Authors: Catherine Cookson
Tags: #young adult fiction, #family, #Cookson, #fiction, #adventure, #women's general
Her books have sold over 130 million copies in 26 languages throughout the world and still counting . . .
Catherine Cookson was born Katherine Ann McMullen on June 27th, 1906 in the bleak industrial heartland of Tyne Dock, South Shields (then part of County Durham) and later moved to East Jarrow which is now in Tyne and Wear.
She was the illegitimate daughter of Kate Fawcett, an alcoholic, whom she thought was her sister. She was raised by her grandparents, Rose and John McMullen. The poverty, exploitation and bigotry she experienced in her early years aroused deep emotions that stayed with her throughout her life and which became part of her stories. Catherine left school at 13 and after a period of domestic service, she took a job in a laundry at Harton Workhouse in South Shields. In 1929, she moved south to run the laundry at Hastings Workhouse, working all hours and saving every penny to buy a large Victorian house. She took in gentleman and lady lodgers to supplement her income and took up fencing as one of her hobbies. One of her lodgers was Tom Cookson, a teacher at Hastings Grammar School and in June 1940 they married. They were devoted to each other throughout their lives together. But the early years of her marriage were beset by the tragic miscarriage of four pregnancies and her subsequent mental breakdown. This took her over a decade to recover from, which she did, often by standing in front of a mirror and giving herself a damn good swearing at!
Catherine took up writing as a form of therapy to deal with her depression and joined the Hastings Writers’ Group. Her first novel, Kate Hannigan, was published in 1950. In 1976, she returned to Northumberland with Tom and wen3t on to write 104 books in all. She became one of the most successful novelists of all time and was one of the first authors to have 3 or 4 titles in the Bestseller Lists at the same time.
She read widely: from Chaucer to the literature of the 1920s; to Plato’s
on the trial and death of Socrates (she said that here was someone who stuck to his principles even unto death); to history of the nineteenth century and the Romantic poets; to
Lord Chesterfield’s Letters To His Son
and the books and booklets that abounded in her part of the country dealing with coal, iron, lead, glass, farming and the railways. She disliked it when her books were labeled as ‘romantic’. To her, they were ‘readable social history of the North East interwoven into the lives of the people’. For the millions of her readers, she brought ‘an understanding of themselves or perhaps of their dear ones. Her stories do not bring in a realism in which the worst is taken for granted, but a realism in which love, caring and compassion appear, and most certainly hope. ‘This type of realism does exist,’ Tom Cookson said of her writing. There is nothing sentimental about her writing; she is unrelenting in the strong images she invokes and the characters she portrays. They were born of her formative years and her personal struggles. Many of her novels have been transferred to stage, film and radio with her television adaptations on ITV lasting over a decade and achieving ratings of over 10 million viewers.
Besides writing, she was an innovative painter and she believed that her father’s genes fostered the strength to work hard but also, in rare moments of freedom, to strive to better herself. Catherine was famed for her care of money but had given much to charities, hospitals and medical research in areas close to her heart and to the University of Newcastle upon Tyne who set up a lectureship in hematology. The Catherine Cookson Charitable Trust continues to donate generously to charitable causes. The University later conferred her the Honorary Degree of Master of Arts. She received the Freedom of the Borough of South Tyneside, today known as Catherine Cookson Country. The Variety Club of Great Britain named her Writer of the Year and she was voted Personality of the North East. Other honours followed: an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1986 and she was created Dame of the British Empire in 1993. She was appointed an Honorary Fellow at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford in 1997.
Throughout her life but especially in the later years, she was plagued by a rare vascular disease, telangiectasia, which caused bleeding from the nose, fingers and stomach and resulted in anemia. As her health declined, she and her husband moved for a final time to Jesmond in Newcastle upon Tyne to be nearer medical facilities. For the last few years of her life, she was bed-ridden and Tom hardly ever left her bedside, looking after her needs, cooking for her and taking her on her emergency trips, often in the middle of the night, into Newcastle. Their lives were still made up of the seven day week and twelve or more hours each day, going over the fan mail, attending to charities and going over the latest dictated book, with Tom meticulously making corrections line by line, for Catherine’s eyesight had long faded in her 80’s.
