country weekend was for work not fun.

    She represented not one, but two milestones in my life. I had written a book on conservation – too prescient for the sixties, my current publisher turned it down. Livia took it and asked for a crime novel. I didn’t do fiction. Then she met me at a climbing club dinner and, probably drunk, she wore me down. I wasn’t easy prey but Livia was a persuasive predator. And she had seen that our common bond: mountains, were the perfect theatre for murder. So I wrote it and before she accepted it I was hooked and halfway through the next.

    She edited all my books with Gollancz, mostly crime novels with a notable exception. I was to run into a bad patch in too short a time, culminating in the death of my climbing partner. Halfway through a novel I stalled. So Livia sent me along the California Trail to write a book about nineteenth century pioneers opening up the American West. It was an inspired commission. It saved my sanity, it produced a happy tribute to a legion of indomitable women, it was a milestone.

      She designed the covers of my books, occasionally departing from the plain yellow, black and magenta of the crime list. In the case of non-fiction there could be ructions for no one can be so bloody-minded as an author about the cover of a road book – no one except Livia. We could fight like cats, each convinced she was right, neither conceding. No one won, we both lost. I would walk out, come back, give her more crime. I would get better terms elsewhere, might be wined and dined, flattered and cossetted but there wouldn’t be the bond, the crazy volatile relationship such as I had with that infuriating loveable old autocrat who changed my direction twice over.

Gwen Moffat


Gwen Moffat

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