Forgotten Cookson book out next year

Click to follow
A LOST Catherine Cookson novel that lay forgotten in a draw until the Tyneside novelist died last year, is finally to be pub-lished - half a century after it was first rejected by the London literati.

Dame Catherine's agents, Sheil Land Associates, found the manuscript among the writings left behind when she died at the age of 91 in June last year. The discovery of Kate Hannigan's Girl , which was intended as the sequel to her first book Kate Hannigan, will provide the publishers Transworld with a guaranteed bonanza, thanks to Miss Cookson's enduring popularity: earlier this year she was confirmed as Britain's best- selling author of the decade.

The book is believed to have been penned shortly after Kate Hannigan, which Cookson completed 50 years ago. It is typical of the gritty tales of hardship in industrial north east England which have won her millions of fans, but the novel was turned down by MacDonald, her publishers at the time, because they were not satisfied with the quality of the work.

Handwritten notes on the manuscript show that Dame Catherine, who was awarded an OBE in 1985, held on to the book with the intention of reworking it. The novel is to be published in March next year by Transworld and will be her 100th novel. It is one of three new books to be released after her death. The first, The Thursday Friend, will be published in October. Her agent is also planning to release a book of short stories and children's fiction.

Kate Hannigan's Girl tells the story of an illegitimate child who is brought up by her grandmother and step-grandfather. It mirrors Dame Catherine's own early life on Tyneside. At the age of nine, she discovered that her "elder sister" was in fact her mother and that she had no father.

By the time of her death, Dame Catherine had sold more than 100 million books, which were translated into 23 languages. The Catherine Cookson estate receives millions of pounds a year in publishing royalties. As well as being in the forefront of the bestsellers the author was beyond all doubt the most frequently borrowed from libraries.

Year after year she topped the public library lending figures, having written on average a third of the top 100 titles borrowed in the last dozen years. In a recent report from the Registrar of Public Lending rights she had 32 titles in the top 100 borrowed, making her more popular than Agatha Christie and Dick Francis.

Her phenomenal success owed nothing to the sentimentality of other mass sellers such as Barbara Cartland. Instead, her books drew on her first- hand knowledge of the industrial milieu, describing the lives of working class Geordies in a down-to-earth style.

But the status her success gave her as a national literary figure did little to erase the traumatic memories of her early life or the stigma of illegitimacy.

She was born at Tyne Dock, in East Jarrow, and much of her early childhood was spent on its streets. Often she would be sent out to pick up the coke that fell off passing gascarts, or to collect beer in a gallon jar for her mother, a confirmed alcoholic. That humiliation was matched by the sneers of classmates when they discovered her illegitimacy. In an area where fatherlessness was hardly a rare phenomenon, it remained a cause for deep shame.

After her death, the author's diaries dating back 17 years were destroyed by her husband, Tom, to protect her private life. However, a biography by Kathleen Jones, published earlier this year, detailed Dame Catherine's early lesbian relationship with an obsessively jealous laundry worker, Nan Smith, and its effect on her marriage years later.

It also claimed that she had been brought up in an abusive home. Miss Jones said that her mother, Kate, was sexually abused by her own stepfather and stepbrother and, in turn, Catherine may have been sexually abused by Kate, which would explain her lifelong hatred of her mother.

Leigh Goodman, a spokeswoman for Sheil Land Associates, described the discovery of Kate Hannigan's Girl as "a great find". Cookson's "secret", and the reason for her enduring success, was her ability "to write from the heart and to be able to talk to her readers directly," she said.