Thursday, June 11, 1998 Published at 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK
'Our Kate', the people's author
A typical bookshop scene in many countries
Dame Catherine Cookson was the girl who often hid in her family's backyard lavatory, dreaming of owning "a nice home".
But unlike so many ambitious children born into north-eastern poverty, she made it, spending much of her later life in a 13-roomed stone-built house overlooking a three-acre garden and lake.
She was named as Britain's 17th richest woman in one newspaper survey which was hardly a surprise since her novels, around 70 of them, each sold a million copies on average.
In it she explained the bitterness about her background, something she struggled to come to terms with.
Our Kate took 12 years to write, an eternity for an author who could pen on average two books a year.
In an age where an illegitimate child meant shame, she was told her grandmother was her mother, and that her real mother was her sister.
When she found out the truth, aged seven, it left a scar.
The wretched environment of her early years was one she would not forget as her books were almost exclusively set in the north-east of England she knew as a girl.
She had left school at 13, to go into domestic service, before working in a laundry.
At 20 she was inspired by a novel to go into a public library for the first time in her life, an institution she would spend hours in and later describe as her "university".
She took voice projection lessons to control her Geordie accent and in 1929 went south to become head laundress at a Hastings workhouse, vowing she would "never, never go back".
The relationship was extremely happy but she was unable to have children, suffering four miscarriages in as many years.
The problem was diagnosed as telangiectasia, a rare, hereditary blood disorder which was traced back to regular nose bleeds in her teens.
The miscarriages sparked off a long nervous breakdown in which she experienced suicidal impulses and feelings of wanting to steal or harm any child.
But she found that writing about her early life proved therapeutic.
In the 1970's with the public eagerly lapping up titles such as Tilly Trotter and The Gambling Man, her work expanded to radio, television, and even a musical.
As with the books, millions watched the most successful TV adaptations.
She felt the acclaim was one in the eye for literary critics who had often dismissed her work.
"It shows they aren't always right - not when millions of viewers have proved them wrong."
Return to Cookson Country
Royalty, in fact, came to her. In 1986, the Prince of Wales presented her with the OBE during a visit to Tyneside.
Then the local council called the area Catherine Cookson Country to attract tourists and named a museum after her too.
She worked for charity - donating thousands to 110 good causes including research into arthritis, autism, and her own condition.
In the New Years Honours of 1993 she became Dame Catherine and again was presented with the award in the north-east owing to her failing health.