Catherine Cookson (real name Ann McMullen) was born in Jarrow in Northeast England, the illegitimate daughter of the woman she believed to be her sister. At the age of 14 she went into service, later moved south, and then began writing. She tells her life story in her first volume of autobiography, Our Kate (1969). Her novels have enjoyed immense popularity in Britain and regularly top best-seller lists. Most of them are set in Tyneside during the nineteenth century, and deal with working-class heroines, their hardships, and their attempts to overcome them. Her writing is unsentimental, energetic, and manages to skirt the clichés of popular romantic fiction. Her heroines tend to have several volumes devoted to them; typical is Tilly Trotter, who features in Tilly Trotter (1980), Tilly Trotter Wed (1981), and Tilly Trotter Widowed (1982). Tilly is an orphan brought up by her grandparents, poor but spirited, who is accused of witchcraft, works in the local coal-mines, rises to the position of mistress of the ‘big house’, emigrates to America and then returns. The Mallen trilogy (starting with The Mallen Streak, 1973) covers similar ground. A more recent single volume novel is The Upstart (1996) about the boot- and clog-maker Samuel Fairbrother, his uneasy relationship with his butler, and the adventures of his growing family.
Helen Forrester, Josephine Cox, Elizabeth Gaskell. See ROMANCE SA