This most remarkable woman passed away on June 11th 1998 at the age of 91. Tom, six years her junior, had earlier suffered a heart attack but survived long enough to be with her at her end. He passed away on 28th June, just 17 days after his beloved Catherine.
Catherine Cookson’s Books
The Blind Miller
The Wingless Bird
The Long Corridor
The Unbaited Trap
The Round Tower
The Nice Bloke
The Glass Virgin
The Dwelling Place
Feathers in the Fire
Pure as the Lily
The Invisible Cord
The Gambling Man
The Tide of Life
The Cinder Path
The Man Who Cried
The Black Velvet Gown
A Dinner of Herbs
The Parson’s Daughter
The Harrogate Secret
The Cultured Handmaiden
The Black Candle
My Beloved Son
The Rag Nymph
The House of Women
The Maltese Angel
The Golden Straw
The Year of the Virgins
The Tinker’s Girl
Justice is a Woman
A Ruthless Need
The Bonny Dawn
The Branded Man
The Lady on my Left
The Blind Years
The Solace of Sin
The Desert Crop
The Thursday Friend
A House Divided
Rosie of the River
The Silent Lady
FEATURING KATE HANNIGAN
Kate Hannigan (her first published novel)
Kate Hannigan’s Girl (her hundredth published novel)
THE MARY ANN NOVELS
A Grand Man
The Lord and Mary Ann
The Devil and Mary Ann
Love and Mary Ann
Life and Mary Ann
Marriage and Mary Ann
Mary Ann’s Angels
Mary Ann and Bill
FEATURING BILL BAILEY
Bill Bailey’s Lot
Bill Bailey’s Daughter
The Bondage of Love
THE TILLY TROTTER TRILOGY
Tilly Trotter Wed
Tilly Trotter Widowed
THE MALLEN TRILOGY
The Mallen Streak
The Mallen Girl
The Mallen Litter
AS CATHERINE MARCHANT
Heritage of Folly
The Fen Tiger
House of Men
The Iron Façade
Miss Martha Mary Crawford
The Slow Awakening
Joe and the Gladiator
Our John Willie
Mrs. Flannagan’s Trumpet
Go tell It To Mrs Golightly
Bill and The Mary Ann Shaughnessy
Let Me Make Myself Plain
Matty is fifteen and, in his Tyneside home in the 1960s, this means it is time for him to leave school and follow his father into the docks and get a job in ship building. All Matty really wants, however, is to work with animals, tend them, help them and care for them. But he has no qualifications and his parents have no real understanding of his ambition – they won’t even let him keep Nelson, the old stray dog he befriends and takes home.
Yet, finally, it is because of Nelson that Matty gets permission to go on a camping holiday with his friends, Joe and Willie. And this holiday, on a farm high on the fells, will take Matty through unexpected dangers but to a new and satisfying way of life.
An exciting and heartwarming tale that will strike a chord of recognition with all children with a desire to choose their own path in life.
Copyright © The Catherine Cookson Charitable Trust 1965
The right of Catherine Cookson to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998
This book is sold subject to the condition it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form.
Sketch by Harriet Anstruther
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described, all situations in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
‘Doolin! Did you hear what I said?’
‘What did I say?’
Matty Doolin’s thickset body made an uneasy movement. The seat of his desk was pressing against the back of his knees – it always did when he stood up – but if he should step out into the aisle and stand straight old Bore would, as usual, say, ‘Going someplace, Doolin?’
‘Well, come along, I’m waiting.’
