Even in the heat of battle, Geoff Fulton, a professional soldier, would always carry with him the memory of the night he was on leave, when his timely intervention rescued fourteen-year-old Lizzie from the oldest of perils for a young girl, and thereby began to change her life. Lizzie came from a desperately poor home, ruled by a slatternly stepmother only too ready to profit from setting the girl along the same sordid road as her elder sister had been made to take. The year was 1937 and the place a rural enclave of County Durham, where Geoff had been born and raised in the old farmhouse that remained the home of his parents, even though most of its land had been sold off to neighbouring Low Tarn Hall. There his father still worked as estate manager for the demanding Ernest Bradford-Brown, self-made owner of this and many another property. Anxious about his increasingly handicapped mother and seeing in Lizzie a girl of spirit, Geoff concluded that she might, with care and training, solve his problem and benefit herself. So, after a quick visit to outface the protesting Mrs Gillespie, he was soon back home with his willing protegee.
Then, in 1943, when Geoff returned wounded from the desert war, it was to find a Lizzie he hardly recognised - mature and highly attractive. For her part, she soon came to realise that he too had changed. Embittered by his experiences at war and rejected by Ernest Bradford-Brown's daughter Janis after a lengthy relationship long opposed by her irascible father, to Lizzie he now showed a ruthless streak that was at considerable odds with the caring man who had, all those years ago, rescued her from poverty and deprivation.
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.
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