A century or so ago there lived at Heap Hollow Cottage, situated near Fellburn in County Durham, a man and a woman and their six children. By all appearances they were a close and loving family. Yet across the happy facade lay a shadow that had lengthened and darkened with the passing years. For the father and mother were not husband and wife, which meant that, to the narrow and bigoted minds of the Victorian rural community, the offspring of Nathaniel Martell and Maria Dagshaw were base-born gillyvors - in country parlance, bastards. Anna, the elder daughter, was entering womanhood resolved to face the legacy of her birth and the challenges it must continue to bring her. Her journey through life would not be an easy one and only her inborn courage and zest for life would sustain her quest for fulfilment and happiness.
Catherine Cookson was born in Tyne Dock, the illegitimate daughter of a poverty-stricken woman, Kate, whom she believed to be her older sister. She began work in service but eventually moved south to Hastings, where she met and married Tom Cookson, a local grammar-school master. Although she was originally acclaimed as a regional writer - her novel The Round Tower won the Winifred Holtby Award for the best regional novel of 1968 - her readership quickly spread throughout the world, and her many best-selling novels established her as one of the most popular of contemporary women novelists. After receiving an OBE in 1985, Catherine Cookson was created a Dame of the British Empire in 1993. She was appointed an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda's College, Oxford, in 1997. For many years she lived near Newcastle upon Tyne. She died shortly before her ninety-second birthday, in June 1998.