Several hundred people came together at St John's Smith Square to celebrate the life of Carole Blake, literary agent par excellence and friend to many, in the book trade and beyond. She died last October after a short illness, having just celebrated her seventieth birthday.
Choreographed by her colleagues at Blake Friedmann, it was a wonderful affair, the eulogies - by Julian Friedmann, Lawrence Norfolk, Martin Neild, Conrad Williams, Isobel Dixon, Elizabeth Chadwick and Peter James - striking sparks, one against the other, and together providing a vivid portrait of an extraordinary woman for whom no detail was too small to be noticed and attended to. She was, everyone agreed, the toughest of the nice agents, and the nicest of the tough agents, always securing a good deal and ensuring that deal was appropriately celebrated. Not for Carole a lunch (or dinner) with only mineral water or just one glass. "A bottle will be cheaper", she always noted. Sometimes it was magnum.
Fighting back tears, Lawrence Norfolk recalled how he'd gone to the 1989 London Book Fair in search of an agent. Spotting the Blake Friedmann stand, he'd dropped off a sheet of paper outlining his idea for a novel. Most agents would have dismissed it but Carole immediately noticed that he'd omitted to include his name and contact details and called after him. The rest is history. Elizabeth Chadwick had spent years seeking an agent or publisher when Carole responded enthusiastically to a chapter she'd posted and wrote asking if she'd be interested in representation. That too is history. She also talked about Carole's love of music, in this case Meat Loaf, to whom she'd turned her on! Peter James remembered first encountering Carole at a party, when she informed him that she loved his writing and bought every novel in hardback. A few years later when he was reinventing his career, she became his agent. More history, and some eye-watering deals.
Julian offered a few scenes from a marriage, including a holiday in France when Carole had fallen in love with a dinner service of which they had no real need. They had discussed the price (too high) and Julian told his wife she should bid for it. "But I can't,” she replied. "I can only bid upwards."
Conrad recalled the ever-supportive colleague and their shared musical enthusiasms, not least the annual Kings Place concert when well-known amateur pianists such as Ed Balls or James Naughtie would play. And he played a Grieg composition that he performed at the last concert, an event at which Carole's ticket went sadly unused.
Isobel Dixon recalled the years of fun and friendship, her pleasure in "the great bazaar of life", which she summed up poignantly in a poem, "The Jewel", written for Carole.
And soprano Eve Daniell, sang Mozart's "Laudate Dominum" and "Rejoice Greatly, Daughter of Zion" from Handel's Messiah, accompanied by pianist Malgorzata Garstka.
Olga Vezeris and I proposed the toast: to Carole and to great friendship.
Among the many friends there were Jane Gregory, Elizabeth Buchan, Jo Goldsworthy, Deborah Owen, Trevor Dolby, Sheila Crowley and Patrick Janson-Smith, all of whom, like Carole, had played the Publishers' Panto; Philip Cotterell, Heather Holden Brown, Kyle Cathie, Fanny Blake, Suzanne Collier, Penny Mountain, Eileen Campbell, Mavis Cheek, Anne de Courcy, Barbara Erskine, Christine Green, Lisa Milton, Judy Piatkus, Andrea Morgale, Caroline Upcher, Suzanne Baboneau, Amanda Ridout, Sophie Hicks and Felicity Bryan, as well as Carole's sister Rosie and her niece Penny Geeson and children.
The collection was for the Book Trade Charity, for which Carole was such a tireless fundraiser, its CEO David Hicks among the congregants.
It was a fitting tribute and if Carole was looking down from some celestial publishing party where the champagne never runs out she would surely have approved.
"Godspeed on a crisp, bright afternoon" as Isobel wrote.
The Times | The Bookseller | Publishers Weekly | Publishing Perspectives | Bookbrunch by Isobel Dixon | London Book Fair Hub
The CWA by Peter James | The RNA by Caroline Sheldon
Elizabeth Chadwick | Liz Fenwick | Paul Finch | Liz Thomson | Stella Duffy
The Bookseller on Blake Friedmann’s Open Doors Project
'Carole Blake named Agent of the Year at the RNAs' in The Bookseller | 'Carole Blake remembered at funeral' by Liz Thompson
'The Jewel' by Isobel Dixon | 'Heavenly Ops' by Jan Jones