Former fashion journalist who went on to become the bestselling author of 'sex-and-shopping' blockbusters
Penny Vincenzi, the writer, who died last Sunday aged 78, sold her first story aged eight and went on to become a fashion journalist and romantic novelist, the author of some 17 bestsellers which have sold more than seven-million copies worldwide.
Astute, vivacious, tough- minded, funny, and popular both with colleagues and rivals, Penny Vincenzi never made any claims to literary merit, unashamedly placing her novels in the "sex-and-shopping" category.
Indeed it was through the acknowledged queen of the genre, Jilly Cooper, whom she had been sent to interview in 1988, that she got her first break into best-sellerdom.
Jilly Cooper put her in touch with her agent: "I had the plot in my head already… When they told me it was sold for £100,000 before I'd written a word, I nearly passed out!"
As her first novel, Old Sins (1989), raced up the charts, she gave up the day job and went on to churn out blockbuster after blockbuster, often running to 600-odd pages, every two years, on average.
Her stories usually featured strong women battling their way to success - and love - in a male-dominated world. All her books, Penny Vincenzi explained, were based on the simple question "What if?" "What if you were left a lot of money?" (Windfall); "What if a bride disappeared on the morning of her wedding?" (Another Woman)."What if your husband asked you to perjure yourself for him, to keep him out of jail?" (The Dilemma); "What if you had been abandoned as a baby, or had abandoned a baby?" (Sheer Abandon).
Penny Vincenzi described herself as "a storyteller who can make people forget their own lives and problems", though reviewers could be sniffy. Yet her books offered plenty of glamour, romance and action, and she was adept at managing labyrinthine plots - The Best of Times (2009), for example, explored the effects of a motorway pile-up on an extensive cast. Her characters were vividly drawn and she was genuinely sad to say goodbye to them when a book was finished.
Indeed, the story of Penny Vincenzi's own move from journalist to becoming one of the highest-earning authors in the country could have leapt straight from the pages of one of her novels.
She was born Penelope Hannaford in Bournemouth on April 10, 1939, the only child of a bank-manager father and housewife mother, and grew up surrounded by books.
When she was eight, she laboriously tapped out in triplicate a little magazine of her own stories on her mother's typewriter, which she took to school and sold to her friends for tuppence. By her teens, she had progressed to "dreadful novels, full of forbidden passion and harrowing childbirth scenes".
She was educated at Totnes High School, then, after the family moved to London, at Notting Hill and Ealing High School. After training at a "posh secretarial college", she landed her first job on her local parish magazine ("I was fired for being glib about the Ladies' Sewing Guild") after which she became a junior secretary at Vogue ("just like The Devil Wears Prada").
She then moved to the society magazine Tatler, where she became the editor's secretary.
In 1960 she married Paul Vincenzi, an advertising consultant with whom she had fallen in love aged 19, and two years later joined the Daily Mirror, where she worked for the women's editor Marjorie Proops for a year before moving to the fashion department.
Her husband died in 2009. Penny Vincenzi is survived by four daughters.