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Being an editor

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Gitta Sereny
Diana Athill Writer
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Gitta was a wonderful person to work with, because she had no author's vanity. She… her first language had been German, so although she'd been living and speaking English for years, and speaks very good English, she still hasn't got full confidence about writing it.

So that all she really cared about was that what was being said in the book was what she wanted to say. She wasn't vain about how she was saying it. So if you said, 'Look, this goes on too long and it would be more effective if it was done like this', and if she then agreed that it would be more effective if it was done like this, she would accept it perfectly happily. So she was easy to work with, and liked working. She…I mean… it was… it gave her pleasure. We became great friends over this. I mean, I haven't… the only reason why she wasn't at my birthday party was that she wasn't well at that time. And she's coming, not next Sunday, but the Sunday after. We're having a special party just for Gitta to come. But…

[Q] She's a very remarkable woman.

She's very remarkable. I think she's a bit too hung up, now, on trying to get to the bottom of evils, because I don't… I think that in the end you can't really get to the bottom of some of them. It's very strong meat. I think perhaps you do get a bit addicted to writing about it, but that first book, that big book, I think was a very important book. I think one of the most important books about the whole thing, of the camps.

[Q] So does it matter to you, when you look back over your long life, that you…?

Oh, I'm very pleased that I worked on that. I'm very pleased that I was allowed to do that, that she let me do it, that she welcomed me to do it. I felt very honoured.

Born in 1917, Diana Athill is a British literary editor whose publishing career began when she helped André Deutsch establish his company. She has worked with many notable writers, namely Philip Roth, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Rhys and VS Naipaul. Following the publication of her memoirs, she is now hailed as an author in her own right.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Into That Darkness, Gitta Sereny

Duration: 2 minutes, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 23 December 2008