Penelope Jones Halsall
(AKA Caroline Courtney, Annie Groves, Lydia Hitchcock, Melinda Wright, and Penny Jordan)
Childhood and Early Life
Born on November 24, 1946, Penelope “Penny,” Jones came into the world in a nursing home in Preston, Lancashire, England. She was the first child of Anthony Winn Jones, an engineer, and his wife Margaret Louise Groves Jones. A younger brother, Anthony, and a sister, Prudence, or “Pru,” soon followed.
After living in Lancashire for several years, her family moved to Cheshire. Like many future writers, Penny had a vivid imagination as a child and was an active reader. Starting at age 10 or 11, her mother introduced Penny to the romantic serials in the Woman’s Weekly magazines. She became hooked on reading Mills & Boon and was a devoted fan. In those days, private lending libraries were the only source to obtain those books. Not until years later would the books go on sale in shops so Penny could have her keep of them.
Penny went to Todmorden High School and then worked as a typist in Manchester. She had met the love of her life, Steve Halsall, as a teenager, whom she married after her graduation. Steve was supportive of Penny’s burgeoning ambitions to write and purchased a typewriter for her to create romantic fiction.
A Writer is Born
Penny entered a competition run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA), which brought her to the attention of an agent, and in 1979 she published Duchess in Disguise, the first of her 25 Regency romances written under the name Caroline Courtney.
Around the time that Duchess in Disguise was published, Penny read in a magazine that Mills & Boon were looking for new authors.
“I was still an avid reader of Mills & Boon romances – on publication day I used to rush out of work to get to the local book store to grab my favourites before they all disappeared. I chose to write the kind of romance I love best – one with a sheikh hero.”
Back then, Mills & Boon selected most of their new authors through unsolicited manuscripts and writing competitions. The editor who discovered Penny’s work in the slush pile in 1980 described her as “a raw talent-–a born storyteller with a unique, intense and passionate voice.” Her first book for them was Falcon’s Prey (1981).
In the early 1980’s Penny also wrote several contemporary romances as Melinda Wright and Lydia Hitchcock. She would go on to publish other Mills & Boon/ Harlequins under the pseudonym Frances Roding.
Penny would have the honor of her novel A Reason for Being published as book #1000 for the Harlequin Presents line. I remember my edition has a shiny gold cover, so I knew it was something special. Later, she would write full-length contemporary novels such as Power Play, The Hidden Years, and Silver, which would be a bit darker than her usual romances.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Penny would be one of Mills & Boon/ Harlequin’s most successful writers, selling tens of millions. Her heroines were often shy, insecure, or misguided-but-well-meaning and her heroes could range from cruel and passionate to tender and loving, but in the end, they always fell forever in love with their heroines.
A New Era and Sunset
Sadly, Penny’s husband Steve passed away in 2002. Afterward, she found a new focus in her career, writing series of novels for HarperCollins under the pseudonym Annie Groves, using her mother’s maiden name. The inspiration for these books came from Penny’s mother’s experiences during World War II. Set Liverpool and London, these novels focused on the home front in England and the changing role of women during wartime. This series would introduce a new generation of fans to Penny Jones-Halsall’s works.
Penny lived in a neo-Georgian house in Nantwich, Cheshire, with her Alsatian Sheba and cat Posh. In her kitchen, she worked from home, surrounded by her pets, and welcomed interruptions from her friends and family.
She was an active member of the RNA, always supporting new authors. In 2011 Penny was presented with the association’s lifetime achievement award. Her last Annie Groves novel, My Sweet Valentine, along with two further volumes for Mills & Boon, The Price of Royal Duty and A Secret Disgrace, would be published before her passing.
Penny Jordan’s Legacy
During her 30 year career, Penny Halsall was one of the world’s best-selling romance writers, with more than 90-100 million copies of well-over 200 books sold. Her works were translated into 25 languages worldwide.
More books would be released in the decade following her death, both as Penny Jordan and Annie Groves, with a final Annie Groves book to be published in 2022.
Unfortunately, Penny died too young on December 31, 2011, at age 65, from cancer. She left behind many loving nieces, nephews, and godchildren, not to mention her millions of fans. Her love stories remain to instill hope, passion, and imagination in all of us.