Choose another writer in this calendar:
by birthday from the calendar.
||Catherine Cookson (1906-1998) - Dame Catherine (Ann) Cookson, née McMullen; birthdate officially 27.6.1906; also wrote as Catherine Marchant|
British writer who published over 90 highly popular novels which have been translated into twenty languages, among others into Finnish (over 30 works). In the 1990s Cookson's books have sold 90 million copies. Cookson became especially famous for her family sagas set against the backdrop of England in the 19th century. She wrote under the pseudonym Catherine Marchant, and produced three different series of books: the Bill Bailey series, the Mary Ann series, and the Mallen series.
"I was a story-teller from the time I could talk, and if I could get an audience, if I could get someone to listen to me... I used to pass the time, telling myself wonderful stories about us living in a nice house with lino on the stairs... one of the best ones I've ever told was about the wee folk, the little green men talking to me." (from Richard Joseph's Bestsellers, 1997)
Catherine Cookson was born in Tyne Dock, South Shields, in an industrial region in the northeast of England. Unlike so many leading writers, she started life with many disadvantages. She was born illegitimate and was raised by her grandparents, Rose and John McMullen. Her mother, Kate Fawcett, who worked as a barmaid, was poverty-stricken, at times an alcoholic and occasionally violent. Cookson had only the minimum of education, and from the age of thirteen she suffered from hereditary hemorrhage telangiectasia. For many years Cookson believed that she had been abandoned as a baby and that her mother was actually her older sister.
From early on Cookson was determined to become a writer. She was
an avid reader and penned her first short story, 'The Wild Irish Girl',
when she was eleven, and sent it off to the South Shields Gazette,
which returned it after three days.
Cookson was educated at St Peter and St Paul's Roman Catholic School at Tyne Dock. She never had any experience of borading-school life but one of her characters, Mary AnnShaughnessy in The Lord and Mary Ann (1956) goes to a high-class convent boarding school. At the age of 13, Cookson left the school without completing her studies. To earn her living, she began working as a maid in the houses of the rich and powerful, witnessing the great class barrier inside wealthy society. From 1924 to 1929 she worked in a laundry and saved enough money to establish an apartment hotel in Hastings. One of the tenants was the schoolmaster Tom Cookson, whom she married in 1940, at the age of 34. After several miscarriages she fell into a depression. To recover, she started writing and joined the local writers' group for encouragement. During this period she changed from play writing to short stories. Cookson's first book, Kate Hannigan (1950), was partly autobiographical. Her neighbors tried to stop its publication because Cookson dared in the first pages to write in detail about a baby being born. In the story Kate, a working-class girl, becomes pregnant by an upper-middle-class man. The child is brought up by Kate's parents and she believes them to be her real parents, and Kate to be her sister.
Colour Blind (1953) was a story of a woman who marries a black man. Later their daughter suffers at the hands of classmates and a bitter uncle. The background is realistic, and offers an understanding picture of the British working class. In these early works as in the following books Cookson dealt with such social issues as class tensions and unemployment, among them The Black Candle (1989), set in the 19th-century and depicting a clash between two families.
Her first sixteen books Cookson wrote longhand, but when she began
to suffer from repetitive strain injury in her right hand, she started
use a tape recorder, acting the parts of the characters she is writing
about. Her husband worked as her private secretary and helped with
grammar and spelling – Cookson's dialect was so strong that many
outsiders had difficulties in understanding what she said. Published
and editors were not allowed to make suggestions regarding her writing–
she hated having her work edited. "I don't class myself as a great
author," she once stated, "but I am a good story-teller". (Catherine Cookson Country: On the Borders of Legitimacy, Fiction, and History, edited by Julie Anne Taddeo, 2012, p. 7)
Cookson's autobiography, Our Kate, came out in 1969; she wrote and re-wrote it for 12 years. Other autobiographical works include Catherine Cookson Country (1986), Let Me Make Myself Plain (1988), and Plainer Still (1995).
