Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Guest Post: Why Catherine Gaskin was the ‛Queen of Storytellers’

Today I have a fantastic guest post for you written by Ian Skillicorn from Corazon Books, about bestselling author Catherine Gaskin.

During her long writing career, Catherine Gaskin was known as the ‛Queen of Storytellers’. She wrote 21 bestselling novels, which sold millions of copies around the world. For five decades, Catherine’s books were a familiar sight on people’s bookshelves, and in bookshops and libraries. I can still picture the covers of the Catherine Gaskin books my mum and grandmothers read and lent to each other, when I was a child.

In more recent years, Catherine’s work has been sadly neglected; she retired from writing in 1988 and died in 2009. But her characters and stories remain as vibrant and gripping as ever. My imprint, Corazon Books, has just published The Property of a Gentleman, the first ever digital edition of a Catherine Gaskin novel. And as 2014 has been declared the Year of Reading Women, this seems the perfect time to introduce a new generation of readers to her work. So, if you aren’t familiar with the name Catherine Gaskin, here are five reasons why I think she still deserves to be called the ‛Queen of Storytellers’.

She found her voice at an early age
Not many writers can say they were already a bestselling author by the age of 17! Catherine was still a schoolgirl when she decided that she wanted to be a writer. She was dedicated enough to get up early every morning and write for two hours before going to school. The completed novel was accepted by a large publisher, when she was just 16. Catherine was given permission to take some time off school to edit the manuscript. When the book was published the following year, it sold 50,000 copies in the first two months. Catherine never went back to school!

Her characters are people you care about
Catherine was famous for writing about a variety of different countries and periods in history. 
Wherever and whenever her books were set, they all had one thing in common ‒ convincing 
characters that the reader cares about. The Property of a Gentleman is told by Jo Roswell, who works in a large London auction house. Most of the story is set in a remote stately home in the Lake District. While Jo is there, to evaluate artefacts for auction, she becomes involved with the house’s residents and staff. She is also fascinated by the history of the house, and the fate of a young Spanish noblewoman who lived there many centuries before. Jo gradually discovers many challenging secrets that link the past to the present. When I finished reading the book for the first time, I really didn’t want to say goodbye to Jo and the other characters. Even though I then reread it quite a few times, to prepare the new edition for publication, I still shed a tear at all the same parts of the story!

She did lots of research to create believable settings
Catherine’s novels are not only entertaining, they teach you about unfamiliar worlds. She would spend a long time doing research before she wrote each book. The result is that her stories transport you to places that leap to life off the page, whether it is behind the scenes in an important auction house, sherry making in Spain in the last century, a small 1950s American town, a glass makers in Ireland, or Australia when it was a British penal colony.

Her stories have been read and loved all over the world
From her earliest success, readers all over the world devoured Catherine’s stories. 40 million copies of her books were sold during her lifetime. They were translated into 11 languages, including Hebrew, Turkish and Japanese. One of her novels, The File on Devlin, was made into a film, and another, Sara Dane, became a very popular TV mini-series.

She found a way for her writing to help other authors 
When Catherine died, aged 80, she left her literary estate to the Society of Authors in the UK. The Society works in many ways to protect the interests of professional writers, so her generous act means that the storytellers who came after her can also benefit from her work.

The Property of a Gentleman by Catherine Gaskin ‒ a suspenseful tale, full of mystery, history and romance.

Shortly after her mother's death in a Swiss plane crash, Jo Roswell is sent from the London auction house where she works to the remote and mysterious Thirlbeck – stately home of the Earl of Askew. Jo's task is to evaluate the house's contents for a sale, but she soon finds herself drawn into the complex lives of Thirlbeck's past and present inhabitants, each with their own secrets and desires. 

Robert Birkett, the Earl of Askew, has returned to Thirlbeck after many years abroad. A decorated war hero, he has also spent time in prison after a fatal car accident for which he was blamed. Carlota, the Spanish Condesa, is the Earl's sophisticated yet possessive companion. 

Meanwhile, Nat Birkett, a distant cousin of the earl, is the reluctant heir to Thirlbeck. A local farmer, his passion is for the land rather than titles and possessions. Following his wife's mysterious demise at Thirlbeck, he is also the single father of two young boys. 

George Tolson is Thirlbeck's brooding keeper, who jealously guards the property from unwelcome strangers. By Tolson's side is Jessica, his intelligent but fragile granddaughter, who must be protected from herself. During her stay, Jo is absorbed by the tragic story of The Spanish Lady, whose young life was cut short at Thirlbeck many centuries before. She also encounters La Española, the brilliant diamond which, according to legend, brings disaster to all who try to possess it. And she is shocked to learn of her own mother's connection to Thirlbeck. 

Jo will struggle with difficult discoveries as she unlocks the puzzles which link Thirlbeck's past and present residents.

To celebrate the release of The Property of a Gentleman, Corazon Books has launched a short story competition in partnership with the Historic Houses Association, with some terrific prizes (including a private tour with the owners around Levens Hall, a historic house in the Lake District!). 

See for more details.

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