Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Carole Blake

Yesterday, the publishing world was stunned by the news of the sudden death of Carole Blake, co-founder of the Literary Agency Blake Friedmann and author of the perennial best seller, ‘From Pitch to Publication’.

We asked one of the many writers she represented – Liz Fenwick – for her memories of one of the publishing industry’s titans:

~~~:~~~

Carole and LizAs I write this I’m struggling to believe that a woman of such vitality as Carole isn’t here any more. The world is a lesser place for her loss. She is also someone who is hard to write about without using superlatives – and I can hear her voice in my head, editing me.

But I have to say that she was so vibrant, so loving, so fierce and so passionate, I can’t believe all that energy is gone – and gone far too soon. She had only just celebrated her seventieth birthday.

The facts of her life were that she began in publishing when she was seventeen years old and worked through many roles until she founded Blake Friedmann with her then husband, Julian. A few years ago she celebrated fifty years in the industry with the party to end all parties (and she did love a good party!).

Publishing was her world and her passion, for she loved books. Those of us who knew her on Facebook would wait for the weekly review of all the books she had purchased. Her beautiful flat was already groaning at the seams with previous purchases but Carole’s appetite for books was almost as great as her love for life … and shoes, and beautiful jewellery. (And I mustn’t forget gin in ‘home measures’.)

Like many other people, my friendship with Carole began on Twitter. I was tweeting from the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference in Penrith. We were having dinner at a pub called the Boot and Shoe and she tweeted that if it had been called the Book and Shoe it would be the perfect home for the RNA. A great friendship began talking books, shoes and wine. I never dared hope that she would one day become my agent for she was THE Carole Blake, agent extraordinaire, and I kept pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming that she was my friend.

Of course this gave us both a more than a moment’s pause when I did submit to her – which she wanted me to because she would hate to miss out on something. I’d sent the book to several other agents at the same time and found myself consulting that ‘bloody book’ of hers (the way she always referred to From Pitch to Publication) to find out how to handle the situation where I’d received a request for a full manuscript from one agent just hours after submitting. Her book didn’t tell me, so I emailed her, asking as a friend and not a potential client, what I should do. The series of emails that went back and forth still makes me smile. And I loved hearing her tell the story.

But it highlighted something very special about Carole. She was an amazing friend who could keep business separate. I was lucky enough to be both a friend and a client.

Recently, when she discovered her cancer diagnosis, she was more concerned for me than herself, wanting to let me know because I had just lost my father. Our subsequent chat was all about her worry for me – and that summed her up. Carole cared.

Whether she planned it or not she was also a teacher – in so many ways. She taught courses in publishing, in all her many talks, in her ‘bloody book’, in her dealings with unpublished writers and in her hilarious tweets about the slush pile … She had a huge desire to help, to teach, to encourage.

I remember my first publishing lunch when I was meeting my then editor Kate Mills for the time. I was terrified, but Carole was in her element guiding and teaching me. Over lunch Kate and Carole disagreed strongly about something in The Cornish House. I sat there speechless as they went head to head. In that moment, it became clear it was no longer just my book but that others were invested in it. It also became clear that you could have that type of discussion with an editor. After lunch I raised this with Carole. She grinned and said she wanted me to know I didn’t have to agree to everything with an editor … ‘It’s your book after all …’

She was my mentor and guide countless times in those early days when the publishing industry was a total mystery to me. She answered many questions and was totally honest about every situation (even if it was bad news), talked me out of  pits of despair, verbally slapped me across the face, told me to get a grip, encouraged me onwards and sold my own books back to me when I had worked with them so much I hated them to the core.

In her ‘bloody book’, From Pitch to Publication she described an agent’s role as being both a pimp and nanny – meaning maximising the sales of the writers’ work and looking after them in contract deals. She did all of this and more. She genuinely liked her clients, and I think I can speak for them all when I say we are devastated to lose our personal champion.

The publishing world has lost theirs as well, for Carole lived and breathed publishing. She gave it her all and, as is not always the case, that wasn’t just 100% – it was amplified by the huge personality emanating from her small figure. Nothing was ever going to hold Carole back and what is wonderful is that she did it all without ever losing the essential goodness that made her who she was.

