Trade pays tribute to Ion Trewin

Trade pays tribute to Ion Trewin

Tributes have been paid to a “true friend” of literature, Ion Trewin, who died yesterday (8th April) at the age of 71.

Trewin, who was literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation, was diagnosed with untreatable cancer last October.

He leaves behind his wife Sue, son Simon, who is head of the London literary department at agency WME, daughter Maria, and four grandchildren.

Trewin began his career as a journalist, before moving to Hodder & Stoughton, and then Orion, from where he retired in 2006. He chaired the judging panel of the Booker Prize in 1974, became a member of its management committee in 1989, and took on the role of literary director at the Booker Prize Foundation in 2006, following the retirement of Martyn Goff, who himself died just two weeks ago.

Figures from across the trade have paid tribute to Trewin, with many praising his “exemplary” and “shrewd” running of the Man Booker Prize.

Peter Straus, m.d. of Rogers, Coleridge and White literary agency, who knew Trewin since the early 1980s when he worked at Hodder and Stoughton, said he was “very saddened”.

“He was always remarkably kind, extremely committed to books and to literature and really passionate about the trade in general,” said Straus. “His stewarding first of his authors and latterly as administrator of the Man Booker Prize was exemplary. His humility too was a great trait – as the chair of the 1974 Booker prize he recognised the qualities of a writer who became a Nobel Laureate, Nadine Gordimer. However he never blew his own trumpet about this. Literature has lost a true friend.”

Jamie Byng, c.e.o. of Canongate, said: "Ion was a man of enormous warmth and huge passions whose love and knowledge of books and authors and publishing was matched by his genuine curiosity and commitment to new writing, not least in his skilful and shrewd stewardship of the Man Booker prize and its various developments. The news of his death is a very sad day for publishing as we have lost one of the key figures in our industry. He will be greatly missed.”

Dan Franklin, publishing director at Jonathan Cape, said: “Ion always seemed to me a profoundly good man. Where Martyn Goff was mischievous, sometimes almost provocatively so, Ion was straight, dependable, trustworthy. His reign might have been a bit duller, but it was right for the times, and there was no doubting his love for books and for the Man Booker Prize. He will be much missed.”

Trewin remained involved in this year’s Man Booker Prize until his death, and was still active within the literary community until recently.

Jonathan Lloyd, chairman of Curtis Brown, said: “Despite the terrible news of his illness he chaired our last Garrick Club Library Committee in March. He was, as ever, courteous, amusing, charming and wise but also clear and decisive.

“Afterwards three of us took him to lunch and he said how much he was enjoying the wine - I had gone further down the list than usual in his honour. The conversation was not morbid though full of grim humour. It was only after he had left that I wondered if I would see him again and suddenly felt so sad.

“And now he has gone so bravely it is difficult to imagine a book world without him. He is part of history but also the present and should have been with us for a long time in the future. What a terrible loss for all of us but our thoughts and prayers are for Sue and his family.”

Alexandra Pringle, group editor-in-chief at Bloomsbury, said: “Ion was one of those thoughtful, sensitive, considered guiding lights in the literary world through his long career. He was old style in the very best sense, which happily included long meals, conversation and wine, as the publishing world entered its new phase of new frugality.”

Trewin joined Hodder & Stoughton in 1979 as editor-in-chief, moving from the Times where he was literary editor. While there he publised books including Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark, which was later the basis for the Steven Spielberg film "Schindler’s List".

Carole Welch, publishing director at Sceptre, said: “Since Hodder & Stoughton is about to move, I have been going through some old files and just came across some photos of Ion at a Sceptre party in 1995. They reminded me both of his broad, genial smile and how he would listen to people very intently, making them feel that what they were saying was interesting (which, in my case, it probably wasn’t at all) – a sign of his good manners and also his personality. He wasn’t someone who preferred to hear the sound of his own voice and, as a publisher, always drew attention to his authors’ achievements, not the part he often played in those.

“In the years I knew him at Hodder, when he was editorial director, I remember him as someone who cared passionately about his authors and their books, who did everything he could to make them successful. And he published many successful works of both non-fiction and fiction in his time with the company, including Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark and Melvyn Bragg’s The Maid of Buttermere. That was only one stage in Ion’s career, which included being literary editor of the Times, a published writer himself and, in recent years, the literary director of the Man Booker Prizes.

“Books were always at the heart of it, because literature and publishing were what he loved (not forgetting his love of the theatre). Far too early, the book world has lost one of its most dedicated and distinguished figures, and a man who confronted his terminal illness with remarkable fortitude. He will be much missed.”

Author Susan Hill first met Trewin in 1972, at a Whitbread Prize lunch he was covering for the Times Diary. She said it was clear to her he was “a Book Man rather than a journalist and so he was - the best of book men”. 

“I came to know Ion well over the next 43 years, and to love and respect him more and more,” she said. “He was a fund of information, ever-generous with his advice and help - and I often asked for it.”

Trewin served on the board of Hill’s publishing company Long Barn Books, and she said he was “a tower of strength, support and enthusiasm, as well as counselling caution from time to time”. She continued: “He was great company, full of anecdotes, the printers ink of every aspect of the book world running through his veins. A bear of a man, with his benevolent twinkle and kindness, he resembled Father Christmas, growing his white beard to suit, but he could be firm and possibly even stern, if necessary. I only once witnessed him be angry - over a serious transgression relating to the Man Booker Prize, and I do not think it came at all naturally to him.

“He oversaw the proceedings of the Man Booker judges with great good humour and absolute impartiality. He attended, he listened, he was there to help, advise, give information and perhaps even to hold the coats, but he was conscientious in never giving a personal opinion, agreeing, or disagreeing with the opinions and conclusions of the judges. He was one of the best chairs of talks and panels at literary festivals, good humoured, balanced, succinct, never favouring one speaker over another.

"He was of course, the ultimate family man. At that first lunch, I heard all about Simon and Maria, of whom he was so proud, and he always talked about them and about Sue, his wife of so many very happy years, whenever we met. 

"We have all lost a great Book Man, and a dearly loved friend.”

In an obituary in the Guardian, Alastair Niven called Trewin “one of the great publishers of his generation”. The Telegraph said Trewin was “a superb editor and organiser with a shrewd commercial eye, an ability to communicate his enthusiasms to readers and to get on with people from all walks of life”.