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Tickled pink with her powder blue Beetle Add to ...

Louise Penny is an international best-selling author, a former CBC journalist who turned her passion into a series of award-winning crime novels.

Her latest, The Brutal Telling, spent three weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It also won the 2009 Agatha Award for Best Novel. It's the third year in a row she has won the coveted award.

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Clearly, Penny is on a winning streak. Besides this award and several other nominations, including the international Macavity Award for mystery writers, she just bought her dream car - a 2006 powder blue Volkswagen New Beetle convertible. But she didn't buy it to mark her good fortune. "It wasn't a treat for winning, but it sure put an even bigger smile on my face.

Read Kate Robertson's Driving School adventures



"I feel like a teenager - I feel almost sick I am so happy about this car!" says Penny by telephone from her home in a village south of Montreal. "We decided we were going to be a little bit more responsible. We were going to just have one car so Michael, my husband, and I sold both cars and bought one. And then realized, we live in the country - we should have realized earlier that one car isn't enough.

"So we wanted something that was environmentally responsible. We knew we wanted a smaller car so we decided we would get a Volkswagen convertible. It's such a dream car. It stunned us that it has taken us this long to figure out that that was the car we wanted."

She's a bit reluctant to admit the Bug's best feature. "This is so embarrassing, but for me, it's the colour," she laughs.

"The salesman was going on and on - it has this feature, it has that feature and all I'm trying to say is 'What colour is it? Powder blue?' I saw a powder blue one and I absolutely lost my heart," says Penny whose schedule is jam-packed with author talks and book festivals including the Celebrated Writer's Series at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, the Sunshine Coast Writers Festival in British Columbia, the International Festival of Authors in Toronto and Wordfest in Calgary this fall.

It took a few weeks to find her powder-blue Bug - it turned up at a local dealership in Sherbrooke, Que. "I couldn't believe it. We were dancing around - screaming! You would have thought someone had just said you won the Nobel prize!"

She was sold on the VW even before she saw it. "I put a down payment on it over the telephone. There was no sort of second thought here. He could have said it was double the price and I would have said, 'Is it powder blue?' " she laughs.

"As I get older, I need less and that's what it says about me. My declaring that isn't just words - it is genuinely how I feel. I need less. It's not luxurious inside. It doesn't have satellite navigation. It doesn't have the MP3 hookup - it has just a few knobs and a steering wheel. And I'm thrilled. As I get older, it takes me a lot less to be happy. Ironically, as I need less, I'm given more."

She loves the ride and handing, but she'll have to be careful on the road. "It's very peppy. I have a bit of a lead foot. I'm going 120-130 (km/h) and then I slow down when I think there's a cop. I have speeding tickets up the ying-yang."

Penny's first car was also a VW - a Rabbit convertible with a stick shift.

"That poor little car. It took me about a month to get it out of second gear. I was fine in first; second was no problem because it was straight down. Third gear was a disaster. So I drove it in second for about a month," she laughs.

"By the time I sold the Rabbit, it was a bit of a mess. Poor little thing, the windshield wipers wouldn't stop going. I could only sell it in the rain so they wouldn't know that the windshield wipers wouldn't stop."

At least there were some good memories, including one after she started her first broadcasting job in Thunder Bay, Ont., more than two decades ago. "I came from Toronto and I was extremely arrogant - a callow young person and I thought I'd have a lot to teach these people.

"I was self-aware, but not very aware of the world around me. I was driving in the Kenora area. I remember turning this corner and having one of those ah-ha moments - where I was suddenly struck for the first time in my life by how beautiful the world was. But I actually had to stop the car in the middle of nowhere because I couldn't go on. I still remember the scene - there was a lake on one side and a mountain on the other and not a soul in sight. It was a life-changing moment."

For Penny, driving is inspirational. "Driving is a huge part of the writing process. It's quiet time - I can't do anything else. I just free up my mind and listen to my music.

"That's where most of my ideas come from. I start to see the characters, see the scenes, I imagine the dialogue and suddenly the ideas that really lift a novel come to me while I'm driving," says Penny, whose sixth book in the Inspector Gamache series, called Bury Your Dead, comes out this fall.

Penny is basking in the glory of her wins and her wheels. "I think I have my dream car. I honesty am just thrilled with this vehicle. I wouldn't give it up for the world right now."

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pgentile@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @PetrinaGentile

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