Penny Vincenzi is one of the UK\’s best-loved and most popular authors. Since her first novel, Old Sins, was published in 1989, she has written thirteen bestselling novels, most recently The Decision and The Best of Times.
The Decision is Â set against a glorious “coming of age” background of London, as I was reading the novel, I could see in my mind\’s eye, Â the superb city, growing and developingÂ as much as the characters and we got to get up close and personal with Penny and chat with her about all things reading.
Brooke: I just loved reading “The Decision” what drew you to setting the novel in the 1950\’s and 1960\’s?
Penny: Well thank-you I\’m glad you liked it. Essentially the story is about a custody battle; I wanted it to be nasty and I wanted the battle to be played out in the High Court. More often than not, that doesn\’t happen these days. So I decided to start the beginning of the novel in the 1960\’s which was my era and as the story developed I found that it finished just as I had wanted, in the late 1960\’s early 1970\’s.
Brooke: Do you have a favourite character from The Decision? Why?
Penny: Crikey! I do like Jeremy (love interest to central character Eliza Fullerton-Clark). He was just so lovely to create, they all were, but Jeremy especially so.
Brooke: When I received your book, I found the size of the novel was a bit daunting. Once I started reading it, I realised all those pages would take me on an extraordinary journey. What do you say to those who are daunted by the sheer size of an epic tome?
Penny: Just start reading, you know the saying “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”; just start with that first step! My job as an author is to create a story that will draw you in and make you want to continue reading. Some books are short, others take longer to tell their story; it\’s all about storytelling and the entertainment of reading that story.
Brooke: I think the idea for a list of characters is fantastic â€“ who and what they are. I wish more authors would embrace this feature. What prompted you to add this to your novels?
Penny: I\’m glad you liked this feature. Yes, just as some readers do, I can lose track of the characters. When I wrote the trilogy Spoils of Time it seemed like a good idea then and when I received readers feedback, telling me how helpful it had been, I continued t include the lists in my novels.
Brooke: The novel explores a few of the photographers of the 1950\’s and 1960\’s â€“ Do you have a favourite?
Penny: As you may know, I was fortunate enough to work with some leading magazines at this time, which also meant I was able to work with some of the photographers I\’ve slipped into The Decision. As for a favourite, Tony Armstrong-Jones who married Princess Margaret and Norman Parkinson would have to be up there. What I loved about photographers at this time was the fact that you could tell who had taken a picture just by looking at it. They all had a “signature style” if you will; nowadays, with Photoshop it is impossible to identify the photographer just by looking at the shot.
Brooke: As you mentioned you and central character Eliza had the opportunity to work with some of the great fashion houses of the time – who is your favourite designer from the era?
Penny: Well! Goodness me!! Mary Quant would certainly be one of them, but most definitely, Barbara Hulanicki â€“ who was the founder of the iconic clothing store Beiba. I remember the night before her store opening, I was sitting in the back of the store with her with my little baby in a pram next time me, sewing price tags to the garments â€“ it was such fun!
Brooke: I\’m wondering about one of the other characters from the novel, Emmeline â€“ daughter to central characters Eliza and Matt. How do you see Emmeline growing up – do you think there is a stand-alone story to be told about her?
Penny: Unless it is deliberate, I don\’t think I\’ll do a sequel. However, that being said I have thought about Emmeline, as she is a formidable little person! I generally like to start afresh, but out of all the characters from The Decision, she is the one I could imagine writing about â€“ good question! No one has ever asked me that!
Brooke: I have another character related question; Mariella Crespi (Italian socialite) says in the novel, “You do not have to have everything to be happy, just the right things”. Do you agree?
Penny: I think she\’s right, it was certainly right for her. As for what the right things were for her they were jewels, furs, lovers and chateaus.
Brooke: What about you? What would you say the right things are for you?
Penny: Well, for me, somewhere to work, a laptop, a lovely bottle of chardonnay and my family. All the rest of it is lovely, but not essential.
Brooke: I\’d love to know a bit of background about your path to becoming a writer; it\’s known that for one of your first jobs, you worked in the Harrods library – what it was like, what was your role?
Penny: In a way terrible, but in another way it was good training. I remember the horrible green wrap around uniform I had to wear and I earned four pounds a week. I was an assistant and in the library, everyone was delegated purchasers according to their surname. I was on “S-T”. It was my responsibility to write down their telephone orders and the correct delivery details. Most people spoke very quickly on the phone in those days so I had to make sure in their rush to get off the phone, I had the correct details. It wasn\’t always easy and sometimes I ended up in tears, as I was only a young thing, but it was a good learning curve.
Brooke: Speaking of learning curves, can you tell me about the hardest decision you\’ve ever had to make? It is turning down a role at Cosmopolitan Magazine?
Penny: Yes, one of the hardest. What happened was I had two children, returned to work in a part-time capacity and had two more and gave up work all together. So, I had four children spanning the ages of 16 to one year old! I was a very, very dedicated stay-at-home mum, I did the occasional bit of freelance, but it was full on at home and we were hard up. There was none of the luxuries. Anyway, Cosmopolitan magazine contacted me (I\’d written a few pieces for them) and they offered me a job, which seemed like a gold and pearl tiara! It was working four days a week, which in those days was completely unheard of and writing about things I just loved. I spoke to my husband and then asked my eldest daughter who said to me, “I think it would be terribly wrong, you\’ve got to abide by your commitment to the family”. (I could see even then that this daughter was forging her way towards a career in law!) I knew she was right and after a sleepless night, I rang Cosmo and turned down the job. That afternoon when I picked up my daughter from school, I told her and she looked at me and said “Oh that\’s good”. Then there was a pause and she looked at me and said “Mum…Do you think my hair looks better parted on the left side or middle?!” I thought Oh no what have I done?!! I\’ve taken advice from a seventeen year-old, whose main concern is her hair!! In hindsight, it was the right decision, but a hard one to make.
Brooke: Can you tell me what is your favourite part of the writing process?
Penny: The beginning, it all looks so easy at that point. You have such wonderful visions of how lovely it is going to be, to pen this next triumph and six months in you come to a grinding halt! I also like the end, when it\’s been re-worked and you see the first proof and you have that wonderful nostalgic feeling about the journey you\’ve just been on with these characters.
Brooke: Sounds like fun! Now let\’s turn it around â€“ what you\’re reading now?
Penny: P.D James , Death Comes to Pemberley , Frances Osborne\’s The Bolter and for a bit of light relief Don’t Tell Mum I Work on the Rigs…She Thinks I’m a Piano Player in a Whorehouse by Paul Carter.
Brooke: When you\’re not reading or writing what do you love doing?
Penny: I love talking, as you can probably tell, eating a lovely meal, drinking good wine, spending time with my grandchildren and relaxing in my cottage in Wales.
Brooke: What\’s next for you? Is there a new book in the pipeline?
Penny: Yes, another book; unfortunately I can\’t say much, other than it\’s of a similar nature to my previous books. It\’s very contemporary.
Brooke: Thank you for your time Penny, it\’s been such a privilege and lovely chatting with you â€“ enjoy the rest of your time in Australia!
Penny: Thank you so much, it\’s been lovely chatting with you.