Proud and canny, ignorant and intensely ambitious, Hannah Massey is a born ruler. Her kingdom may be only a working-class household in County Durham, but within its walls her iron will governs a predominantly male family and her word is unchallengeable law. Now, in late middle age, her ambition is still not satisfied. She wants to see her brood living in the house where she was in service as a young girl.
The apple of Hannah's eye is her pretty younger daughter, Rosie, who has just returned home after a spell in London. Rosie had gone south, so Hannah thought, to escape the passionate pursuit of a young man she had known for most of her life. Her return is shrouded in mystery and evasions, and when the truth does come out, Hannah's world is torn apart.
THE FIFTEEN STREETS
Life in the Fifteen Streets was tough - a continual struggle for survival. Some families gave up and descended into a dismal state of grinding poverty. Others, like the O'Briens - and especially John O'Brien - fought grimly for a world they were only rarely allowed to glimpse.
John O'Brien caught his 'glimpse' on the day he met Mary Llewellyn. Mary, with her slim body and soft brown hair; Mary, who lived well, had beautiful clothes - who worked because she wanted to, not because she had to...
When John O'Brien fell in love with Mary Llewellyn, he knew there was a gulf between them that nothing could bridge - it was the gulf of the Fifteen Streets.
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.