When I first joined the Romantic Novelist's Association umpteen years ago, I was at home with two very small children, working as a freelance editor and attempting to write in my pitifully meagre spare time. For the first year I was a member, I don't think I had email, and I certainly didn't have any contact with any other members of the RNA. But that all changed when I was invited to join what was then known as the RNA cyber chapter, an email group open to all members of the RNA. There I found a whole host of welcoming, lovely writers, who were happy to give advice, help and support to a newbie like me.
Among those writers, one was to turn into a very good friend. Not being a Mills and Boon reader (that is not to knock the genre, romantic fiction is a very broad church and M&B just isn't my particular cup of tea), it took me an embarrassingly long time to realise that the lovely Penny Halsall who took time out to give me advice and offered to critique my work, was in fact none other then Penny Jordan a best selling Harlequin author of quite staggering proportions. Her output, dedication and commitment to her trade was second to none, and her well deserved success in her chosen field could have meant she was snooty and overbearing with wannabes like me. But Penny wasn't like that. She was modest and self effacing and loved to help fellow writers on the path to publication. And she certainly helped me.
Some time later, I was invited to join another email group of which Penny was a member, consisting of writers at different stage of publication, who all support one another in our daily lives. There Penny was a great support to us all, always quick with sympathy if anyone had a problem, ever ready to give advice one asked. She was also uproariously funny, and many of her posts made me laugh out loud.
During this period, I was struggling to keep on top of being a mum, still editing, trying to be a writer and coping with my elderly inlaws. There were many points at which I despaired and nearly gave up. Penny was one among several people who persuaded me to keep going. Her thoughtful and honest appraisals of my writing helped me to hone and perfect my skills. And when the new Avon list started, it was Penny who suggested to me that I try there. Without that nudge, I might not be where I am today, and I will always be grateful to her for that.
As is often the case with email friends, I didn't actually get to meet Penny until a couple of years ago, when I encountered an incredibly glamorous woman at the Harper Collins party, surrounded by friends, who greeted me like a long lost friend. Although it was the only time we met, I felt like I had known her forever.
Like a lot of us, I was aware that Penny had some health problems, but she always played them down, so until last week I had no idea she was seriously ill. Typically generous to the last, she sent me messages of support through my own travails with Rosemarie, without once dropping a hint of her own condition.
It was a huge body blow to hear how ill she was, and then to discover she had passed away so quickly after that, but knowing I am not alone in grieving her loss, is helping. And knowing that I was privileged enough to have had her support and love all these years is a huge boost at a difficult time.
RIP Lovely lady, you will be sadly missed, and not just by me.