Reviewers and critics have always had difficulties in defining her work, which blend romantic and realistic elements. Many of Cookson's novels concern the poverty in the North East of England, and are set in mines and shipyards, or the farms and surrounding countryside in various periods from the nineteenth century onwards. Altough her novels were written for the mass market, the historical background was generally carefully researched. She also used her own experiences as material and recollections of her family and friends. Several novels are serialized, tracing events in the life of a single character or a family. Mary Ann Shaughnessy, a brave and warm-hearted heroine, appears in many books. Her other major series are The Mallen Family, The Tilly Trotter trilogy, The Hamilton series, and The Bill Bailey series.
"But he had taught her to love, and that was a different thing; he had taught her that the act of love wasn't merely a physical thing, its pleasure being halved without the assistance of the mind. But it was Mr Burgess, this old man breathing his last here now, who had taught her how to use her mind. Right from the beginning he had warned her that once your mind took you below the surface of mundane things, you would never again know real peace because the mind was an adventure, it led you into strange places and was forever asking why, and as the world outside could not give you true answers, you were forever groping and searching through your spirit for the truth." (from Tilly Trotter Wed, 1981)
Usually Cookson's characters cross the class barrier by the means of education. Tilly Trotter is taught to read and write by the parson's daughter and Kate Hannigan is educated by a kindly employer. Often Cookson's characters are outcasts, as Tilly who is viewed by the local villagers as a witch. During the story, beginning in the reign of the young Queen Victoria, she moves up and down the social scale. She becomes the mistress of a wealthy man, then the wife of his son. Exceptionally Tilly moves to the United States, Texas, which Cookson had never visited. As a source she used Comanches by T. R. Fehrenbach (1975), Sue Flanagan's Sam Houston's Texas (1964) and some other books but emphasized: "... I have tried within my capacity to keep to facts, but like most authors of novels I may have resorted now and again to a little licence; so should this be noted by a Texan I beg his forbearance, for after all I am merely a teller of tales." (from the 'Author's Note' in Tilly Trotter Wed, 1981) The series inspired the film Tilly Trotter (1999), directed by Alan Grant and starring Simon Shepard, Carli Norris, Rosemary Leach, and Gavin Abbot.
The trilogy dealing with the Mallen family saga began with The Mallen Streak (1973), and continued with The Mallen Girl (1974), and The Mallen Lot (1974). The story was set in 19th-century Northumberland, and depicted the affairs of the family against the background of past hidden sins.
In 1968 her novel The Round Tower won an award as the best regional novel of the year. Cookson received the Freedom of the Borough of South Shields, and an honorary degree from the university of Newcastle, and the Royal Society of Literature's award for the Best Regional Novel of the Year. The Variety Club of Great Britain named her Writer of the Year, and she was voted Personality of The North-East. In 1933 Cookson was made Dame. She died shortly before her ninety-second birthday, on June 11, 1998, in her home near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Posthumously published Kate Hannigan's Girl (1999) continues the story of her first novel.
For further information: Catherine Cookson Country: On the Borders of Legitimacy, Fiction, and History, edited by Julie Anne Taddeo (2012); The Girl from Leam Lane: The Life and Writing of Catherine Cookson by Piers Dudgeon (1984); Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, ed. by Aruna Vasudevan (1994); Now read on... by Mandy Hicken and Ray Prytherch (1996); Contemporary Popular Writers, ed. by David Mote (1997); 'Catherine Cookson DBE, OBE' in Bestsellers: Top Writers Tell How by Richard Joseph (1997); The Catherine Cookson Companion by Cliff Goodwin (1999); Seeking Catherine Cookson's 'Da by Kathleen Jones (2004) - Note: A third of all fiction borrowed from public libraries in 1988 in the UK was by Catherine Cookson. In 1997 nine of her works were on the list of ten most borrowed books.
The Mary Ann Shaughnessy series:
The Mallen novels:
The Tilly Trotter series:
The Hamilton novels:
The Bill Bailey novels: