SUBSCRIBE

Penny Vincenzi, 78, best-selling British author

By Neil Genzlinger New York Times 

Penny Vincenzi, a British novelist whose sprawling tales of heroines, class collisions, family secrets, and romance were regulars on best-seller lists in England, died Feb. 25. She was 78.

Her death was announced on her website. The cause and location were not given; Ms. Vincenzi had homes in London and South Wales.

Advertisement

Ms. Vincenzi was a journalist when, in 1989, her first novel, “Old Sins,” about intrigue in the cosmetics business, was published. Sixteen more novels followed, most recently “A Question of Trust” last year. Millions of copies of her books are in print.

Most of her novels have lots of characters and lots of pages, and fall somewhere between beach reads and prize winners.

“Vincenzi writes long, elaborate, mannerly books that aren’t serious literature but aren’t chick-lit either,” Janet Maslin wrote in 2007 in The New York Times.

With strong female characters, the stories have their share of sex and romance, although Ms. Vincenzi’s own life was a solid family affair: husband and four daughters.

“I know I must be a disappointment to people,” she told The Evening Standard of London in 1993. “The rest of my life doesn’t match up with the sort of books that I write.”

Advertisement

Penelope Hannaford was born on April 10, 1939, in Bournemouth, on England’s southern coast. She was the only child of Stanley Hannaford, a banker, and the former Mary Hawkey.

She grew up in Devon and took to writing early, creating her own magazine, called Stories, at age 9 and selling it at school.

She was working as a secretary at Vogue when she met Paul Vincenzi on a blind date. They were married in 1960.

Ms. Vincenzi was a journalist for much of her working life, writing and editing for newspapers and magazines and in 1972 starting a fashion magazine, Looking Good, with her husband.

“It was the money that made me first have a crack at writing a book,” Ms. Vincenzi told an interviewer in 1999. “It was the late 1980s, and quite a few women journalists — like Jilly Cooper — had written novels. So I decided to have a go myself.”

She asked Cooper, whom she was interviewing for an article, for advice.

Advertisement

“I mentioned to Jilly that I had a story in mind, and she told me about her agent, Desmond Elliott,” Ms. Vincenzi told The Irish Times in 1997. “When I got back to the office, she had got him to ring me, which is unheard of. I mean, you don’t share your agent — it’s like sharing your husband.”

Among her most successful novels were “An Absolute Scandal” (2007), “The Best of Times” (2009), and a series known as the Spoils of Time trilogy (2000-2002). She also wrote two books of short stories.

Ms. Vincenzi said she never knew how her books would end before she started them. Rather, she would just let the characters take the story where it wanted to go.

Once, as she walking with her husband near their cottage on the coast of Wales, she suddenly exclaimed, “Oh, my God, she’s died!” She had just had an epiphany about the fate of a character in “Sheer Abandon,” a 2005 novel she was writing at the time.

The businesswomen and other female characters in her books were not based on personal experience, she said.

“I like using strong women because I envy them a lot,” she told The Telegraph in 2014. “I could never dominate a boardroom or anything like that.”

Ms. Vincenzi’s husband died in 2009. She leaves her daughters Polly Harding, Sophie Cornish, Emily Gunnis, and Claudia Vincenzi.

Ms. Vincenzi was sometimes asked if she aspired to write more highbrow material. She didn’t.

“I have a strong aversion to people saying the kind of novels I write are ‘escapist,’ ” she told The Birmingham Post in 1999. “Books ought to be escapist. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a good old healthy slug of glamour and glitz.”