As Victoria Holt, she was considered one of the supreme writers of the Gothic romance, a compelling storyteller whose gripping novels of the darker face of love have thrilled millions.
As Jean Plaidy, she has won the accolade, "One of England's foremost historicals novelists."
As Philippa Carr, she had earned acclaim for producing the bestselling family saga, Daughters of England a series which follows the fortunes of one English family from Tudor time to the present day.
She also wrote under the names Eleanor Burford, Elbur Ford, Kathleen Kellow, Anne Percival, and Ellalice Tate.
But what about Eleanor Hibbert, the woman behind the bestselling authors? She was born in the South London suburb of Kennington, September 1, 1906, the daughter of Joseph and Alice (Tate) Burford. Her father, Joseph Burford, was something of an odd-job man, with no steady profession, but he quickly passed on his great love of books to his young daughter. Victoria, as her readers called her, was sickly as a child (throat problems) and was privately educated in London. Having learned to read even before she began attending school, the petite brunette decided very early in life that she, too, would become a writer some day. In view of her childhood obsession with books, and her unwavering determination, it's no wonder that she required three different pseudonyms to account for all her efforts!
"In my teens and early twenties I wrote several novels, none of which achieved publication," she confided. "But this was not quite as depressing as it might have been, for in the meantime, I wrote short stories, which were published in the Daily Mail, the Evening News, and other papers."In college she studied shorthand and typing and also languages, at which she was unusually fluent. After leaving college she held a variety of jobs, ranging from handling opals and pearls in London's famous Hatton Garden, to acting as an interpreter to French and German patrons in one of London's chic cafes.
Meeting George Percival Hibbert, a leather merchant, and eventually marrying him (she was his second wife), gave her the impetus to launch her writing career in earnest,
"There was no question that I would try my hand at writng a historical novel," she recalled. "They were the type of novel which had always attracted me."Right from the beginning she realised she would have to work very hard to become a successful writer.
"I soon found that the best method was to work steadily and consistently. The method I adopted is to write for about five hours a day—but not at one stretch."She liked to rise early and arrive at her desk ready to start work at eight o'clock each morning. She worked until ten; then had a half-hour break. During this lime she attended to tasks around the house and brooded on the characters she was involved in.
"They are so real to me that I often talk to them," she admitted. At ten-thirty she resumed work for an hour. Then she took a long break until five in the afternoon. At five, she settled down to another two-hour stint, finishing for the day at seven o'clock in the evening. "This method, combined with singleminded enthusiasm and determination to succeed, has meant that I have become prolific and books appear at regular intervals."Prior to the birth of Victoria Holt (a name suggested by her agent) she had published over thirty books under the names of Eleanor Burtord, Elbur Ford, Kathleen Kellow, and Ellalice Tate. She began with publishers Mills and Boone and was for a time one of Harlequin's most popular authors. Beyond the Blue Mountains by Jean Plaidy was a 1951 selection.
In 1960, no one was writing or publishing novels of romantic suspense. But in that year, Victoria created a contemporary feeling for romance with the great Gothic tradition of brooding suspense. Mistress of Mellyn became an immediate best-seller. By the time her fourth novel, The Legend of the Seventh Virgin, was published, the phrase "romantic suspense" had become part of the language and an important category of fiction in bookstores.
Why the name Victoria Holt captured such a large readership, no one really knows. For eight years, Doubleday kept the Victoria Holt pseudonym a well-guarded secret. Was Victoria Holt really Daphne du Maurier, people have wondered?
"I have heard her name mentioned in connection with mine and I think it is because we both lived in Cornwall and have written about this place- Rebecca is the atmospheric suspense-type of book mine are. But I don't think there is much similarity between her others and mine," she said.Research was a vital part of her life.
"I prefer to do all the research myself," she explained. "I have never thought it wise to employ researchers because delving into the past is not merely collecting faces, but actually absorbing the spirit of the age. I feel it is very necessary for me to capture that. It is something vague, intangible, which must be suggested; and is entirety a personal feeling that I have to discover and impart to the readers."She was fortunate to live in London, surrounded by libraries, where she was so highly esteemed that she was allowed into the special archives.
"There are thousands of books on my subject," she explained, "some are very rare, and I'm permitted to take them home and keep them as long as I need them. This has been of the greatest possible help," she added. She was also captivated by the city of her birth. "I consider myself extremely lucky to have been born and raised in London," she later wrote, "and to have had on my doorstep this most fascinating of cities with so many relics of 2000 years of history still to be found in its streets. One of my greatest pleasures was, and still is, exploring London. Circumstances arose which brought my school life to an abrupt termination, and I went hastily to a business college where I studied shorthand, typewriting and languages. And so I had to set about the business of earning a living."Her research and absorption began some time before the actual writing.
"I read the history of the period and then as many biographies, memoirs, and letters as I can—not only leading characters, but of anyone who lived in that age."Victoria worked and lived in a penthouse overlooking London. She reluctantly sold her second home, a. thirteenth-century inn;
"The house had provided lodging for Henry VIII and Elizabeth I," she said. "I named that house the King's Lodging, naturally. A Tudor staircase was put in and part of it remains today. Later, when Elizabeth I stayed there, special carved fireplaces were put in for her. I restored it to make it as much like it was in their day, so you see, the Tudors mean something special to me."Looking back over her books, she felt the richest yield came from the Tudors, though,
"I have ranged from the beginning of the sixteenth century to the start oi the twentieth. I then went back to the Norman Conquest with a Norman Trilogy, and followed this with the Plantagenet Saga. I shall go writing books in chronological order until I catch up with the early Tudors."It was always the personal, or human perspective which attracted her most and it was the very tone of the human voice, heard in past eras, she strived to capture.
"Happily, there seems always to have been those people who hide behind the arras, secreting themselves in boudoirs and peeping through the keyholes and then going away to report what they've seen and heard."And it was this kind of fossilized gossip Mrs. Hibbert called "a tremendous boon" for a writer such as herself.
When she was relaxing, Victoria Holt, widow, enjoyed seeing friends, playing chess, and working needlepoint. She had taken numerous cruises-more than sixty-which provided wonderful solace for writing time.
"Writing excites me," she revealed. "I live all my characters and never have any trouble thinking of plots of how people would have said something, because I'm them when I'm writing. Obviously," she teased, "I only do one at a time. I couldn't switch from Victoria Holt to Jean Plaidy to Philippa Carr just like that!"Eleanor Alice Burford died on January 18, 1993 at sea, somewhere between Greece and Port Said, Egypt.
Victoria Holt's Books on Amazon: Victoria Holt
Jean Plaidy's Books on Amazon: Jean Plaidy
Philippa Carr's Books on Amazon: Philippa Carr
Eleanor Burford's Books on Amazon: Eleanor Burford
Elbur Ford's Books on Amazon: Elbur Ford
Kathleen Kellow's Books on Amazon: Kathleen Kellow
Ellalice Tate's Books on Amazon: Ellalice Tate
Source: Love's Leading Ladies by Kathryn Falk: Love's Leading Ladies
Cover Art by Elaine Gignilliat for Kirkland Revels by Victoria Holt