Annual lecture launched to honour Hastings writer Catherine Cookson
By Alison Steel

Hastings Literary Festival has announced it is launching an annual Catherine Cookson Lecture to honour the best-selling writer who made Hastings her home for many years.

The inaugural lecture, which has been supported by the Catherine Cookson Trust and will take place during this year’s Hastings LitFest in August, will celebrate the voices of working class women writers.

The first lecture, which is open to the public, will be given by author Kerry Hudson, whose latest book Lowborn was recently serialised on BBC Radio 4. Lowborn, described by The Guardian as ‘one of the most important books of the year’ is Kerry’s exploration of the extreme poverty in which she grew up.

Like Dame Catherine Cookson before her, Kerry – who is a fan of the late North East-born writer – used her intellect, drive and writing to make a success of her life.

Sam Davey, Hastings LitFest co-founder, says: “We are proud to provide a platform for voices that are not always listened to or have been silenced or forgotten. The Catherine Cookson lecture is just one example of our desire to highlight those marginalised groups – in this case, working class women writers.”

Dame Catherine Cookson was the most popular British novelist of the twentieth century, selling over 100 million copies of her novels worldwide and making a fortune from her writing. Born illegitimate in South Shields, she left school at 13 and went into domestic service.

She moved to Hastings in 1929, working initially in the Hastings Workhouse and soon achieving the position of laundry manager. She went on to run a lodging house, where she met her husband Tom, who was a teacher at Hastings Grammar School. They married in 1940.

Dame Catherine was a relentless self-improver, spending hours reading and educating herself in the public library. She turned to writing as a member of Hastings Writers Group, which she joined in 1945 as a form of therapy to overcome depression brought on because she was unable to have children due to a rare hereditary blood disorder. 

She began to share her work, reading her stories to the group and eventually submitting her work for publication. Her first novel, Kate Hannigan, was published in 1950.

Following her death in 1998, the Catherine Cookson Trust continued Dame Catherine’s generous philanthropy in supporting medical and academic research and providing grants and funding for many individuals and organisations.

Hastings Literary Festival has received funding from the Trust since its inception in 2018. Sam Davey says: “We are very grateful indeed to the Catherine Cookson Trust, which is helping us to celebrate the power of the written word to inspire, educate and entertain, and also its value as a therapeutic tool which can improve well-being, build resilience and improve mental health.”

Kerry Hudson was born in Aberdeen. Her first novel Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma won the Scottish First Book Award and was shortlisted for the Southbank Sky Arts Literature Award, Guardian First Book Award, Green Carnation Prize, Author’s Club First Novel Prize and the Polari First Book Award.

Her second novel Thirst won France’s most prestigious award for foreign fiction the Prix Femina Étranger and was shortlisted for the European Premio Strega in Italy.

The inaugural Catherine Cookson Lecture will take place at 3.15pm on Saturday 31st August at the Opus Theatre, Hastings. More information and tickets are available from the Hastings LitFest website at  Tickets are £7.50 or free of charge for concessions, but should be booked in advance.

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