Publishing has lost a glorious jewel*. A grande dame (and grand dame) with a great sense of humour, bloody brilliant dress sense, and the best jewellery in town. We have lost a worker and a friend.
Carole Blake was not my close mate, not my agent, but she was someone I have known for almost all of the 22 years I have been published. She was warm, welcoming, supportive, and great to drink with.
When I was a baby author, one – maybe two – books down, I was in my first publisher’s panto. I had met Carole before, through friends who were with her as writers, but it was in the LBF publishers’ pantos (under Jane Gregory’s formidable direction) that I got to know Carole. Alongside an inordinate number of super-important publishers and editors, Carole had no qualms about being silly, joining in, PLAYING along.
The second time I was in the panto (it was always more of a cabaret than a panto) I had just had breast cancer for the first time. Really just. I’d had surgery about 3-4 weeks earlier, had been struggling to rehearsals and was, with several other women of publishing, doing a Spice Girls re-worked song. (Of course.) In my day-to-day life almost everyone was telling me to take it easy. But not there. There people were happy to see me, delighted that I’d made it to rehearse, delighted I was standing, let alone dancing. (I was delighted too. At home, feeling like shit, in pain, it was vile. When I was out, doing stuff, still in pain, still feeling like shit, at least I wasn’t only-cancer, all-cancer.)
Anyway, we happened to be backstage getting changed, just Carole and I. There were no dressing rooms, this was just a cordoned off bit for the women. (Were we performing at Olympia that year? Maybe.) As well as the breast stuff, I had a big underarm scar (lymph node removal in 2000 was a heftier surgery than it usually is now) and had been trying to save people having to see it. But getting changed meant I did have to lift my arm up and Carole was there and she saw that it was ugly and sore and she saw that it hurt. And then I saw her cry. Not on me, not at me (and not so I had to make it better for her) but for me. And she didn’t tell me to rest and she didn’t tell me to do less and she didn’t tell me to be smaller than I was, than the whole me was trying to be. She let me be the way I needed to be with my cancer and my recovery.
Some weeks ago, Carole contacted Shelley and I and told us she was about to go public with her illness. She wanted us to know because she knew we’d been through versions of it (as patient – me, and as carer – Shelley) and she didn’t want to shock us when she went public with it on facebook. I imagine there were many people she was equally generous to, she thought about people’s connections to things. When she did go public she did it so carefully, so considered, so perfectly – with clauses – and it was very right because it was very her. She worked as much as she could because she loved to work. After her first chemo she ordered a portable charger because the worst thing possible was to be without a book. She sorted everything for her writers before and during Frankfurt. She shared this passion for work – for work as life – with her many friends on facebook and elsewhere. And she kept on.
What’s hard is that Carole wasn’t dying. (Any more than we all are, all the time.) She had a diagnosis, and she was working towards recovery. Meanwhile, she was utterly herself and utterly her passions, even this weekend when the toast was cold when she was unexpectedly kept in hospital. (Passionate about how hot toast should be. Fair enough too.) She was open and generous in her sharing about illness, and about her desire to keep on being all of herself, while she recovered.
I love that she was all Carole. I LOVE that she adored her work and writers and writing and publishing. I am so sorry for her family who she so often talked about. I am so sorry for her colleagues who she adored. I’m grateful for the role model of an amazing woman who, at 70, was working as ferociously as ever. Who, with cancer, was working as ferociously as ever. We are often told that we need ‘work/life balance’. That we have to take ‘time out’. But if our work IS a function of our life, if our work is also who we are, then that advice is groundless at best and dangerous at worst, because it suggests we cut off part of ourselves. Carole worked and played, often simultaneously, all the time. Venice and gin and champagne and writers and writing and her work and her family – all of it, all joined up, all bundled together. She was fully herself.
* a big jewel, solid, likely set in gold and silver