Denise was born in Sunderland, as was I, and the town/city was always dear to her heart. Despite her celebrity status she was always willing to help people, kind and friendly to those she encountered. She experienced much heartache in her life, but this shaped her and made her a compelling author and a compassionate adviser to those with troubles. If you haven't read any of her books, they are excellent reads, page-turning and full of real, warm characters.
Denise first came into my life when she judged the Sunderland Echo Romantic Short Story Competition which I won at the start of my writing career. Her generous comments inspired me to keep on writing. I felt very isolated while writing my novels as I didn't know anyone who had published a book, and had no idea how I could get a book ready for publication. I heard that a local authority down south was offering assessments of novels. There was no internet in those days, and it was harder to find out information. In my naivety I wrote to Denise and asked her if she knew of any similar scheme in the north of England, as I surmised that as a published writer she would be knowledgeable about such things.
To my surprise I received a reply from Denise, offering to read my novel herself! I was thrilled, and sent her a copy of the manuscript. Eventually she sent back an encouraging reply, with some tips scribbled on two sides of a modestly sized letter page. Concise but invaluable! After revising the novel, following her recommendations, Melody for Lizzie was eventually published by New Era Writers Guild.
Looking back in later years I realised how busy Denise was, and it was so generous of her to give up her precious time to encourage a beginner writer. I am so grateful for her advice. Not long after my novel was published she came to talk to the women's group at my local church, and I was able to go along and meet her in person to thank her and give her a signed copy of my book. Kindness and warmth shone from her, and I am glad I was able to meet her and talk face to face.
There are undoubtedly many other people with stories of how Denise's advice and compassion gave them a direction to take at a time when it was much needed. She will be sorely missed, but lovingly remembered.
A detailed tribute to Denise can be found at the Sunderland Echo webpage.