In 1989 the agency was much smaller than it is today. I still opened my own mail, including the welter of manuscript submissions, which I would put aside to deal with when time permitted. But when I took the first chapters of THE WILD HUNT out of the envelope I read them straight away. This author had a real voice; her characters leapt off the page. Soon I had a new client, and that client had Michael Joseph and Sphere as her UK publishers, quickly followed by publishers around the world. My favourite sale was to Germany – they bought it sight unseen, encouraged by my enthusiasm. The years have flown by, and we were surprised to discover, just the other day, that this month marks 25 years that we have worked together, and 24 years since THE WILD HUNT was first published (it’s still in print!). Over the years we’ve been to churches and rock concerts together (Meat Loaf: that’s a long story!), and I still get a thrill, knowing I’m the first person to read her new manuscript. THE SUMMER QUEEN, the first in a trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine, will be published in paperback in June. Let my author and friend tell our story.
I wrote my first novel when I was fifteen years old. It was a historical adventure romance, the result of having fallen in love with a knight in a children’s television programme. I wanted more than there was on screen so I began writing what today might be termed fan fiction but which quickly developed a life and energy of its own. It was at that point I decided I wanted to write historical fiction for a living.
Back in the 70s and 80s, deciding was one thing. Having it happen in those days before the self-publishing revolution was quite another. Rejections from mainstream publishing houses followed one after the other as I wrote successive novels first on a typewriter and then an Amstrad Green screen. I worked in a local supermarket on the twilight shift, filling shelves to earn the money to buy it, and meanwhile raised small children and got on with ordinary daily family life.
In 1988/89 I wrote THE WILD HUNT, set in the late 11th century. Perusing my Writers and Artists Year Book, I came upon the Blake Friedmann literary agency. The blurb said that among their list of interests was commercial women’s fiction. Being raw to the business side of things, not knowing anyone in publishing, I suspected that this was what THE WILD HUNT was, and sent it off. I think I addressed my opening letter ‘Dear Sir,’ because I had been taught that it was the polite form of letter address at school. Carole, upon whose desk the manuscript landed, forgave me for that and when she had read the typescript, replied with a letter that thanked me for my material saying:
“I have now had a chance to read this and I like it very much indeed…” lots of other nice things and then “I would like to offer to represent you.”
I was thrilled to bits that I had finally got an agent after writing 8 unpublished novels, but at the time I didn’t realise quite what a force in the publishing industry Carole Blake and Blake Friedmann were and how many authors would give their eye teeth to be represented by such an agency!
Offers from UK publishers followed thick and fast: Carole sold it at auction to Michael Joseph and Sphere. As a hometown girl, I hadn’t been to London since I was 11, so I had to pluck up my courage to go to meet Carole and my new editors, Maggie Pringle and Barbara Boote. I was so nervous I had to take my husband with me! Lunch at the Groucho club was another eye opener, but one I decided I could get used to. My editor leaned forward and said with a mischievous twinkle. ‘I adore your love scenes, they are erotic without being pornographic!’ My husband smiled, raised one eyebrow and said ‘Yes, well I’m the research assistant.’ That quip of his certainly broke the ice and became a moment to put in the career treasure-chest while the three women he’d never met before, teased him about it for the rest of the lunch.
As Carole went on to sell THE WILD HUNT round the world, I was able to resign from my Co-op shelf filling job for good. It’s translated into 18 languages and still in print today. So, a lasting book and a lasting relationship. Carole has stayed with me through thick and thin, and when it’s been thin she has kept the wolf from the door with world-wide deals and sound advice. We both have a lasting and special bond with the great medieval knightly hero William Marshal – and with each other. One of the things she taught me about life beyond the publishing world is that you can never have too many pairs of shoes! Here’s to another twenty five years!