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World's oldest novelist dies at home near Plymouth aged 105

By Plymouth Herald  |  Posted: December 06, 2013

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The world's oldest novelist has died at her home in South East Cornwall aged 105 - just weeks before seeing her 125th romantic book published.

Ida Pollock's passion-fuelled tales of virgins, chaste kisses and dashing male heroes have made hearts flutter for nine decades.

She sold over a million books in her prolific career - over half through Mills & Boon - with titles such as 'White Heat', 'Interlude for Love' and 'The Garden of Don Jose'.

And yet modest Ida mostly shunned the limelight by publishing the majority of her bodice rippers under ten pseudonyms.

In old age she was unable to sit at her typewriter but kept writing well past her 100th birthday by dictating to daughter Rosemary, 70, at their remote home in Lanreath, near Looe.

She died peacefully in a nursing home on Tuesday where she spent her last few weeks being treated for ill-health.

Her final two novels - numbers 124 and 125 - will be published in the New Year, marking the final chapter of her remarkable but largely unsung literary life.

Born in Lewisham, south London, Ida began writing thrillers in her teens and finished her first, The Hills of Raven's Haunt, at 14.

She became a full-time writer in the 1930s and penned a string of hits under the first of her ten pseudonyms, Joan Allen.

She went on to write 70 of her books for Mills & Boon under the names Susan Barrie, Pamela Kent, Rose Burghley and Mary Whistler.

At her most prolific, the mother-of-one produced 40 in five years - all based around the timeless formula of naive young heroines spirited away from danger by rugged, older men.

In 1956 alone Ida had eight romances published under five pen names - each around 70,000 words long and all finishing with a happy ending.

She only released a handful of books under her own name and published her last few under the last of her alter-egos, Marguerite Bell.

Her last published fiction, A Distant Drum, in which a young Fanny Templeton falls for the Marquis of Ordley after clashing at the battle of Waterloo, came out in 2005.

That was followed in 2009 by Ida's memoirs, Starlight.

Her two remaining Regency romances, including The Runaway, the story of a young woman who inherits a vast fortune and is forced to flee from several suitors, are waiting to be published by House of Stratus.

Many of Ida's swarthy male heroes bore more than a passing resemblance to her late husband Colonel Hugh Pollock, a decorated veteran and publisher.

Col Pollock was Winston Churchill's editor and was previously married to Enid Blyton. He died in 1971, aged 82.

In a rare 2013 interview Ida said she could write a novel in six weeks.

However she dismissed critics of her genre, insisting her romances brought escapism and pleasure to the lonely and vulnerable.

Ida said: "A romance is never just a romance, there's adventure, mystery and movement.

"You need a grand, dramatic setting - the Swiss Alps were always an personal favourite of mine - and a chance meeting, on a train, a cruise, or perhaps the hero and heroine find themselves shipwrecked on a desert island.

"The men are normally rich, well-to-do - but never vulgar with their money. Young men lack the maturity to take control so an older man is essential to provide the reassurance the heroine needs.

"There's always a fair amount of turbulence before he sweeps in to save the day. A happy ending is an absolute must."

Ida's funeral will take place in the coming days in Lanreath, where she will also be buried.

She is survived by unmarried Rosemary, an editor and writer who has followed in her footsteps by writing a number of romantic novels herself.

Rosemary describes her mother as a "national treasure" who deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte.

Rosemary said: "She led an extraordinary life. She would have been 106 in April but a week or so before she died she was reciting poetry in the village shop.

"She loved romance and she felt Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte were both romantic novelists, so it was nothing to be ashamed of.

"An agent many years ago wanted her to drop it for a while, promising to make her into a big name.

"But she liked the books she wrote and she loved to hear how much good they'd done.

"She was a very kind person and she felt very sorry if she saw someone who looked lonely.

"Again and again, readers would write to her to say how much she'd cheered them up. One woman wrote saying she'd got her through the death of her husband.

"Her books had a special quality. They were much more than just happy endings: they were vivid and full of life, energy and optimism."

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