MaryJo Dawson, who writes the clean and cozy Sally Nimitz mysteries, brings to MiddleSisterReviews a series of reviews of authors from days gone by — writers who may not be as well known to today’s readers as they should be. Today, she focuses on Catherine Cookson:
Catherine Cookson was born in 1906 into a humble household in rural England, where she knew hardship and poverty. By grinding hard work she saved enough money to buy a home and turn it into boarding house to make her own living. She married happily in her early 30s, but after a number of miscarriages, she was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder that meant she could not have children.
In her disappointment and grief, she turned to writing.
And what a talent this woman had! Most of her stories take place in Britain in the mid to late 19th Century, focusing on survival and victories amid grueling poverty, ignorance, and class distinction. Her attention to detail and her ability to weave a good story brought her well-earned success, accolades, and often record sales. Move over Agatha Christie: at one point Cookson held the record for books sought after and checked out in the British library system. Her heyday was from the 1960s to the 1980s, but her books are in reprint and most are available in ebook formats.
Recently I’ve re-read one of her later works, The Whip. It is the story of Emma Molinero, beginning when she is orphaned before she was eight years old, and continuing through the next 24 years of her life. The daughter of a local farmer and a Spanish carnival performer who was a master with knives and whips, Emma is transported from a life of love and protection at the carnival to the harsh realities of rural life in Tyneside in the mid-19th Century.
The young, kindly, new local parson and a local painter are two of the people who make life bearable for the girl during long days of drudgery and negative – sometimes cruel – attention from those who have no patience or understanding for someone who doesn’t conform. With her intelligence, independent spirit, and unusual good looks, Emma always stands out.
The years will bring bitter disappointments and cruel losses, but sometimes hope and humor. Cookson is a master at showing human nature at its best and its worst. When Emma’s husband’s twin brother losses his mind completely due to jealousy and hate, he is determined to destroy Emma if it’s the last thing he ever does. He almost succeeds.
The Whip is currently $5.99 (USD) on Amazon in the Kindle Store. Many of the original 1983 printed hard copies are available for very reasonable prices (ranging from $2.01 USD and up). The prices for the secondhand print editions vary, by seller and condition. Click to read a sample: The Whip.
From Amazon’s author page: Catherine Cookson was born in Tyne Dock, the illegitimate daughter of a poverty-stricken woman, Kate, whom she believed to be her older sister. She began work in service but eventually moved south to Hastings, where she met and married Tom Cookson, a local grammar-school master. Although she was originally acclaimed as a regional writer – her novel The Round Tower won the Winifred Holtby Award for the best regional novel of 1968 – her readership quickly spread throughout the world, and her many best-selling novels established her as one of the most popular of contemporary women novelists. After receiving an OBE in 1985, Catherine Cookson was created a Dame of the British Empire in 1993. She was appointed an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda’s College, Oxford, in 1997. For many years she lived near Newcastle upon Tyne. She died shortly before her ninety-second birthday, in June 1998.
Sis thanks MaryJo for her contributions and for bringing another writer to her attention. She hopes that you, too, will enjoy these flashbacks and find some new-to-you writers to read and enjoy.