Penny Vincenzi, described by Glamour magazine as the “doyenne of the modern blockbuster,” has 15 bestselling novels to her name. Her most recent, A Perfect Heritage, takes place at The House of Farrell, a cosmetics company whose fate hangs in the balance.
Why did you write your new book?
So many answers! Because I wanted to. I am never quite happy without a book on the go. I feel incomplete, a bit under-utilised. It’s a bit like that feeling when you want a drink…!
Because I had to. There’s this thing called a deadline. My contract specified one and it was getting nearer and nearer.
Because it was there. I always feel once I’m into a book and the plot is shaping up and the characters are coming to life, I’ve stumbled upon it all and need to follow it and send it on its way.
Because this one seemed irresistible. So many of the things I enjoy and am fascinated by and would want to read about myself – the cosmetic industry, a faltering marriage, a female tycoon, a dynasty – were there to be explored within it. I just needed to get on with it.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
It was from my father. I was weeping with frustration because the dinner I’d just cooked him and my mother when I wanted to impress them was burnt and completely tasteless to boot. “I’m just hopeless at cooking!” I wailed. “Yes,” he said, “you are a bit. But you’re extremely good at your job” (I was a junior fashion writer on the Daily Mirror). “You concentrate on that and do well and you can pay someone else to do your cooking.”
Which I did. Never worried about cooking, or any of the hundreds of other things I’m bad at, since.
Which historical period do you wish you’d lived through and why?
The 1930s. They were so glamorous, the clothes were so chic – those lovely bias-cut silk and satin dresses, floaty scarves, huge fox fur collars wonderful picture hats – the interior design so extremely stylish, wonderful deco, mirrored furniture, fringed lamps, and the music and the shows! Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins – just altogether brilliant!
What agreed upon classic do you despise?
I absolutely don’t despise any classic, I think that would be presumptuous and arrogant, but there are several I confess I don’t like.
I have never ever got to grips with the Lord of the Rings; I’m afraid I find it almost incomprehensible. I have tried and tried, and just end up with appalling mental indigestion and mild depression even after chapter one. A certain cowardice, combined with a lack of intellectual rigour keeps me from persevering past the very first few pages of anything written by Dostoevsky.
Which fictional character do you wish you’d created?
Oh my goodness, that’s a tough one. So many. All those romantic heroes – but not just romantic, dark and difficult – Mr. Rochester; Max de Winter (in Rebecca); Heathcliff… I was in love with them all in my teens. Then Scarlett O’Hara, so careless of what other people thought of her, and totally determined to have what she wanted and, therefore, I guess, very much ahead of her time. Oh, and perhaps most of all, Amanda in Private Lives, so utterly witty and glamorous and selfish. She’s a masterpiece.
Which fictional character do you wish you were?
I think Elizabeth Bennet. I’d love to be astute and cool and admired for my strength of character (highly unlikely the way I am, at the moment being more like one of her sillier sisters). And then she was also very, very good. Without being irritating. Wonderful. Alternatively, a Georgette Heyer heroine like the Grand Sophy, and have men falling helplessly in love with me the minute they set eyes on me and, however hapless I might appear, proving a great deal cleverer and sharper than the hero had thought.