Monday, January 16, 2012

Penny Jordan

On the day of Penny Jordan's funeral I'd like to thank jay Dixon, author of The Romance Fiction of Mills & Boon 1909-1990s, for writing the following guest post about Penny Jordan's writing career for Teach Me Tonight.

Penny Jordan

24 Nov 1946 – 31 Dec 2011
Penny Jordan was born in Preston, Lancashire, and lived in north-west England throughout her life. A keen reader from childhood, her favourite authors were Jane Austen, Dorothy Dunnett, Charles Dickens, Georgette Heyer, Catherine Cookson, Shakespeare and the Bible. She died from inoperable cancer at the early age of 65.

As a consequence of her love of Heyer, she started her writing career as one of the Desmond Elliot stable of authors, writing Regencies as Caroline Courtney. The first was A Wager for Love, where the hero (who according to one reviewer is ‘a bit too stuffy’) abducts the heroine. Her second, Guardian of the Heart, has a more typical Jordan hero: cold and aloof and out for revenge.

An insatiable storyteller, while writing Caroline Courtney Regencies she also wrote between 1981 and 1983, three air-hostess romps as Melinda Wright and two thrillers as Lydia Hitchcock, but her big break came in 1981, when an editor at Mills & Boon picked up Falcon’s Prey from the slush pile. A sheik novel, it has a dictatorial hero, who believes the heroine is a gold-digger and treats her accordingly. This remained a typical hero for Jordan, but she was also able to reinvent her M&B novels so that, for instance, in her 50th novel for them, Loving, published in 1986, quite early on in the novel the hero is ‘stripped of his masculine arrogance’ and the heroine, who was raped as an eighteen-year-old, ‘blot[s] out his masculinity’ in order to talk to him. This picture of a hero is a far cry from one whose ‘study was an openly sexual one, and not merely sexual but contemptuous’ (Passionate Protection, 1983, p.25), or who ‘wouldn’t allow her to have any views that weren’t his’ (The Inward Storm, 1987, p.12), which are Jordan’s more usual type of hero.

[On 24 January jay Dixon adds:  I have now confirmed that Penny Jordan also wrote circa 7 novels as Frances Roding for M&B early in her career.]

In 2007 Jordan was interviewed by the Romantic Novelists' Association (who presented her with a Lifetime Achievement award in 2011), where she said in answer to a question about repeating plots: ‘In each book the characters are different, with different approaches and reactions, so the plot is bound to develop differently. Each new hero/heroine has a unique past, their own feelings and new conflict so any coincidental plot similarities don’t matter.’ (Romance Matters, p.9). This is reflected in her 1994 novel French Leave, where the hero is in disguise, and it is the heroine who misunderstands him and his motives.

Although some of her Regency heroines were naïve innocents, her Mills & Boon heroines were ‘self-determining with decent careers and some experience of life’ (Fabulous at Fifty, p.241), and always fought their corner.

In 1994 Harlequin set up the MIRA imprint, and Jordan was among their first authors. Her first two novels for them were New York Times bestsellers, and her third, Hidden Years, was her personal biggest mainstream seller. It still has her trademark dictatorial male figure, but the emphasis is on the mother/daughter relationship of the two main characters.

However, after 10 years her sales started to fall, and her contract with them was eventually cancelled. She started looking for another publisher, and so the Annie Groves sagas were born, under the HarperCollins imprint. These are Second World War stories based on her own family’s memories. A different style from her Mills & Boon novels, they are set in Liverpool and emphasise the home and family – for instance in the Campion series many of the important decisions are taken in the yellow-painted kitchen, which becomes a symbol throughout the novels of family love and understanding.

A versatile author – as well as her Regencies, thrillers, Mills & Boons and sagas, she leaves a complete but unpublished history of Richard the Lionheart – Jordan was able to adapt her style and plotting to the demands of her chosen genre without losing any of the vitality of her writing. With only three ‘O’ levels to her name, in English language and literature and geography, on the advice of Desmond Elliot, who told her ‘you can write’, she never took a writing course. Nonetheless, she became not just a successful author, but attained and remained at the top of her profession for decades. She wrote well in many genres, yet remained unassuming, diffident about her own talent, but always keen to help new writers.

Works Cited

  • Fabulous at Fifty: Recollections of the Romantic Novelists’ Association 1960-2010, ed. Jenny Haddon & Diane Pearson. The Romantic Novelists' Association, 2010
  • Romance Matters, February 2007 
As Caroline Courtney
  • A Wager for Love, 1979 Warner Books
  • Guardian of the Heart, 1979 Warner Books
As Penny Jordan
  • Falcon’s Prey, 1981 Mills & Boon
  • French Leave, 1994 Mills & Boon
  • Loving, 1986 Mills & Boon
  • Passionate Protection, 1983 Mills & Boon
  • The Hidden Years, 1990 Mira Books
  • The Inward Storm, 1987 Mills & Boon
Campion Family Series as Annie Groves:
  • Across the Mersey, 2008 HarperCollins
  • Daughters of Liverpool, 2008 HarperCollins
  • The Heart of the Family, 2009 HarperCollins
  • Where the Heart Is, 2009 HarperCollins
  • When the Lights Go On Again, 2010 HarperCollins
Obituaries can be found at The Guardian, the Harlequin blog, the Mills & Boon website, the Pink Heart Society blog and the RNA blog, and there have also been many individual tributes written by her colleagues.


  1. A lovely tribute.
    You can ask around as much as you like, and you won't hear a bad word about Penny. She helped newbie authors, including this one, with a generosity you rarely find in the writing community. I went to her funeral last week, and it was so like one of her get-togethers, except it was missing one thing--Penny. I'll miss her.

  2. is penny died?

  3. oh my gosh.. is it really true. penny died.

  4. The odd thing is... my full name is Caroline Courtney!!!!!!!! I was searching my name and found this o_o wow!