The Jewel – A Poem for Carole

Photo of Carole Blake - with champagne & pearls, on her 70th birthday in September - by our colleague Conrad Williams.

Photo of Carole Blake - with champagne & pearls, on her 70th birthday in September - by our colleague Conrad Williams.

My beloved colleague, friend and mentor Carole Blake died suddenly last month – far too soon, but in full flow and flight, as I think she would have wanted. Like so many of her friends and colleagues, I keep expecting her to sweep into the office with a story to tell, and often hear her voice in my ear, characteristically crisp, often finished with a chuckling flourish.

Like the first line in the poem below, the words I heard in her voice as I was running one day soon after she died, which gave me the first line of the poem I wrote for her funeral. Like taking dictation from her, you might say. A thought that brings back another wave of memories – back in 1995 when I began as Carole’s assistant at Blake Friedmann, we all dictated our reams of Book Fair notes, but at least there was someone else much swifter to type them… “Jane types faster than a speeding bullet,” as Carole would say. And I have to admit my CV had exaggerated my own typing speed somewhat. Given Carole’s love of an expansive story perhaps that was something she wouldn’t have minded, as long as the job was done. It never mattered anyhow, and I think I managed to keep up, over the next two decades of hard work and laughter. A great deal of both, shared camaraderie and challenge, and joy in the authors and the stories, and a close band of colleagues.

At the funeral this Monday past, the celebrant began with the image of a multi-faceted jewel, the many sides of the person we had come to mourn and say farewell to. I had no idea those lines would be in the service, but loved the fitting serendipity: that I had chosen to call this poem ‘The Jewel’, and that many people had, like me, decided to wear purple, Carole’s favourite colour, reflecting her much-loved amethysts. My talented colleague Hattie, Carole’s assistant and an agent at Blake Friedmann, read Jenny Joseph’s ‘Warning’ before me, so poised and clear and beautiful.  ‘When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple’… And after the service several people said, ‘Did you notice the stained glass window behind you?’  (I hadn’t), ‘It was purple.’

Colour, light and love stitched together a service with several warm tributes: the eulogy written by Carole’s sister Rosie Walker (with many murmurs and laughs of recognition from the gathering), fond words from author Peter James and close friend Olga Vezeris, Hattie’s reading, and ‘Panis Angelicus’ beautifully sung by Naomi Ladenburg. You can read more in this lovingly encapsulated description by Carole's friend, journalist Liz Thomson. And so many more stories shared by many, many friends, publishers and authors (who were also Carole's dear friends) on social media, in letters and in my inbox – which I hope to be able to answer better in due course. A flood of messages, but every memory and story is precious.  There will be more to share at a memorial next year.

So this too is for Carole, with myriad memories of colourful stories, exhibitions and lunches, art and accessories, love and laughter – and the Frankfurt Book Fair, which is where I first really got to know her and appreciate what a great sharer and communicator she was. Her treatment kept her from the Buchmesse this year, and I so missed her there, and always will.

The Jewel

Never let facts get in the way of a good story
I hear you say, turn towards you to reply,
to check the detail of some famous anecdote.
But my mouth is stopped: on my tongue a stone,

a river pebble blocks my question’s flow.
I pluck it out, and look! not stone, but amethyst,
your purples swirling in its polished light.
Oh, your thrill in treasures, jewellery, any art

that’s made with colour, care and craft: a lavish coat,
that rosy punchbowl’s miniature perfection,
books of every size and sort, a painted harpsichord.
Your doll’s house was a world complete,

all yours to fashion as you wished, and though
you knew you might not finish it, the end was not
the point. The labour was all love and chattels
aren’t the legacy. Your clarity and force,

your pleasure in the great bazaar of life,
the splendour and the clamour of it all.
How in the thick of it your smooth-worn stories
brought both teller and the listeners delight.

And I recall how crossing the bridge back to our hotel,
we’d pause in Frankfurt’s golden autumn light,
and you’d reminisce how once you drove out to the hills
after the Fair. I’ll miss that pause with you. But wish you

godspeed on a crisp, bright afternoon, a drive in a car swift,
open-topped, heading into the Taunus Mountains, all aglow,
for a long, slow, laughing lunch with one you love. Here,
we’ll keep the stories burnished up. Keep relishing the day.

i.m Carole Rae Blake
29 September 1946 – 25 October 2016

 See more on Carole here.

(And I'm still looking for the right photo of Carole with amethysts ... though she did love the specially-strung ropes of (mainly) black pearls in this photo, taken by our colleague Conrad Williams on her 70th birthday in September).