Trade shock and sadness at death of Carole Blake

Trade shock and sadness at death of Carole Blake

Literary agency Blake Friedmann has announced the sudden death of agency co-founder Carole Blake.

The agency said yesterday (26th): "It is with huge sadness that we must share the news that our beloved mentor, colleague and friend Carole Blake died last night. The loss of such an incredible woman so soon is not something any of us feel prepared for, but we are grateful that she lived so fully to the last, and that she died swiftly and painlessly, on being readmitted to hospital last night, with Julian [Friedmann] by her side."

Blake had recently begun treatment for cancer, missing the Frankfurt Book Fair for the first time since 1970.

Crime writer Peter James, represented by Blake, said on Twitter that he was "immensely sad my wonderful agent and one of my closest friends ever has died, suddenly".

Pan Macmillan publisher Jeremy Trevathan, who publishes Peter James, told The Bookseller: "Carole Blake and Deborah Rogers were the two great female literary agents on the scene when I first started out in publishing around 30 years. So to have lost Carole now feels like the second seismic shift to have occurred in international publishing in the last year or so.

"Carole was imposing, whip smart, logical, a demon negotiator and contractual stickler. She also had a heart and a personality as big as the ocean. As the years moved on, Carole became more of a colleague than a demon adversary. She worked in partnership with her authors and publishers to ensure that the best result ensued. She never took herself seriously. My fondest memory of her will be of her dressed as a lobster at the annual publishing pantomime berating her fellow agent lobsters, Jonathan Lloyd and Andrew Nurnberg, to perform the lobster quadrille correctly. But seriously, this is major loss to our industry, and we at Pan Macmillan are so sad and send our warmest thoughts to her family and her colleagues at Blake Friedmann."

Agent Jonathan Lloyd told The Bookseller he felt "totally gutted" at the news. "I can't and don’t want to believe it," he said. "Carole was a friend from before we both became agents some 40 years ago. We grew up in the trade together and our friendly rivalry was always accompanied by wine and laughter. She was such a hard working professional. As a publisher I bought books from her for what seemed at the time far too much money. She had a wonderful relationship with her clients and as an agent I admired her greatly. This is a dark day and she will be mourned by her friends all over the world and remembered forever."

Charlie Redmayne, c.e.o of HarperCollins UK, tweeted of Carole, "she was clever, fearless and properly good fun!"

Gordon Wise of literary agency Curtis Brown, current president of the Association of Authors' Agents, and formerly an editor at Pan Macmillan, remembered his experiences of Carole Blake in both capacities. He told The Bookseller: "As president of the Association of Authors' Agents she was, as in all her professional lives, a formidable but genial foe – and determined to keep publishers fair and honest. And as an ally to publishers who behaved themselves, as to authors and fellow agents, she was beyond compare. We once talked about what happened on her ‘watch’ when president of the AAA: the Reed/Random House merger, she answered – and the tales she could tell of how she led the charge in making sure that authors were treated fairly during that transition were no less colourful and full of trenchant observation than her many others.

"As the author of the perennial writing bestseller From Pitch to Publication (Macmillan), I had the task and privilege of being her editor when I myself was also on the other side of the professional fence. I am still touched that the acknowledgements thank me for being ‘gracious enough to leave in things that he or Macmillan might disagree with’. It was perhaps she who was more gracious in allowing herself to be edited in the first place. (There’s also a note about her third renegotiated deadline, a phenomenon with which those who have been the custodian of that book since will be very familiar). One vivid memory was asking her to cut down the chapter on auctions – ‘because not everyone sells everything at auction, Carole.’ She looked astonished. That book remains an inspiration to, now, generations of authors, publishers and agents. Carole’s wisdom can’t be bettered."

Many in the book world spoke of their friendship with Blake, over and above professional links. Author Carol Drinkwater told The Bookseller: "Carole Blake wasn’t my agent although years ago we had met in Cannes to  discuss the possibility when she was in town with Julian for the TV festival. We drank good wine and talked of representation. For reasons I now forget we never made that partnership, but we stayed in touch and our friendship has blossomed over the years.

"I counted her as one of my closest friends. We were together at the West Cork Literary Festival this year and, having both recently lost a parent, drank champagne, ate a sumptuous dinner together and toasted our kin. We exchanged emails and notes almost every day. Such was Carole’s energy and her desire to keep in touch with those she loved and who counted in her life. Carole loved in capital letters. I shall miss her greatly."

Freelance journalist Liz Thomson said: "Carole’s publishing career spanned 54 years and she is a reminder that working-class kids who leave school at 16 can have much to give. She was always proud of her background and acknowledged that in today’s snotty world where money and background talk she would not have stood a chance. That would have been a great loss to the trade. Carole was a terrific asset to publishing, loved and respected in equal measure by friends and colleagues around the world. She was kind, generous, funny – took her job seriously but not herself. She was a force of nature, larger than life, a character, a one-off. We will never see her like again."

Blake was given the Women in Publishing Pandora Award in 2013 for a "significant and sustained contribution to the publishing industry" and also celebrated her 50 years in the book industry that year.