During her lifetime, the Irish-born writer Catherine Gaskin was known as “The Queen of Storytellers” and “The Girl with the Golden Pen”. A bestselling author from the age of just 17, she wrote twenty one novels, with total sales exceeding forty million copies. Remembered with great fondness by many readers, her work has been neglected in recent years. However, that is set to change now that her literary estate has licensed the first digital edition of one of her best-loved works.
Catherine Gaskin was born in Blackrock, on Dundalk Bay, County Louth, in 1929. Three months after her birth, she emigrated with her family to Sydney, Australia. Many years later, Catherine returned to live in Ireland. In 1967, she and her American husband Sol Cornberg moved to Ballymacahara, where they renovated a cottage and created gardens. The couple lived there until 1981, when they moved to the Isle of Man.
Catherine’s first ambition was to be a pianist, and she studied at Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music. Despite greatly enjoying her time there, Catherine felt that she didn’t possess sufficient talent to make a career of music. Instead, when she was 15, she decided that she would write a novel. Catherine kept this goal a secret within her family, concerned that she would be embarrassed in front of her school-friends if the book was rejected. For a year she would rise at 4am and write for two hours before going to school. Once the manuscript was completed she sent it to four publishers. One, Collins, accepted it. Catherine left school to make some required changes to the manuscript, never to return.
The novel, This Other Eden, was published when Catherine was 17, and it became an instant bestseller. Although her later works were recognised for the amount of research and detail that went into them, This Other Eden was written entirely from Catherine’s imagination, and she did no research while writing it. In fact, the story begins in the US, and a large part of the novel is set in Britain in the early stages of the Second World War, but at the time of writing, Catherine had never been to either place. Thirty years later, after having lived in both the US and England, Catherine rewrote the basic story of This Other Eden as The Lynmara Legacy. She expanded the American section of the book, explaining that this time she could always ask her husband about 1930s America, as he had lived through it.
The first novel for which Catherine did any serious research was also her biggest success. It took her two and a half years to research and write Sara Dane, the saga of a young convict woman transported to Australia in the eighteenth century. Sara Dane was a worldwide hit, spawning a popular television mini-series, and was still in print a quarter of a century after it was written.
With each subsequent novel, Catherine Gaskin became known for the fascinating insights she gave into spheres of life previously unfamiliar to the reader. Her stories often revolved around historical or contemporary trades, with settings as varied as an Irish glass-works, and a small American town transformed by the arrival of a large corporation.
The Property of a Gentleman is the first Catherine Gaskin novel to be issued as a new edition in ebook format. It is mostly set in a remote ancestral pile in the English Lake District, with an excursion to a grand London auction house. The novel weaves modern-day secrets and dilemmas with the tale and legacy of a young Spanish aristocrat who met her untimely death during the Reformation. The reader learns about the worlds of antiques, artists and painting, as well as the struggle to preserve an important inheritance for future generations.
In an Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, Catherine thanks Christie’s for giving her a behind-the-scenes view of how an auction house works; but she also points out that the auction house and characters of her story, are not based on real people. She says: “If the demands of fiction have required of my characters certain actions which are at variance with the principles or practice of a great auction house, the responsibility is entirely mine.” The Times said that The Property of a Gentleman “beautifully evokes the English Lake District”, while a reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald described how she hated to put the novel down, and missed it when she had finished reading it.
Catherine Gaskin never wrote short stories. She thought that the short story was a very difficult form, which didn’t suit her style of writing. While being interviewed on Desert Island Discs in 1980, she said: “I tell stories, and they are usually long!”
In 1988, Catherine retired from writing, so that she could spend more time travelling with her husband. After his death in 1999, she returned to Australia. She died there in 2009 at the age of 80; she left her literary estate to the Society of Authors in the UK. Catherine was known to have said that she was resigned to becoming obsolete as a writer in her own lifetime. Fortunately, that is not the case. Now that her work is available for a new generation, readers are falling in love with Catherine Gaskin’s writing and characters once more.
(c) Ian Skillicorn
You can find out more about Catherine at http://www.catherinegaskin.com
Corazon Books is a successful and expanding publisher of women’s fiction. Its aim is simple – to bring readers great stories with heart. Recent successes include a Top 10 bestseller on Amazon, and a #1 in the Women Writers & Fiction category.
Corazon Books publishes new fiction and reissues of popular out-of-print works. The imprint also supports and encourages new writers with a number of writing competitions held throughout each year. Full details can be found at www.greatstorieswithheart.com
Ian Skillicorn is a publisher and audio producer. He established his successful women’s fiction imprint in 2012. For many years Ian has produced audio short stories and writing podcasts. His first audio project was supported with a grant from Arts Council England. He recently launched The Story Player (www.thestoryplayer.com), which streams original recordings of short stories online and via mobile devices. In 2010, Ian founded National Short Story Week in the UK, which is celebrated by libraries and schools nationwide, as well as by publishers, reading and writing organisations, and countless individual writers, readers and listeners.