‘You were talkin’ about stellar conglomerations, sir.’ Matty wasn’t surprised at himself for remembering that mouthful, because his mother was always using the word conglomeration. ‘Look at all this conglomeration,’ she would say when she came into his room in the morning, or, ‘Get that conglomeration off the table; I want to set the tea.’ But she used the word most when referring to Nelson, and somehow Matty didn’t think it fitted in this last case because Nelson was just one thing. Well, not a thing; Nelson was his dog. She misused the word conglomeration a lot when she talked of Nelson: ‘Get that conglomeration outside!’ or ‘Look at the conglomeration of dirt on my floor from that beast’s feet!’ The thought of Nelson disturbed Matty. And then there was the pain in the back of his legs. And now Mr Borley’s voice was coming at him again, sharp-edged with sarcasm. ‘Stellar conglomerations . . . I would say you were about’ – the master paused and looked ceilingwards before again dropping his narrow lids in Matty’s direction – ‘about one light year behind us, Doolin. Since you took your attention from us we have traversed quite a bit of the sky, but now that you have deigned to give us your attention once more do you think you can name one globular cluster which is visible to the naked eye? You might remember we spoke of these at the beginning of the lesson.’
Matty’s chin jerked, causing a strand of his thick red hair to fall across his brow. He pushed it upwards out of his eyes as if to give him a better view of the master, and he hesitated a moment before saying in a tight voice, ‘Century.’
‘Century?’ repeated the master, making a small motion with his head. ‘I thought you would remember that one. But it is not Century, Doolin, it is Cen-tauri, Centauri. Would you like to repeat that?’
‘Centauri.’ The word seemed to have to struggle through Matty’s tight lips. His whole face felt tight, as did his body; it always went like that when he was angry. He had a desire to step out into the aisle, square his shoulders, and walk boldly up to the undersized, pasty-faced Mr Borley and say, ‘Who are you going to torment next term, because in just four weeks’ time I’ll be gone?’ He hated Borley; he was the only master in the school he disliked. He would have liked school if it hadn’t been for Borley; he would have also liked astronomy lessons, because he liked looking at the sky.
Matty did not immediately respond to the master’s bark, and before he sat down he lowered his head and looked towards his desk. And he was still looking at the desk when he felt the soft nudge in his thigh. Joe, who sat next to him, always made this sympathetic gesture after old Bore had been doing his stuff.
Joe Darling and he had been pals all through their schooldays. They had started in the primary school together.
Matty realised he was going to miss Joe when they left school, but that was his own fault because he could do the same as Joe was going to do, he could go in the yards part-time and attend the Technical School part-time. But he didn’t want to go into the shipyards, or the mines, and he wasn’t cut out for an office. Oh, he knew that he wasn’t cut out for an office. Well, what did he want to do? He didn’t know, not really . . . but yes, he did; yes, he knew all right. But could he tell Mr Funnell?
After this lesson he was due to go and talk to Mr Funnell again. The careers master had been very patient; he had suggested all kinds of things, except the one thing that Matty knew in his heart he wanted to be. Mr Funnell hadn’t mentioned that because probably it hadn’t dawned on him that Matty Doolin wanted to be a vet, because Mr Funnell knew, and he knew, you had to have a certain education to be a vet. A love of animals wasn’t enough.
‘All right, you can go . . . AND QUIETLY!’
Matty eased himself out of his seat and joined the throng in the aisle, and no-one spoke until they were passing from the classroom into the wide corridor. And here Matty received a dig in the ribs which came with a hoarse whisper, ‘Old Bore loves you, Ginger Doormat, doesn’t he?’
With the quickness of a judo expert Matty turned on his tormentor and a nothing-barred fight seemed imminent, but it was strangled at its source by the incisive voice of Mr Borley saying, ‘You’re asking for trouble, aren’t you, Doolin? And you, Cooper. Break it up.’
Bill Cooper dashed towards the playground while Matty, accompanied by Joe, followed more slowly.
‘You shouldn’t take any notice,’ said Joe; ‘he just does it to get your back up. He’s as bad as old Bore. It’s funny, you know, about nicknames, Matty, ’cos you don’t rise when you’re called Ginger or Doormat separate, just when they’re put together. I can’t see the difference meself. And anyway it’s nothing really, man. What would you do if you were stuck with a name like mine, Darlin’, and all the ways they say it? Joe Darlin’, JOE DARLIN’, Joe DARLIN’.’ Joe mimicked the way his name was pronounced. ‘At first it made me want to fight, and I did in the Primary, as you know, but when I came up here I realised . . . well, you can have a punch like a boxer, but it’s not much use if a bloke as big as Bill Cooper comes at you, and me my size. So I just let them get on, and I make meself laugh when they shout Joe Darlin’. And that’s what you should do, Matty, make yourself laugh.’
