by Mary Jo
It is with the deepest of sadness that we announce that our beloved Wench sister, Jo Beverley, died this afternoon. It was not a surprise, but the end came more suddenly than any of us expected.
Jo had quietly been through a very dangerous bout with cancer about five years ago, and had come through with flying colors. The cancer was discovered to have returned some weeks ago, and it moved very quickly. We all hoped for another miracle, but it was not to be. Jo died very peacefully in a lovely care home in Yorkshire that used to be a convent, with her husband and her pal Charlie, the Cabbage Patch Kid, by her side.
A Lancashire lass of Irish descent, she grew up by the sea, and always liked to live near it. She never lost her lovely English accent, but she and her husband Ken moved to Canada not long after university and she became a proud Canadian with dual citizenship. They raised their sons in Ottawa, then moved to Victoria, British Columbia, one of the loveliest small cities in the world.
More recently, she said that "her heart yearned for England," and she and Ken moved back, though they were considering returning to Victoria for good.
There was no one quite like Jo, with her calm English good sense and quiet warmth and dry wit, not to mention her taste for port wine and very dark chocolate. She and I were friends for almost 30 years, and our careers have always tracked very closely. In fact, my first book was published the month before Jo's first book, which pleased Melinda Helfer, the Regency reviewer for Romantic Times Magazine, because that way she could give each of us her Best New Regency Author award for two different years.
Her full name was actually Mary Josephine (mine is Mary Jo), and I'm grateful that she went by Jo, because we were confused often enough as it was! I would graciously accept compliments on my Rogue books, pointing out that they were actually Jo's Rogues. It was an honor to be confused with her. (Add Mary Balogh to the mix, and the confusion grew exponentially!)
I first met Jo at an RWA conference when she was surrounded by enthusiastic Regency readers. (You know how we become fan girls when we meet favorite authors!) We were introduced, chatted, and she mentioned that she wanted to go to the RT conference in San Antonio and needed a roommate. So did I, and that became the first of many conferences where we roomed together, most recently last summer at RWA in New York City.
In San Antonio, Jo's white nighty got rolled up with the sheets and carried off and disappeared into the hotel laundry system. The hotel looked for it and sent her occasional apologetic emails saying there had been a sighting, and surely they'd secure it some day. And they did, mailing the nighty to me because that was cheaper than sending it to Canada, so I presented it to Jo when I saw her next. We had some good chuckles over that.
We all have many memories of Jo, her wonderful smile, her humor and intelligence, and we were lucky enough to secure her daughter-in-law, Melissa Beverley, as our site manager here at Word Wenches. (I see resemblances between Jo and Melissa, too. Including the smiles.)
We invite you to share your memories here, whether you knew Jo in person or only through her books. She won five RITAs--a full basketball team--and many other awards, including the RWA Hall of Fame. Her books deserved all of that and more, and I'm happy to report that she had finished her book for next year, so we have that to look forward to.
But Jo herself has moved on to the next great adventure, and oh! How we will miss her.
(Picture of Anne Gracie, Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney)
From Anne Gracie:
Like Andrea, I first met Jo at my very first RWA conference in 2001. I was, of course, a huge fan of her work, and so when I saw she was giving a talk I went. Standing room only, so I sat cross-legged in the aisle and listened. The talk was on "Flying Into the Mist" and it felt as though she was speaking directly to me. So inspiring.
I met her briefly afterward and told her how much I'd loved her most recent book, DEVILISH. The following evening she won the RITA with it . (Picture below of Jo with Julia Quinn, also a RITA winner that night.)
She won five RITAs altogether, and has left us all a legacy of most excellent books. A few years later I met her in a more casual and relaxed situation at NINC conferences, where she shared her experience and much wisdom and good common sense.
Some years after that I joined the WordWenches, where we talk almost every day on email, and so our friendship developed. My last memory of seeing Jo in person was when she, Nicola, Mary Jo and I sat around drinking wine in my hotel room at the San Antonio conference, feet up, totally relaxed, just chatting and laughing and telling stories.
Vale, Jo. You will be greatly missed.
(Picture of Anne, Jo, and Cara/Andrea)
At my very first RWA Conference—I was a total newbie who had just sold my first book to Signet, I crept into a seminar Jo was giving. I had read her books, to me she was everything I aspired to be as an author—she understood Life in all its complexities, and crafted beautifully nuanced characters with a poetic command of language that made every word magical.
But in real life she was even more inspiring. She had a regal elegance and grace, and while her voice—with that wonderful English accent—was soft-spoken, there was no mistaking the quiet confidence she had in her craft and her professionalism. She helped pioneer respect for our genre, and that took the same strength, courage and daring to defy convention that she gave to her heroines.
