Those of you that follow my blog know that I have recently made quite an effort to read some of Catherine Cookson’s extensive catalogue of novels. Having recently moved back to the North East, I wanted to read books that evoke the heart and the spirit of the land that I now, once more, call home. But one of my other reasons for reading her books is down to one simple fact: my own mother keeps giving me Cookson novels that she no longer has space for. And when someone gives me a book, I feel a need to read it.
The last book my Mam gave me, however, was a little bit different. And it has a story behind it. It was around thirty years ago, when we still lived in the western suburbs of Sydney, and it was coming up to my mother’s 40th birthday. I wanted to get her something special, something she would cherish. And knowing of her love for Catherine Cookson, how much my Mam loved to read her books, how they made her feel closer to the home she had left behind when we moved to Australia, I thought that I would try to get a signed copy of one of her books. There was a problem, though… I lived in Australia, and we were very much reliant on the old-fashioned postage system.
I wrote a letter to Mrs Cookson months in advance of the need for a gift, hoping that I might be able to get a book from Mrs Cookson. I sat down and tried to figure out how much it would cost for a book, how much it would cost for the postage of a book back to Australia, and then tried to figure out roughly the exchange rate between the pound and the dollar, and wrote out a cheque for that amount. I hoped it was enough. I hoped I would get an answer. But, I have to confess, I thought it was a bit of a long shot. Still, I had left myself plenty of time to get my mother another gift.
I didn’t keep a copy of the letter I wrote to Mrs Cookson, but I think I told her how much my Mam loved her work, how we too were from the North East, but now lived in Australia, and how I had just read Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, which had started me thinking about my own Northern heritage. I popped the letter off to her publisher, and didn’t think too much more about it.
Several weeks later, there was a small parcel in the mail for me. I opened it to find, much to my surprised delight, a letter from her secretary, and a book with a signed plate for my mother. She had returned my cheque. I had managed to get my Mam a gift for her birthday that I knew she would value, and all it had cost me was the price of a stamp for a letter from Australia to England.
I will always remember the look on my Mam’s face when I gave it to her. It was a moment of joy for us both. And it is demonstrative of Mrs Cookson’s often overlooked generosity and kindness. I hadn’t realised until I started reading Cookson’s work, and started researching more about her life, how much of a legacy she has left behind – not only in terms of the works of imaginative fiction she created for the world to enjoy, but also in the charitable trust that continues to help and support many causes some two decades after her death.
You can find out more about her philanthropy here: https://catherinecookson.com/trust/
Catherine Cookson’s work continues to provide reading pleasure for a legion of readers. In fact, my posts about Catherine Cookson tend to draw quite a lot of traffic. Her work remains relevant and engaging, even for a modern audience.
But today, as I look back over the book that my Mam gave back to me, to keep it safely on my bookshelves, it is the kindness of Catherine Cookson that I want to recognise and celebrate.