Novelist Justin Cartwright dies, aged 75

Novelist Justin Cartwright dies, aged 75

The Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist Justin Cartwright has died, aged 75.

Cartwright passed away on Monday (3rd December).

He was the author of 13 novels, including his 1996 book In Every Face I Meet (Sceptre), shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Leading the Cheers (Sceptre), which won the 1998 Whitbread Book Award for Best Novel, and his most recent book Up Against the Night (Bloomsbury), published in 2015. He was also published by Hamish Hamilton.

Umbria Press proprietor Alan Gordon Walker paid tribute to his friend of more than 50 years. “He was very kind and popular, and well regarded in the publishing community,” Gordon Walker told The Bookseller of the author, whom he also published whilst at Pan Macmillan in the 1990s. "He was a confident and generous person and had lots and lots of friends." 

The Cape Town-born author grew up in Johannesburg. After being educated in South Africa and the US, Cartwright studied at Trinity College, Oxford, which later awarded him a fellowship. Gordon Walker told The Bookseller: “We met at Oxford in about 1966, we were at different colleges but we became friends and lived together briefly before he went into advertising and I went into publishing, later publishing some of his books.

Gordon Walker revealed the innovative streak of the serious literary author. "While at Trinity, he did a PHD about Oliver Cromwell. Before he got a job in advertising he got made up a business card which said ‘Justin Cartwright: New Operations’ and was completely bogus but got him a job in the advertising industry, where he became a copyrighter." Cartwright also managed party election broadcasts for the Liberals and the Liberal Democrats, for which he was awarded the MBE.

Of the literary author's books, Gordon Walker said: “His first novel, Interior, was published to great acclaim in 1988. Look at it this Way was made into a three-part drama by the BBC. In Every Face I Meet was shortlisted for both the Booker Prize and Whitbread Novel Award and won a Commonwealth Writers Prize. Leading the Cheers won the Whitbread Novel Award, while White Lightning was shortlisted for the same award.”

"The main themes of his books were about South Africa, some were set in Cornwall where we went on holiday," Gordon Walker added. "He was very good at drawing on characters, some [inspirations] of whom I knew in real life, some of which were composite. If there had been a Granta Best Young Writer list then, he would have been on it. Some of his really good books were not shortlisted for any awards. But I always felt he was fulfilled and he would write a book every two years."

Cartwright was also a regular contributor to the Evening Standard, the Spectator and Condé Nast Traveller and judged the Costa Book Awards in 2016, as well as the Man Booker International Prize in 2011.

“His wife Penny and his sons Rufus and Serge were a vital part of his life and many of his books were dedicated to them,” Gordon Walker said. He was also a great guy and he was very proud of his sons.”

Cartwright sold 203,177 books for £1.37m according to Nielsen BookScan, which measures sales from 1998 only, with his bestseller 2005's The Promise of Happiness (Bloomsbury) at 122,349 copies sold.

There will be a service of thanksgiving in tribute to Cartwright next year with more details announced nearer the time.