The book world has been stunned by the sudden death of Deborah Rogers, co-founder of Roger, Coleridge & White, and a woman who was midwife to some of contemporary fiction’s most significant authors. Rogers was in her 70s.

A statement from the agency said: "It is with the greatest sadness that we announce the death of our beloved colleague Deborah Rogers, Chairman of Rogers, Coleridge and White, who died suddenly last night, 30 April, from a suspected heart attack. She was an inspiration: a peerless agent, a wonderful friend and greatly loved by colleagues, authors and friends alike. Her loss on a professional and personal level will be deeply felt and hard to bear but Deborah has created a remarkable company which will endure and flourish in the way she would have wished. Our love and thoughts are with her family, Michael and Jessica and her sister Sue."

Kazuo Ishiguro, who only last month presented Rogers with the London Book Fair Lifetime Achievement Award, added: “I'm groping for consolations in the face of this loss, but one of them is that she departed absolutely at the top of her game, knowing no decline. In the last few months, she was sharper, wiser, more energetic than at any time in the thirty-four years I've known her.”

In retrospect, the past tense of the sentence she spoke as she stepped up to collect the award, is horribly poignant: "It's been a lifetime of indulgence. I've done what I've loved."

In a lengthy but always engaging speech, with his agent and agent and her husband--composer Michael Berkeley looking on from the front row--Ishiguro painted a charming and revealing portrait of a woman whose love for high art was balanced by a fondness for high kitsch.

"It is true there is an eccentric quality to Deborah," Ishiguro suggested. No doubt having an inkling of what was to come, Rogers--sitting with her husband, composer Michael Berkeley--blushed but did not deny the charges. The late Angela Carter had advised Ishiguro that kitsch was the way to the agent's heart. "Even now," he said, "I never walk past a junk shop without thinking of Deborah, and Angela's advice," he said, to much laughter.

In the lengthy but always entertaining encomium, the much-garlanded novelist said that had Rogers chosen to be "a banker or a folksinger," publishing and literature would have been much the poorer. "Deborah didn't teach me to write, but she taught me to be writer," he said. A defender of, and fighter for, her authors, "when Deborah wins a battle, everyone gets closer to winning the war".

He contrasted her punctiliousness as an agent and editor with her legendary untidiness, manuscripts in teetering piles on and around her desk. One, now in the British Library, had been "liberally peed on by her dog."

Gill Coleridge said: "I am completely heart-broken. Deb, Pat and I have worked together for 27 years after founding Rogers Coleridge and White in 1987. We have lost our dearest friend and colleague and a light has gone out of our lives. We were so proud of the wonderful agency that bears our names and which Deborah led with her characteristic wisdom and kindness. She was funny, clever and an inspirational agent and we will all miss her terribly."