William Trevor: 24 May 1928 – 20 November 2016

With great sadness the death of William Trevor, KBE, one of the great fiction writers of our time, was announced on Monday 20th November.

Born as William Trevor Cox in Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland in 1928, William Trevor was educated at St. Columba's College in Dublin. After graduating in history from Trinity College, Dublin, Trevor married Jane Ryan whom he’d met at university and to whom he dedicated many of his books and the couple moved to England where Trevor set himself up as a sculptor ‘rather like Jude the Obscure without the talent’ as he once described himself. The first of two sons was born in London where Trevor got a job as copywriter and it was only when he took a full-time job at a London advertising agency that he really began writing.  His first novel, A Standard of Behaviour, which he subsequently disowned and refused to have republished, came out in 1958. In later years he chose to describe The Old Boys, which was published in 1964 and went on to win the Hawthornden Prize for Literature, as his first novel. In its comedic portrayal of unseemly, sometimes desperate behaviour hidden beneath a thin veil of decorum, it prefigured the theme of most of his early and middle-period novels, many of them set in a rundown, post-War London. Later he turned his attention to his native Ireland, and in particular the tensions between the fading Anglo-Irish gentry and their Catholic neighbours. These were more complex books, exploring ideas of loyalty and betrayal, loss and belonging, often through multiple viewpoints, but always with a deeply felt compassion for all his characters.

Trevor went on to write over fifteen novels, which were garlanded with awards: he won the Whitbread Prize three times and was short-listed for the Booker Prize four times, most recently with The Story of Lucy Gault in 2002, which was a favourite for the Prize but lost out to The Life of Pi. Trevor’s novels are widely admired but it is perhaps on his short stories that his literary reputation will come to rest. For many years a contributor of stories to the New Yorker, he had a firm belief that the short story was as great an art form as the novel, and as difficult to write. His Collected Stories, published by Viking in two volumes in 2009, runs to almost 2000 pages, and the best of them, including ‘The Ballroom of Romance’, ‘Kathleen’s Field’ and ‘Cheating at Canasta’,  are among the greatest stories of the last half-century, drawing comparison with the earlier masters of the form, Chekhov, Maupassant and Joyce.

A modest and private man, Trevor disliked talking about his books and abhorred any personal publicity, believing that the work should stand for itself. He lived for many years in a secluded house in Devon, visiting Ireland frequently, taking walking holidays in Italy, and pursuing his passions of gardening and watching sport – especially rugby, cricket and tennis. But it was writing that truly absorbed him. 

Andrew Hewson, Chairman of J&A gave the following statement: 

"William Trevor was an early client of our agency's founder John Johnson. John fostered the close links with his then editor, James Michie at the Bodley Head, and introduced William to Peter Matson at the Sterling Lord Agency in New York, who remained his American agent all his life.

"There followed a sequence of critically acclaimed novels from The Old Boys to Children of Dynmouth, three anthologies of award winning short stories, and a series of some of the most outstanding single plays commissioned by the BBC, ATV and Anglia Television. These combined to install William Trevor as a true Master of the English language, a standing he was to sustain without pause.

"On John Johnson's retirement William became a client of the inestimable Pat Kavanagh at A.D. Peters, later PFD, but in a typically generous gesture he asked that John Johnson Ltd, and later Johnson & Alcock, continued to represent the back list. To our great pleasure the association was renewed in 2008, and we oversaw the republication of all of his early works, continued international success, and the publication of his Collected Stories, one of his most lasting contributions to the canon of literature.

"This agency looks back with great fondness over many years of friendship, and looks forward to safeguarding the legacy of this great man's life's work, as takes its rightful and honoured place at the forefront of modern literature."