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Peter James Remembers Carole Blake

Carole Blake: An Appreciation

by Peter James

I was at a publishing party in 1993 when an apparition swept towards me, champagne glass in hand, a rock the size of a planet hanging around her neck and wild, velvet shoes.  ‘I just want to tell you I’m a big fan of yours – I buy all your novels in hardback as soon as they come out.’  Then she swept off regally towards the bar.

‘Who is that?’  I asked the person I had been talking to.

He replied sotto voce, in awe.  ‘That is Carole Blake.’

Seven years later, my mate and publicist Tony Mulliken invited me for a drink at a bar in St Martins’ Lane, because he was unhappy about my then representation and felt I would benefit from a change of agent.  As he began running through his list of suggested names, Carole Blake, in an act of sheer serendipity, walked in through the door…

Some things in life seem meant to be.  But what was very definitely not meant to be was her untimely departure.  At seventy, still bursting with energy and plans, all of us close to her could never see her even consider retiring, and why would she?  The publishing world was the core of her life, and she had so much still to give it – in her work with her authors, publishing trade charities, helping young writers, and most importantly, in an age of the Health Police and time poverty, putting a lot of effort into upholding that most sacred of all publishing institutions – the long and boozy client lunch.

It is that glass of Champers in her hand and huge smile on her face that will always be my abiding memory of Carole.  Along with her shoe closet – which she used to take pride in showing visitors to her flat – containing over four hundred pairs of designer shoes!  I sometimes joked that her home was actually a giant shoe closet with accommodation attached.

She was a total hedonist, she loved her statement jewellery, fabulous handbags and she had an abiding passion for Venice, which she knew intimately.  But as an example of how she always put work ahead of pleasure, last May she took two days out of a touring holiday in Europe to fly home to attend the launch party for my latest book, and flew back out again the next day.  That’s dedication…  She was so abidingly professional.

She could also be wickedly funny – and sometimes just plain wicked, reducing any know-all to a trembling wreck.  As her close friend Jane Wenham Jones told me, ‘I think she liked being thought of as terrifying even though she was the kindest, loveliest, woman.’   It was impossible not to feel constantly proud of her.

I learned through my sixteen happy years as Carole’s client that there are good agents and there are great agents and Carole truly was great.  She was always in the swim of things, scouring the trade press daily and kept all of her clients up to speed with around-the-clock emails.  Any good news re the bestseller charts or a review, Carole was on it, Tweeting and Facebooking it from the rooftops… If there was a publishing trade event, she would be there, whether a lunch, a seminar, a cocktail party or an awards banquet.  As Pan Macmillan’s Geoff Duffield told me, ‘How many of us can remember a publishing world before Carole Blake?’

Val McDermid wrote to me that she was a delight and an adornment to our industry.  Her friend, agent Jane Gregory said she was a true force of nature.  Ian Rankin tweeted, Shell-shocked by this.  She was so passionate about books, a true friend to authors.

            Maya Angelou once wrote:  I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

            I don’t think any of us who knew Carole Blake will ever forget that sheer joie de vivre, above all else that she made us feel – and always will.

            And I guess in the scheme of things a sudden death was the only way Carole could go.  She had to be in control of every situation – and always ruled every meeting with charm, tact and deep inner strength.  I could never have seen her accepting becoming old and frail or infirm.  By making her sudden, dramatic exit she has left us with a lasting, still youthful image of the Carole Blake we all know and love, a dazzling star forever burning in the publishing firmament.