Monday, September 26, 2011

Queen of Romantic Suspense

Victoria Holt was one of eight pen names for the British author, Eleanor Hibbert. Her best-known pseudonyms were Jean PlaidyVictoria Holt, and Philippa Carr, but she also wrote under the names Eleanor BurfordElbur FordKathleen KellowAnne Percival, and Ellalice Tate. She was well known for writing meticulously researched novels with strong plots and rich characterization. The popular novels of Victoria Holt were those of romantic suspense set in gloomy, old manor houses and were also known as gothic romance.

Eleanor Alice Burford was born on September 1, 1906 in a suburb of Kensington, London, England to her parents, Joseph Burford and Alice Tate. She grew up with a love for reading which she inherited from her father who was a dock laborer. She determined at an early age to be a writer. After certain circumstances ended her school life, she enrolled in a business college to study shorthand, typewriting, and languages. By the age of 16, she worked for a jeweler where she weighed gems and typed. She was also engaged as an interpreter for French and German patrons of a city café.

In her early twenties she married the much older George Percival Hibbert (1886-1960s) as his second wife. He shared her love affair with books and reading. He worked as a wholesale leather merchant and married life gave her the freedom and opportunity to write in earnest.

During the 1930s, she wrote and completed nine long novels of serious psychological studies of contemporary life which never made it to publication.  She was first published in newspapers such as the Daily Mail and Evening News for writing several 1000-word short stories. The literary editor at the Daily Mail recommended she try her hand at writing romantic fiction. She read and studied 50 romance novels to get a feel and understanding of the genre and published Daughter of Anna in 1941. She was then contracted to write a novel a year (later changed to 2 a year) with an advance of £30 a title.

She was a very prolific writer. She wrote five hours a day for seven days a week. Her workday started at 7:30 in the morning and ended around lunchtime with an average of at least 5000 words completed. Afternoons she kept busy with replying to the innumerable fan letters she received. She replied personally to her fans and never employed a secretary to assist her letter-writing. The typewriter on which she wrote her novels went with her everywhere, even on the three-month cruises she took every year during the English winter months. She once said, ‘I love my work so much that nothing would stop me from writing. If I take even a week’s break, I feel just miserable. It’s like a drug.’

Eleanor Hibbert died on 18 January 1993 on the cruise ship Sea Princess, somewhere between Athens, Greece and Port Said, Egypt. She was 86 years old. During the 1970’s it was reported that Hibbert was earning $300,000 per novel. By the time of her death, she had published 208 novels and sold 100 million copies.

Interesting facts:

Eleanor’s literary heroes – the Brontës, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, and Leo Tolstoy

First novel published under the name Victoria Holt – Mistress of Mellyn (1960)

Her pseudonym 'Anna Percival' was used for just a single novel: The Brides of Lanlory (1960)

She won the Romance Writers 1989 RITA award for Lifetime Achievement

Mistress of Mellyn was adapted for the stage by Mildred C. Kuner.

Victoria Holt’s Single Novels:

  • Mistress of Mellyn (1960)
  • Kirkland Revels (1962)
  • Bride of Pendorric (1963)
  • The Legend of the Seventh Virgin (1965)
  • Menfreya in the Morning (1966)
  • The King of the Castle (1967)
  • The Queen's Confession: The Story of Marie-Antoinette (1968)
  • The Shivering Sands (1969)
  • The Secret Woman (1970)
  • Shadow of the Lynx (1971)
  • On the Night of the Seventh Moon (1972)
  • The Curse of the Kings (1973)
  • The House of a Thousand Lanterns (1974)
  • Lord of the Far Island (1975)
  • The Pride of the Peacock (1976)
  • Devil on Horseback (1977)
  • My Enemy, the Queen (1978)
  • Spring of the Tiger (1979)
  • Mask of the Enchantress (1980)
  • Judas Kiss (1981)
  • The Demon Lover (1982)
  • The Time of the Hunter's Moon (1983)
  • The Landower Legacy (1984)
  • The Road to Paradise Island (1985)
  • Secret for a Nightingale (1986)
  • Silk Vendetta (1987)
  • The India Fan (1988)
  • The Captive (1989)
  • Snare of Serpents (1990)
  • Daughter of Deceit (1991)
  • Seven for a Secret (1992)
  • The Black Opal (1993)

A more comprehensive book list of Eleanor Hibbert and her many pseudonyms can be found here:

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