Thursday, December 7, 2006

The lady who made dreams come true

I was privileged to have Maggie Noach as my agent for five years. All our initial contact was through e-mail, and the first time we spoke was when she telephoned me one day.

I can still hear her unmistakable, cut-glass accent. "Susie! How lovely to actually speak to you! We've sold Best Foot Forward! Isn't it wonderful!"

Whatever the future holds, I don't think anything will ever equal the excitement of hearing those words.

It was more than a year before I met Maggie, when I travelled to London from my home in France, for the launch of my first book. We had spoken several times on the phone, and I was, quite frankly, rather intimidated by the thought of meeting her face to face. From her voice, I had an image of how she would look – haughty; very tall, very slim, very chic, an impeccable chignon of black hair, dark red lipstick, long ivory cigarette holder, long red varnished fingernails. What would she think of me, a simple country creature from la France profonde?

My hesitant knock at No. 22, Dorville Crescent was answered by the hysterical yapping of a dog, and the door was opened by a short, curvy lady with a freckled face, wearing red-framed spectacles and a huge smile. "I'm Maggie," she beamed, holding out her arms and folding me in a great hug, at the same time warning me that the dog did sometimes bite.

During the five years I knew her she sold three books for me. Although she was three years younger than me, I regarded her as a surrogate mother. When I was in London there was always a bed for me – on one occasion it had already been allocated to one of the storm orphans that Maggie collected around her, and in the middle of the night I had a slight contretemps over it with the other would-be occupant; she could produce a memorable meal effortlessly, while feeding the cat, sending people out for last-minute ingredients, pouring a glass, and chatting and laughing over the escapades and occasional tantrums of her authors. She was a great raconteur, and an equally good listener, and you didn't have to be discussing writing; Maggie was interested in everything and everybody. Listening to her you knew, absolutely, that her authors were not "clients". They were all part of her family and she really loved them, warts, wobblies and all.

Maggie's pint-sized frame overflowed with gallons of warmth, joie de vivre, humour, a killer approach to getting the best deal, and abundant, passionate love for her family, her friends, her pets and her authors. I don't believe that we will ever see such a unique, flamboyant personality again.

A couple of weeks before she died, I had a Post-it note from Maggie, which ended: "How are you getting along with the new book? Love, Maggie."

I phoned her, but she was out, so I left a message saying I would call her soon.

Before I got around to doing so, the shattering news came that she had died. Like everybody who knew her, I am still finding it impossible to imagine that we'll never see her again, or hear her unforgettable voice.

When she came to stay a couple of years ago, Maggie brought me a present, a cushion of violet-coloured silk intricately embroidered with metallic golden thread. It is quite beautiful, like Maggie herself: exotic, classy, sexy, and utterly huggable. Something that I will cherish for ever.

At the moment I've rather lost my desire to write. Without Maggie's encouragement and advice, it seems pointless. But when I look at that yellow Post-it note, which is glued to my desk, I can hear her voice, saying: "Oh darling, you must, you really must." And of course, that is what she would expect of us: to shake ourselves down and get on with it.

Maggie, you made dreams come true. I will miss you so very much