(Photo: Carole Blake and Liz Fenwick.)

17 comments on “Carole Blake

  1. John Jackson
    October 27, 2016

    I don’t think I have ever known someone with such a lust for life!
    She certainly didn’t suffer fools gladly, and I was delighted to call her a friend. I just wish it had been for longer.

    Carpe Diem! could have been fashioned as her own personal epigram. Truly a force of nature.

    Farewell, Carole. *sigh*

    John

  2. Gina Rossi
    October 27, 2016

    Beautiful and fitting post. Thanks Liz.

  3. BigJules
    October 27, 2016

    Thank you for sharing your memories of Carole, Liz. So much resonated with my own… Still can’t quite believe that she is no longer with us.

  4. jill mansell
    October 27, 2016

    A beautiful piece, Liz. I can only imagine how difficult it was to write, and you’ve done her proud. I think all of us should strive to be a bit more ‘Carole’. xxx

  5. lizfenwick
    October 27, 2016

    Thank you Gina and BigJules. And yes Jill we all should strive to be a bit more ‘Carole’ xxx

  6. Ruth Frances Long
    October 27, 2016

    This is beautiful Liz. Sending love.

  7. sherylbrowne
    October 27, 2016

    She gave me some advice, Liz, as a friend. She really is a true loss to the publishing industry. Hope you’re okay, lovely. Much love.

  8. Lol Barnes
    October 28, 2016

    Beautiful, Liz. Perhaps her enduring legacy will be that we all become a ‘bit more Carole’.

  9. lizfenwick
    October 28, 2016

    Thank Sheryl I am and I’m so pleased you benefited from her advice. And Lol that would be a wonderful legacy, wouldn’t it?

  10. fenellaforster
    October 28, 2016

    It was a lovely post, Liz. I regarded Carole as a friend, too, and she gave me some excellent advice at the HNS Conference only last month. I took her advice and recently landed a wonderful agent who was ‘a great mate’ of hers (Carole’s words), namely, Heather Holden-Brown. I shall always think of her fondly and miss her (sometimes) acerbic wit.

  11. Julie Vince
    October 28, 2016

    Beautiful words, Liz, Carole will be greatly missed.

  12. lizfenwick
    October 28, 2016

    Fenella I’m so thrilled for you and Carole would be too! Thank you Julie.

  13. suemoorcroft
    October 29, 2016

    Reblogged this on Sue Moorcroft blog and commented:
    This week publishing has lost a bright light and an incredible woman. Carole Blake eased my way into becoming a client of the fantastic Blake Friedmann agency by introducing me to my agent, Juliet Pickering, which led to my contracts with Avon HarperCollins, Fischer, Bazar and with another possibility waiting in the wings. The loss is personal to me but so much more so to her family, colleagues at the agency, and her clients. My friend Liz Fenwick speaks movingly of Carolnon the Vulpes Libres blog:

  14. Nikki Moore
    October 30, 2016

    Reblogged this on Writing, Work and Wine and commented:
    A lovely tribute to the dynamo super literary agent Carole Blake by Liz Fenwick, who was one of her clients and also a friend. Carole was a force to be reckoned with in the publishing industry for more than 50 years; straight talking, knowledgeable and always willing to share her thoughts and insight. Her book ‘Pitch to Publication’ was one of my bibles when I was trying to get published. She was taken too soon, and will be missed.

  15. Nikki Moore
    October 30, 2016

    Thanks Liz, for such a lovely tribute. It’s such a shame she’s gone. John is right – ‘force of nature’ sums her up perfectly. x

  16. lizfenwick
    October 31, 2016

    Thanks Nikki.

  17. Elaine Oxford
    October 25, 2017

    Liz what a beautiful way to put your thoughts down on this lady it made me feel I actually new her.
    RIP Carole !
    Liz your writing is always so eloquent but this was from your heart I know. Sending love and comfort to you. 💕💕

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This entry was posted on October 27, 2016 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , .

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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