Swing back to the '60s
top author Penny vincenzi's own life sounds like the plot from one of her novels, writes Garreth Murphy
DANCING with Michael Caine at the premiere of Zulu. Having her hair styled by Vidal Sassoon. Hanging out with Coco Chanel and Christian Dior -- Penny Vincenzi's own life sounds as glamorous as those of the characters in her novels.
The author of 14 novels, which have sold in excess of seven million copies worldwide, Vincenzi is hailed as the doyenne of the modern blockbuster.
Her latest, The Decision, is set against a '60s backdrop and charts the rise and fall of a relationship between a young couple whose love affair eventually descends into a pitched custody battle, and it has already hit the best-sellers lists.
A former journalist, Vincenzi appears to relish interviews and seems genuinely inquisitive, asking plenty of questions herself throughout. But she has always spoken her mind, having written articles in the past bemoaning the fact that women are not held back by the so-called 'glass ceiling', but by not having a desire to succeed.
"We women often make the glass ceiling for ourselves as much as it is made for us. It is fine to strive and work really hard until you have a baby. But once you have that baby, your whole perspective changes. It happened to me.
"Most women want babies but most women don't want to waste their education and talents. Nowadays it is probably as good as it is going to get."
Vincenzi can speak on the subject better than most. "I was once fired from a job as a fashion editor for taking maternity leave. I had no idea I had been fired until the baby was three weeks old and someone from the office rang to tell me how sorry they were that I 'had left'. I was like, 'No, I haven't left -- I'll be back in three weeks'. But the editor had moved someone into my role the day after I went on my six weeks maternity leave and that was it."
Such setbacks aside, Vincenzi's own glamorous career saw her working with the legendary journalist Marjorie Proops, as a fashion editor with iconic London magazine Nova before she moved on to setting up her own title, Looking Good, in the early 1970s with her husband, Paul. She says that the decision almost killed them financially but she was determined to give it a shot because "when you're young, you don't think, you just act".
Penny went on to freelance for most of the major London papers -- specialising in lengthy profiles -- before turning her hand to fiction in the late 1980s. From there, it was bestseller after bestseller. But two years ago, tragedy struck as Paul, with whom she had been with for more than 40 years, died after a short illness.
"In a sense I was very thankful for the fact that I am a writer when my husband died as I threw myself into the books even more so than usual. The books have become even more of a backbone for me since his death."
Despite the success she's enjoyed, Penny admits that she is unable to see a day when she won't write.
"People have asked me why don't I stop writing? After all, I have enough money. I've 'proved myself'. But I can't stop myself. It's in my genes. And while my four daughters sometimes give out to me for driving myself so hard, I think they secretly like the fact that I am so self-sufficient. I think I would be a terrible worry to them if I didn't have my work."
Since the 1960s are so prevalent in The Decision, the conversation frequently returns to that era. She remembers the decade fondly: "The '60s were a lovely time and people thought that anything was possible. But although everyone looks back on that era as being incredibly glamorous, and I was a fashion editor at the time, we absolutely weren't living the sex, drugs and rock'n'roll lifestyle because we had very young kids. So while everyone else was dancing the night away, we were at home babysitting."
But not every night -- as that dance with Michael Caine proves. "I only danced with him the once, for about three minutes. Which was a shame as he was so beautiful. It wasn't as if we were in a club together. But it's a good story."
And good stories are what she's always been in the business of.
The Decision (Headline Review, €14.99) is out now