‘Oh, shut up, man. Laugh at Cooper? It’s him that’ll be laughin’, and on the other side of his face. I’ll have it out with him afore I leave, you’ll see.’
When Matty continued past the door that led into the school yard Joe pulled at his arm, saying, ‘Here, where are you going?’
‘I’m to see Mr Funnel.’
‘Well, you can do it after school; he usually sees them after school.’
‘He said I had to come along at break.’
‘Well you haven’t anything fresh to tell him, have you?’
‘No.’ Matty poked his chin down towards his friend. ‘So I’d better go and tell him that, hadn’t I?’
Joe gazed up for a moment into the large grey eyes; then, a grin spreading across his face, he said, ‘Huh! I can’t make you out.’
‘Well, don’t strain yourself tryin’.’
On this and with a shake of his head, Matty turned from his friend and made his way along the corridor and to the room where he was to see the careers master.
On knocking upon the door and being told to enter Matty did as he was bidden, and was greeted from behind a paper-strewn desk by a tall, thin man with a face that spread upwards over the top of his head, which, but for the merest fringe behind his ears, was devoid of hair, which earned him the obvious nickname of Curly.
Matty liked Curly. You could talk to Curly, at least as much as you could talk to any schoolmaster, for schoolmasters were like dads, and most mams, they were nearly always old, and they weren’t with it. There were some who tried to be with it, like Joe’s mam, but they only made themselves look silly and got talked about.
‘Sit down, Matty.’
Matty sat down.
‘Well now.’ Mr Funnell folded his arms on the desk and bent his body over them in the direction of Matty, saying as he did so, ‘Well now, have you done any more thinking?’
‘No, sir. Well, I mean things are just the same; I’ve got no further.’
‘Why don’t you make your mind up to go into the shops? If you put your mind to it you’ll swim through, once you get interested in it. And you’ll still be at school, sort of, half-time.’
Matty looked down at his joined hands and said quietly, ‘But I’m not interested, sir, and I know I’ll never be, not in the docks.’
‘Well.’ Mr Funnell drew himself upwards and there was now a touch of sharpness in his voice as he said, ‘You could do much worse. You’d be learning a trade, and later on you’d have some sort of security. Whereas, standing from where I see you now, you’re going to end up as a labourer . . . Perhaps that’s what you want?’
‘It isn’t.’ The retort came so definitely that Mr Funnell was surprised.
‘No?’ Mr Funnell leant back in his chair; then added, ‘Well, it’s evident that you have something in mind; why don’t you tell me what it is?’
‘Because it’s no use.’ Matty’s chin was working overtime now, thrusting itself upwards as if to emphasise the hopelessness of the situation.
‘Leave me to be a judge of that. Just come into the open and tell me what’s on your mind, eh?’
Matty’s chin stopped working, his head drooped, his eyes once again looked down at his hands, and he said, below his breath, ‘I wanted to be a vet. I always have.’
‘Oh.’ It was a small surprised sound that Mr Funnell made, but when he again said ‘Oh,’ it was more solid sounding as if it meant business. ‘Well now,’ he went on, ‘why haven’t you brought this up before? If you knew what you wanted to be, why haven’t you got down to it, and worked and got your GCE? I’m sure you could have done it. But . . . but now it’s a little late in the day . . . ’
‘I know, I know.’ Matty’s head was jerking again, but he was looking straight across the table towards the master. ‘It was no use going into it, sir, because me dad wasn’t for it. He said it would take five or seven years to train for it, and even if I did get a grant I’d still need money and clothes and things, and he hadn’t it.’
‘Yes. Yes, I see. But still it isn’t the end of the world in that line. I take it by all this that you’re interested in animals?’
‘Yes, sir; very much, sir.’
‘Very well then, you could train for the PDSA, you could run a pet shop, or better still, to my mind, you could work on a farm. And who knows, one day you might have your own. It isn’t an unheard-of thing . . . ’
‘It’s no good, sir,’ Matty put in.
