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Jaycee Fox

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Catherine Cookson: For the Anglophile Reader
By Jaycee Fox   
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Friday, February 13, 2009
Posted: Friday, February 13, 2009

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There's a large group of people out there who love to read. I happen to be one of them. I come from a line of readers.

Both my grandmothers loved to read novels. One of my grandmothers lived in a small village in the North of England and her favorite author was Catherine Cookson. So why did she love Catherine Cookson novels so much? And why was there always a Catherine Cookson novel placed on her reading table? Two reasons: She was a local author, and she was also a gifted storyteller. Some may not have heard of Catherine Cookson but if you like British stories, you'll most likely enjoy her authentic tales. She was a British writer who also went under the pen name Catherine Marchant, and who published over 90 popular novels. Her most famous works were family sagas -- Bill Bailey series, Mary Ann series, and the Mallen series -- with 19th century England as the setting.
Catherine Cookson had an interesting background in where she drew upon these experiences to write such popular stories. She was born in Tyne Dock, South Shields -- an industrial region in the northeast of England. Cookson wasn't born into a life of privilege, but in fact just the opposite. She was born illegitimate into an impoverished environment with a mother who, at times, was both violent and an alcoholic. Even at a very young age, Cookson had the desire to become a writer. Always an avid reader, she wrote and completed her first short story when she was eleven years old. But at thirteen, with only a handful of years of education, she left school where she became a maid for the wealthy. This is where she witnessed first-hand the extreme class distinction between the poor and the rich.
Cookson eventually married at the age of 34 to a school master, Tom Cookson. She had several miscarriages which pushed her into a deep depression. Her writing was her healing and during this time she wrote her first book, Kate Hannigan. Cookson's first sixteen books were written longhand until she started to use a tape recorder. Her husband helped with grammar and spelling. In many of Cookson's novels, a common theme was portrayed -- the theme of poverty where the setting was mines, shipyards or farms. But through education, many of the crises within the stories were improved.
In 1933, Cookson was made Dame. She also received an honorary degree from the University of Newcastle, and the Royal Society of Literature's award for the Best Regional Novel of the Year. She was voted personality of the Northeast and she was voted Writer of the year by The Variety Club of Great Britain. She died on June 11, 1998 in her home near Newcastle-upon-Tyne at the age of ninety-one.
Sometimes to this day I think of my grandmother reading her newest Catherine Cookson novel from the library, and sometimes I go to my library, get a Catherine Cookson novel and hunker down and lose myself in 19th century England. An avid writer myself and with my first novel being set in Northumberland -- I wonder just how much influence both my grandmother and Catherine Cookson had on my life.


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