Novelist Catherine Cookson was born on 27 June 1906 in Tyne Dock, County Durham – the north east of England, where a majority of her novels are set. For many years, her mother, Kate McMullen, led her to believe that she was her older sister, and that Catherine (known then as Ann, to distinguish her from Kate) had been abandoned by their mother. This was easier, especially at the turn of the century, than admitting to having an illegitimate child.

Kate McMullen was broke, drank heavily (and was perhaps an alcoholic) and was occasionally violent. Cookson’s book Our Kate describes her childhood, and it’s one that many of her characters experience – a hard, poverty-stricken working-class one, where booze is often the only escape available to people, and where contact between parent and child is more likely to be via blows than hugs.

Catherine was schooled only to the age of thirteen, and then like many poor girls, went into service as a maid – this is where she gained an insight into how the wealthy lived. At the age of eighteen she left domestic service, and took a job in a laundry, frantically squirreling away money to establish herself, which she did in 1929, at the age of 23 when she set up an apartment hotel in the South Coast seaside town of Hastings.

At the age of 34 she married biology teacher Tom Cookson, one of the tenants in her hotel. The couple tried to start a family, but although Catherine became pregnant several times, she was unable to carry to term. Several miscarriages left her depressed, and she returned to an old ambition – writing – to help her overcome it. Supported by a local writers group, she started by writing drama, but changed from this to short stories, and finished her first novel, Kate Hannigan, a semi-autobiographical novel. Her neighbours attempted to have its publication in 1950 stopped, because the opening pages contained a detailed description of a birth. They failed, and Catherine never looked back.

During her career, she wrote more than 90 novels, which have been translated into more than twenty languages. Her books are hugely popular - in 1997 and 98 nine out of the ten most borrowed books from British libraries were written by Cookson.

Because she tended to write romances, Catherine Cookson is often dismissed as trashy, and equated with formula writers like Barbara Cartland – this really isn’t the case. Although there is a common theme of indomitable heroines overcoming problems and finally finding a contented, loving relationship, the books tend to be pragmatic – education, rather than love, is usually the key to progress - and happiness is never bought cheaply. She chose settings she was familiar with, or researched carefully, and her stories touched on many difficult social issues and situations – interracial marriage, domestic violence (both physical and psychological), sexism, mental retardation and many others. While sentiment is a key element, sentimentality is not. Cookson was not a great literary artist, but she was also no hack. She falls, with other popular writers such as Dick Francis and Stephen King, into the category of excellent storytellers – not deep, but absorbing, the writing itself being good quality.

Cookson was given the Freedom of the Borough of South Shields, and received an honorary degree from the University of Newcastle and in 1993 she was made a Dame of the British Empire.

She died on June 11, 1998, in her home near Newcastle-upon-Tyne.



The Fifteen Streets 1952
Colour Blind 1953
Maggie Rowan 1954
Rooney 1957
The Menagerie 1958
Fanny Mcbride 1959
Fenwick Houses 1960
The Garment 1962
The Blind Miller 1963
The Wingless Bird 1964
Hannah Massey 1964
The Long Corridor 1965
The Unbaited Trap 1966
Slinky Jane 1967
Katie Mulholland 1967
The Round Tower 1968
The Husband 1969
The Nice Bloke 1969
The Glass Virgin 1969
The Invitation 1970
The Dwelling Place 1971
Feathers in the Fire 1971
Pure As the Lily 1972
The Invisible Cord 1975
The Gambling Man 1975
The Tide of Life 1976
The Girl 1977
The Cinder Path 1978
The Man Who Cried 1979
The Whip 1983
The Black Velvet Gown 1984
A Dinner of Herbs 1985
The Bannaman Legacy 1985
The Moth 1986
The Parsons Daughter 1987
The Harrogate Secret 1988
The Cultured Handmaiden 1988
The Black Candle 1989
The Gillyvors 1990
My Beloved Son 1991
The Rag Nymph 1991
The House of Women 1992
The Maltese Angel 1992
The Golden Straw 1993
The Forester Girl 1993
The Year of the Virgins 1993
The Tinker's Girl 1995
Justice is A Woman 1995
The Bonnie Dawn 1996
The Obsession 1997
The Upstart 1998
The Blind Years 1998
Riley 1998
The Desert Crop 1999
The Thursday Friend 1999
My Land of the North 1999
A House Divided 2000
Rosie of the River 2000
Silent Lady 2002


Hamilton 1983
Goodbye Hamilton 1984
Harold 1985


Kate Hannigan 1950
Kate Hannigan's Girl 2001


Tilly Trotter 1980
Tilly Trotter Wed 1981
Tilly Trotter Widowed 1982


The Mallen Girl 1973
The Mallen Streak 1973
The Mallen Litter 1974


Bill Bailey 1986
Bill Baileys Lot 1987
Bill Baileys Daughter 1988


A Grand Man 1954
The Lord and Mary Ann 1956
The Devil and Mary Ann 1958
Love and Mary Ann 1961
Life and Mary Ann 1962
Marriage and Mary Ann 1964
Mary Ann's Angels 1965
Mary Ann and Bill 1967


Matty Doolin 1965
Joe and the Gladiator 1968
The Nipper 1970
Blue Baccy 1972
Our John Willy 1974
Mrs Flannagans Trumpet 1976
Go Tell it to Mrs Golightly 1977
Lanky Jones 1981
Nancy Nutall and the Mongrel 1982


Our Kate 1969
Catherine Cookson County 1986
Let Me Make Myself Plain 1988


The Slow Awakening 1976
Miss Martha Mary Crawford 1975
The Iron Facade 1965
The Fen Tiger 1963


Heritage of Folly 1962
House of Men 1963