‘Don’t keep saying that, Doolin.’ The master’s tone was sharp. ‘Of course it won’t be any good if you don’t make a fight for what you want.’
Matty, whose eyes had again been cast down, raised them and said quietly, ‘You don’t know me dad, sir.’
The master returned Matty’s gaze; then said quietly, ‘No, I don’t. Is there trouble at home?’
‘Trouble?’ Matty screwed up his face. ‘No, no. Not that kind of trouble, sir.’ He shook his head. ‘Not between me mam and dad, or anything else like that. No, no.’ His voice rose higher. ‘It’s . . . well, it’s just that he’s stubborn, set-like, can’t see beyond his nose. I told him I wanted to work on a farm, and he said don’t be daft, where are the farms around here? He said the nearest one was miles out in the country, and when I said I knew that and what about it, for if I got a job I’d be living in, he said I was going to do no living in, me mam wouldn’t hear of me leaving home when I was fifteen. And so that was that.’
‘Do you think it would do any good if I had a word with him?’
Matty shook his head slowly. ‘No, sir, I don’t, not with me dad.’
‘Is he against you going into the yard as an apprentice, like Joe Darling is going to do?’
‘In a sort of way yes, sir, for he keeps saying, start at the bottom and you’ll get there. If there’s anything in you you’ll get there. But I keep tellin’ him, you can’t get any place the day unless you have certificates and things. Not that I want to go on the scheme, I told you, Mr Funnell. But me dad just wants me to get a full-time job and start earning good money straight away. He’s in the docks himself, you see.’
Mr Funnell shook his head. Then leaning across the table towards Matty, he said, ‘As I see it, your best plan is to keep pegging away at this farm idea, and if you can bring your father round to your way of thinking I might be able to help you here. You know, there’s a YMCA scheme. It takes boys like you, in your position, and gives them an eight weeks’ training. You don’t get any pay, just five shillings pocket money. It’s an intensive course. And then they find you a job on a farm where you live in and work under the direction of the farmer, or his manager, and you learn all there is to know, and the keener you are the better it is for you. This scheme operates all over the country. I could set about making enquiries for you, that is’ – he smiled – ‘if you can bring your mother and father around to see it your way.’
‘It sounds fine, sir.’ Matty was smiling now, and the smile took the solemn, bored look from his features and gave to his face a brightness and a particular attractiveness that could not have been guessed at from his usual expression. But like a cloth being wiped over the blackboard to erase the chalk, Matty passed his hand over his face, and his smile was gone.
‘They’ll never let me,’ he said.
‘Keep on trying. There’s three weeks before the end of term, a lot can happen in three weeks. Come and see me next Friday. Go along now.’ Mr Funnell smiled at him, and Matty, getting to his feet, stood looking down at the master for a moment before he muttered, ‘Thank you, sir, it’s kind of you to bother.’
‘I’m paid for it.’ Mr Funnell chuckled deeply, and Matty turned from him and left the room, thinking, Aye, they’re all paid for it, paid for teaching, but some do it different to others.
It was as Matty, accompanied by Joe, left the school side gate and walked along by the wall that a head popped up from its hiding place and a falsetto voice cried, ‘Nighty night, Doolin Darlin’.’
This interplay with their names was like a red rag to a bull to Matty. Joe might be able to stand it but he couldn’t. With a bound he was over the low wall and on top of Bill Cooper. With one arm he pinned Bill’s shoulder, with the other he did his best to bring his fist into contact with Bill’s nose. But Bill Cooper was a match in strength for Matty, and the next moment it was Matty who had his back to the pavement and Bill who was on top. But only for a second, for Matty’s fighting spirit was being fanned by his burning indignation against this big hulking boy, who usually did his fighting with his tongue, and then made a run for it.
It was at the same instant that Matty felt his coat sleeve ripping from his left shoulder that he swung his right arm, fist doubled, and had the sweet satisfaction of feeling it making contact with Bill Cooper’s face. Also he knew for a certainty that he was winning, and this gave him the power once more to free his arm with the intention of repeating his punch. But this he never achieved, for his arm was gripped in mid-air and he was borne backwards, and there was wrenched from him a cry of agony that blotted out the face of Mr Borley.