Penny Jordan, author of 200 romance novels, dies at 65

Penny Jordan, a British romance novelist whose tales of beguiling women who fell breathlessly in love with handsome sheiks, Sicilian billionaires and Russian oligarchs sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, died Dec. 31 at a hospital in Cheshire, England. She was 65.

She had cancer, said Jenny Haddon, treasurer of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Before her paperback books became irresistible fare for readers in more than 100 countries, Ms. Jordan worked as a secretary in a community bank. In the late 1970s, she entered a romance writing contest. She lost but was soon discovered by an agent seeking fresh talent.

Beginning with “Falcon’s Prey,” published in 1981, Ms. Jordan — whose real name was Penny Halsall — wrote more than 200 books that were translated into dozens of languages. At times, she was so prolific that she churned out a new novel every two months, including “Captive at the Sicilian Billionaire’s Command,” “A Stormy Spanish Summer” and “One Night With the Sheikh.”

She was a“brilliant story-teller,” Haddon wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post. Ms. Jordan was “at the forefront of the movement to have heroines of romantic fiction who were self-determining, independent women with careers.”

A typical heroine of Ms. Jordan’s stories longed after statuesque men with impenetrable hearts and luxuriant hair. The women, though ravishing and strong-minded, typically had egos as fragile as hibiscus pedals and yearned for the satisfaction that came with transforming a steely-eyed hero into a gentle yet passionate lover.

Although her books brimmed with sensuality, Ms. Jordan said the racy scenes were often the hardest part for her to imagine.

“I am of a generation where girls didn’t pop into bed with chaps they met for a date,” she told the Liverpool Daily Post in 2006.

Her formula proved hugely successful, with sales of her novels exceeding $500 million. Nonetheless, Ms. Jordan said her life was not as glamorous as that of her characters.

She composed her novels on an electric typewriter on her kitchen table, most often in the company of her German shepherd, Sheba, and her cat, Posh, while wearing a comfortable pair of “woolly socks.”

Penelope Jones was born Nov. 24, 1946, in Preston, Lancashire, England.

Her husband, Steve Halsall, died in 2002 from a form of cancer linked to alcohol abuse. His addiction was her “secret,” Ms. Jordan said.

“I was too ashamed and afraid to confide in friends, and wanted to convince others and myself tha t my marriage was a success,” she told the British publication the Express in 2006. “ I lost myself in my writing. Finding ways for my characters to overcome their problems and make their relationships work helped plaster over the wound caused by my inability to make things right at home.”

Survivors include her mother; a brother; and a sister.

Besides her romance novels written as Penny Jordan, she also used the pen names Annie Groves for historical fiction and Melinda Wright, Caroline Courtney and Lydia Hitchcock for romance mysteries.

In 1989, Harlequin came up with a marketing scheme to capi­tal­ize on an untapped market: the women of East Berlin. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the publisher handed out more than 750,000 copies of Ms. Jordan’s “A Reason for Being” to the newly liberated German women.

“The appeal of romance is love,” Ms. Jordan once said. “And that’s universal.”

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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