Bestselling author Penny Vincenzi dies aged 78

The bestselling author Penny Vincenzi, whose novels have sold more than 7m copies worldwide, has died aged 78.

Vincenzi published her first book, Old Sins, in 1989 and produced 17 novels and two short story collections. She was several chapters into a new book. When she launched her final work, A Question of Trust, in 2017, she said: “If nobody buys it, it will be my last book. Otherwise, no, I don’t want it to be my last book … I still love writing and the whole process.”

Tackling topics ranging from the publishing empire of the Lytton family in the Spoils of Time trilogy, to trouble at Lloyd’s insurance market in An Absolute Scandal, Vincenzi’s sweeping, doorstopper-sized novels earned her the moniker “doyenne of the modern blockbuster” from Glamour. Before turning to fiction, she wrote for newspapers including the Times, the Mirror and the Daily Mail.

Vincenzi’s agent, Clare Alexander, said: “Her special gift as a novelist was her love for her characters, and that came from her deep interest in not only the people in her imagination, but also in pretty well everyone she ever met.

“She had such a generous gift of friendship, quite blind to whether someone was the boss or just making her a cup of tea. And that is why so many people in publishing will be devastated by her loss. Throughout her life – which like everyone’s, had its own tragedies and pitfalls – Penny always looked for hope and joy and the best way forward, which is perhaps why her huge fan base crossed generations and never deserted her. I will miss her every day. She was a storyteller of such natural talent.”

In a joint statement, her four daughters Polly Harding, Sophie Cornish, Emily Gunnis and Claudia Vincenzi paid tribute. “A true trailblazer, her ambition matched her talent, enabling her to break down barriers and show others behind her – especially her daughters – what it was possible to achieve, professionally and personally. In her later years she met many challenges with her health, but was adamant to remain, in her own words, ‘cheerful and positive, someone the grandchildren remembered as happy and fun to be around.’ She always said she wanted to die at her typewriter. Only last week she was still galloping through her new novel, so she fulfilled her ambitions to the last,” the statement read.

Fellow authors remembered Vincenzi online, including Katie Fforde and Sophie Kinsella, who called her “the most entertaining of friends”.

“As an author I so admired her ability to weave together huge, epic plot lines and create such satisfying books full of real life, wit and passion,” Kinsella added. “She was like one of her own novels: once you were in her company you didn’t want to say goodbye. I will really miss her.”

Novelist Harriet Evans, who edited Vincenzi before turning to writing fiction herself, said that working with her was “the highlight of my publishing career, hands down”.

Evans wrote on Instagram: “Her astonishing powers of storytelling, her work ethic, her intelligence and the way she raised up everyone with her and made them love her, from editorial assistants to the MD of the company – so many authors including me have so much to learn from her. I say all this about me to illustrate how special she made everyone she encountered feel. Hundreds, probably thousands of people who came across her, not to mention the millions who devoured her books. Oh the books were so flipping amazing.”

by Alison Flood