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Catherine Gaskin, the girl with the golden pen

catherine gaskin, helena fairfaxCatherine Gaskin penned a selection of fabulously gothic and thrilling novels in the fifties, sixties and seventies, and you only have to check out the brilliant covers I’ve included in this post to know these are books begging to be read :) She was known as “The Queen of Storytellers” and “The Girl with the Golden Pen”, and began writing her first novel at the age of 15, apparently getting up every day at 4am and writing for a couple of hours before school, and so showing a true writer’s dedication from an early age. That first novel was accepted by a publisher when Gaskin was 17, and became a bestseller. After that, she wrote pretty much a book a year, and sold more than 40 million novels in her lifetime. Wow!

Catherine Gaskin’s having a bit of a well-deserved revival at the moment. Publishers Corazon Books have just released the first ever ebook edition of one of her novels, The Property of a Gentleman, which I’ve just finished reading. And catherine gaskin, helena fairfaxwhat a gripping read it was! The publishers describe it as “an absorbing tale of history, intrigue and romance, set among unspoilt Cumbrian nature and the sophisticated world of a major London auction house.”

Basically, the story is about an antiques’ dealer, Jo Roswell, who travels with her boss to the Earl of Askew’s isolated country house in the Lake District, to evaluate some antiques for him. Here she encounters a fake Rembrandt, a missing El Greco, a fabulous and cursed diamond called La Española, a ghostly wolfhound and the weird daughter of the family’s servant. The tragic and mysterious death the ‘Spanish Lady’, teenage wife to the fifteenth century Earl, is also part of the fabric of the family, and that of their faithful retainers.

So you can see, The Property of a Gentleman has all the elements of a gothic and romantic drama, and it doesn’t catherine gaskin, helena fairfaxdisappoint. There are some parts of the story telling that might seem a little old-fashioned (the novel was first published in the early seventies), and of course the actual plot is completely fantastic and over the top, but I loved it. And the thing I loved most about it was the author’s atmospheric descriptions. The part where Jo is driving her boss’s Jag in the lonely fells at night-time is really well done, and when they arrive at the Earl’s gloomy country house in the pitch black, the door opens, spilling out a beam of light along with eight enormous Irish wolfhounds, who surround the car ‘with a silent, deadly kind of speed…We didn’t attempt to move, and the dogs remained motionless and uncannily quiet, those eyes under bushy brows fixed intently on us.’

What a great introduction to the lonely house of mystery! I really loved the descriptions of the house and the fells, and I loved the way that, as Jo begins to fall in love with the house and with the Earl’s heir, the descriptions become less forbidding and more about the remote beauty of the location.

The Earl’s country house in The Property of a Gentleman is probably based on the real Elizabethan Leven’s Hall in Cumbria, which is owned by the Historic Houses Association. The HHA, in conjunction with Corazon Publishers, is running a short story competition at the moment, inviting people to submit a short story set in or inspired by a historic house. You can find the details here. The winning stories will be published as an anthology by Corazon, and I look forward to reading them!

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Have you ever read any Catherine Gaskin? Or any novels inspired by a historic house? And do you like this sort of gothic, romantic suspense as much as I do? If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Catherine Gaskin, the girl with the golden pen

  1. I have never heard of her, I am afraid to say, but now I am inspired to go take a look at her books! :) I’ve not really delved into gothic romance, but it is making a bit of a comeback.

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    1. Hi Harliqueen, I think Sara Dane is her most famous novel. I’ve bought a second-hand edition and have just started it. All her books are out of print now, I think, except the recent release of The Property of a Gentleman. If you do try any of her novels, please let me know what you think. Thanks very much for your comment!

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  2. Thank you for this newsletter post, Helena. I flew to Amazon and within seconds purchased this book. I will treasure reading this book as this genre created the writer muse in my heart. Thanks again. Bev

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    1. Oh, that’s great, Bev! I really hope you enjoy it. As I put in the post, the descriptions are very atmospheric, and the plot is dramatic. If you have time, please do let me know what you think when you’ve finished it.

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  3. Hey, Helena. At first I didn’t recognize the name, and then it kind of rang a bell. I think I read a lot of her back in the day. Frankly, I’m surprised a publishing house would take a chance to bring back some of the older writers. Not that they’re weren’t wonderful. But current day readers, don’t have much patience for all those “atmospheric descriptions,” which, I think we used to be more more willing to indulge in. Now, it’s hit the action on the first page and keep it going 90- to nothing for the whole 250 pages. But I loved Catherine and Mary Stuart, Victoria Holt, and Phyllis Whitney. Learned a lot about other parts of the world from them. :) I’ll be sharing.

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    1. Hi Marsha, I’d be interested to see if they republish any more Gaskin novels, and whether they’ll appeal to younger readers. There was definitely a late sixties feel to the novel I read, but in a way it added to the appeal, for me, anyway. Thanks for your interesting comment!

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      1. It’s like when we read historicals set in WWII era or the 20ths. Forget how long ago the 60’s are for someone born in late 80s and 90s. The historical piece of it just might work. Keep me posted. :) Thanks for all your help with the Blog Party!

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  4. The Fall of the House of Usher, Edgar Allan Poe, is supposed to be based on some rather gruesome events in an Usher House in Boston…creepy! Not really romantic though…just gothic.

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    1. How interesting! I’ll have to check that one out. Boston isn’t a place you’d have thought would have any gruesome events. (That’s Boston, UK, of course! I can’t speak for Boston, US! :) )

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  5. Catherine Gaskin was one of my favourite authors when a teenager, along with Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt! I still have a couple of her books in hardback and you’ve made me want to revisit them sometime. I had noticed that competition – sounds good.

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    1. The competition does sound good, Ros. I’m looking forward to seeing what ideas people come up with! I’m definitely going to check out a few more Catherine Gaskins, too. Thanks for your comment!

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