Tributes have poured in for Penny Vincenzi as a "true trailblazer", a "natural story-teller" and "irreplaceable friend".
Vincenzi, who died on Sunday at the age of 78, would have celebrated the 30th anniversary of her publishing career in 2019. She released her first book Old Sins with Century/ Arrow in 1989 before moving with her editor, Rosie de Courcy, to Headline in 2003 with Sheer Abandon. Her latest work was A Question of Trust, published by Headline last year, with the paperback due to come this summer.
According to Headline, Vincenzi sold over seven million copies of her works around the world and "won loyal fans and friends wherever she went". At the time of her death, Headline had just concluded a deal with her agent, Clare Alexander, for a new book. "And happily, Penny was writing to the end," a spokesperson for Headline confirmed.
Publishing director Imogen Taylor said Vincenzi was a "treat" to work with as an optimist who "spread joy and cheer, regardless of what she was going through in her own life".
"She always tried very hard to look at the bright side, and to see the funny things in life," said Taylor. "Working with her was a real treat; she was always interested, always interesting, and always ready to try something new, from a fresh cover approach to a different spin on an interview, from taking interference from an editor and turning it into a fabulous plot twist to accepting a severe ‘fillet’, even though there had been hours of hard graft.
"We were proud to publisher her at Headline, and in these days of open plan, the whole office knew when Penny was on the phone – there was lots of laughter, diversions into gossip about the latest musical, or what was going on in The Archers, and then back to the nitty gritty of what to do with that particular character. Would she really spurn the love of her life after all these years? Could he really be such a plonker? Yes, she would and he could.
"We’ve had such a long, happy journey being Penny’s publisher that it’s hard to believe we won’t be seeing her again, and our thoughts are with Penny’s four daughters, Polly, Sophie, Emily and Claudia. So from all at Headline – Jamie, Mari, Jane, Georgina, Jo and the wider team at Hachette, we’ll miss you Penny, and we salute you."
Jamie Hodder Williams, director of Trade Publishing, praised Vincenzi's twisty tales and the joy she brought all who came into contact with her.
"Penny delighted and exasperated millions of readers all over the world for 17 engaging, relevant and immersive novels. You just sink into the pages of one of Penny’s novels, and she draws you through the story with wonderfully rich characters and so many astute observations – then hits you with an unexpected twist," he said.
"She was also such entertaining company – always interested, funny, and full of laughter. We will all miss her and the joy she brought immensely."
Clare Alexander, Vincenzi’s agent, paid tribute to both her "natural talent" as a writer and her "generous gift of friendship".
"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 everyone she ever met," said Alexander. "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.
"For myself, I will miss her every day. She was a story-teller of such natural talent. But our relationship went so much deeper than the merely professional (although what success and what fun we shared!). There were celebratory times but there were also sad times for both of us over the years, and through the good and the bad Penny always looked for hope and joy and the best way forward.
"After she parted company with one of the four editors who had meant so much to her, I told her she would always have that editor’s voice in her head. I will always have Penny’s bright and positive voice in my head, and I am so grateful for that. Penny Vincenzi was an irreplaceable friend. Many of us in publishing were truly fortunate to have known her. And none of us will ever forget her."
Vincenzi's daughters Polly Harding, Sophie Cornish, Emily Gunnis and Claudia Vincenzi said they were "incredibly touched and overwhelmed" by the tributes from the industry and from her readers.
"Although we knew how exceptional and special she was, we’re so grateful to know that so many others knew her that way, too," they said in a joint statement.
Her daughters went on to pay tribute to her as a "true trailblazer" and "an extraordindary role model", sharing their memories of "her kindness, care and constancy", her sense of fun and "endless energy", and how she was "endlessly considerate and supportive" - all traits she brought to her role as a mother and grandmother, as well as to her marriage.
"Penny was as beautiful as she was stylish, with an insatiable appetite for every imaginable aspect of life," they said. "She was endlessly positive and resilient but perhaps would most want to be remembered as the extraordinary role model that she was. 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."