As fellow Word Wench, I was lucky enough to come to know Jo not just as a legendary icon and inspiration but also as a dear friend. In our daily Wench loop conversations she made us laugh with her pithy sense of humor and sharp wit, and when any of us were going through a tough time, she was always there to send a hug, along with support and encouragement.
I have no words to express how much I am going to miss her.
From Pat Rice:
My memory doesn't hold moments, it holds impressions. Like Andrea, I saw Jo as a person of elegance and grace, with a complete command of herself, her audience, and her writing. Her confidence was unshakeable, her knowledge and fascination with history, immense. She adapted quickly to changing tides in the industry, but her voice, her books, her characters, were unchanging in originality and historical accuracy. I will miss her so much, that I cannot imagine how her family must be feeling in this moment. I know she's in a good place, but we who stay behind are bereft.
When Jo Beverley agreed to join a few of us as we began our blog, I remember how thrilled I was that she wanted to be part of the group. Jo was such a legend in historical romance, and deservedly so. In a sense, she was the quintessential romance writer: stories flowed freely through her, heroes and heroines were strong and unforgettable, themes had substance, her language had clarity and richness, her books were masterful, one after another. The connections among her stories were intricately mapped out in brilliant ways, and her sense of history was impeccable--and on top of that powerful combination of elements, she was elegantly English and very, very smart and far-seeing.
As a sister Wench and a friend to all of us behind the scenes of the blog -- where as others have mentioned, we email every day -- Jo was consistently wise and supportive, always a voice of reason, especially when our opinions piled on and we needed to make a decision. Jo was straightforward and had an ability to cut right to the heart of a matter. She often made the most sense, could be gently funny, and we always listened and learned.
Like some of the other Wenches, I first met Jo at a conference when I was very green and timid, and she was--well, she was Jo Beverley, historical romance royalty itself, and I felt so awed by this tall, elegant British woman that I practically curtsied. Jo had an air of confidence and certainty, and never sought to be the center of attention--but she was nonetheless.
Though she was low-key and gracious, she had presence and a wonderful charisma. Her perspective on writing, creativity and publishing was balanced, and she was very open minded and curious about life beyond the world of writing. We had many fascinating discussions and I admired her openness, and over the years my initial respect for her grew to friendship.
The Wenches all deeply care about one another, and this loss shakes our family of Wenches. Jo was a quiet goddess in our midst, and we loved her and we are proud of her.
My heart goes out to her family--her love for her husband, two sons, her daughter-in-law, her granddaughter and her sisters was always evident. Jo will always be a Word Wench, and she will always be missed until we see her again.
From Joanna Bourne:
(Picture of Jo, Cara/Andrea, and Joanna)
It was my first National Conference and long, long ago. I’d smuggled three or four of Jo’s books into the signing hall, which you aren’t supposed to do.
It was one of those lulls in the signing and there was nobody in line in front of her. I sidled over, books in hand, and stood about five feet away, and didn't have the guts to actually, y’know, talk to her.
She looks up. So I laid the books down and said I-really-enjoy-your-writing-An-Unwilling-Bride-is-my-favorite-book-in-the-world-you-just-nail-the-aristocratic-Georgian-world-view-and . . .
I may have repeated myself a bit.
She signed the books and said, “Thank you. It’s one of my favorites, too.” After a while I backed slowly away.
I never told her about that meeting. I wish I had. She would probably have laughed.
From Nicola Cornick:
Like a number of other Wenches, I first met Jo at my very first RWA Conference in Dallas in 2003. Totally overawed, I approached her to sign a book for me and she was so gracious and charming it only served to awe me more. Since then I have got to know Jo though the Wenches and at the RWA and RNA conferences. What always struck me about her, along with her beautifully distinctive writing voice, was her wisdom and the generosity with which she shared it. I remember one very stimulating discussion at RNA Penrith about the differences between the US and the UK romance markets and I treasure those rare occasions when the Wenches met up for wine and laughter. Reading people’s memories and tributes to Jo has brought home to me how very much she is missed by all who knew her.
Please tell what you remember about Jo--
Picture at left of Jo at an NAL booksigning with Cara/Andrea behind her. Reader and writer Louisa Cornell is in pink.
Special thanks to Anne Gracie for producing all these wonderful pictures at a moment's notice.
PS: So many marvelous comments and memories and poems have been posted here. I have smiles and tears as I read them. It's impossible to respond to all of the comments directly, but all of us Wenches deeply appreciate this shared celebration of Jo's life and work. We'll see that her family receives a copy of all the tributes later.--MJP