Obituary: Penelope Hoare

Obituary: Penelope Hoare

Penelope Susan Hoare (12th January 1940 - 6th May 2017), who has died after a long illness, was one of the outstanding editors of her day. In the course of a career that lasted nearly 50 years, she was successively editorial director of Hamish Hamilton, Heinemann and Methuen, publisher of Sinclair-Stevenson and finally deputy publishing director of Chatto & Windus (C&W). Throughout her professional journey, many of her authors followed her from house to house. She was still editing as a semi-retired freelance until shortly before she died.

Among the authors who paid tribute to her, Ferdinand Mount said that “she could rescue the most tangled prose, sort out the soggiest plots and restore the morale of the most paranoid author”. David Starkey said that “she was a model editor... She was passionate about her authors and fought for them against critic and apparatchiks alike”. Patrick Gale said: “She was as true a friend as she was gifted an editor; you could never cross an opera house lobby and not hear her greeted fondly.”

Where necessary, Penny was quite capable of taking command. As she once noted: “Some authors are not primarily writers. I worked for years with Yehudi Menuhin, who had much to say in his books, but whose writing skills did not match the bravura of his violin-playing.”

Describing her craft, she wrote: “Editors are midwives. They have the benefit of experience, and can exhort and encourage; hold hands and give comfort; assist at the birth and check that the child is healthy. But the baby is not theirs. The worst thing editors can have is cloth ears.”

Penelope was born in 1940 in southern India, where her father was a tea planter. She won a scholarship to read history at Oxford University and, after going down, went bicycling around the Valley of the Kings. She then drove across Asia on the “hippie trail”; on the return journey she had to sell her own blood in the Middle East after her Land Rover crashed. Following a brief period as a journalist, she launched her publishing career as a picture researcher with the Purnell Press.

C&W publishing director Clara Farmer paid tribute: “She was generous to her colleagues and constantly encouraging to her authors—although stern when she needed to be. We were stunned at the stamina she displayed during repeated bouts of cancer treatment, brushing off any enquiries about her health. We are all bereft.” Literary agent Vivien Green added: “Penny was such an anchor in so many authors’ lives for so long, and one of the kindest people I’ve ever known.”