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Penny JordanI have some very sad news.

Sometimes the writing community can keep a secret. Quite a few of us have been praying for Penny Jordan, who was taken into hospital over Christmas.

Last night, the last day of 2011, Penny died. She had terminal cancer and she’d been ill for some time.

That’s the official announcement. I’m unutterably saddened by this news. I didn’t know Penny well, but she was a stalwart of the RNA, a great writer and an example to us all. She never lost her sense of humou, or her kindnes, or her amazing elegance. The last time I saw her was at a distance, when she gave a talk to the RNA conference. That was when I learned she was ill, when she arrived and left in short order, where she’d usually have lingered and chatted.

The first time I met her was at an RNA chapter meeting, a convivial lunch. I had one book out with a tiny epublisher, and I’d scraped membership. I still felt like an interloper. She held her hand out, shook mine. “Hello, I’m Penny Jordan.” I felt like an honest-to-goodness writer for the very first time.

The last time we had a good chat, she told me about her Internet village, where she played and wrote stories. She had high hopes for it. Penny was always looking forward. She was kind and chatty with everyone she met and always encouraged new authors, never lost her sense of the new and the exciting.

She wrote for the Mills and Boon Presents line all her career, the one whose bedrock is millionaires and secretaries. That was where she started and she was still writing for the line when she died. She worried about her deadlines in hospital.

She also had books with Mira and a series of family dramas. She wrote under another name, too, Annie Groves. She was Caroline Courtney, who wrote historical romances, and she was Lydia Hitchcock and Melinda Wright. She clocked up an amazing total of 251 books in her career.

Book CoverPenny was a career author. She started work as a secretary and worked for a number of years, so she knew what that area of work was like before she gave it up to write full time. She started out in the seventies, and she moved with the times, first writing the waif secretary/brutal boss books, and then softening the characters as the readership demanded. She never lost sight of what her readers wanted, and they loved her for it. She has a new book out this month, The Reluctant Surrender.

She never responded to bad reviews or good ones, setting an example many writers, including myself, should remember more often. As well as her work with the RNA, she had her own writing group, where she mentored writers and introduced them to agents and publishers. That’s paying forward in a big way and something she didn’t have to do, but she loved doing it. She also did a lot of work with local charities.

She sold more than 70 million books in her career, worldwide.

Goodbye, Penny. We will miss you.