Fanny McBride was a large, cheerful, indomitable Tyneside widow with a large, cheerful family. When she reached her fifties, she began to feel, for the first time in her life, a little lonely. All but one of her sons and daughters had married and left home, leaving her with spare time on her hands.
Being a woman of resource, Fanny took on a job at the local 'Ladies', which was to prove a surprisingly stimulating experience.
Another new interest was the arrival of some rather odd neighbours at Malhattan's Hall, the tenement block which was Fanny's home. Then there was her long-standing feud with Mrs Flannagan, the problem of the favourite child's unsuitable marriage, and the puzzle of Fanny's one unmarried son, who was far from being a typical McBride . . .
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.