Growing up in Sydney, Catherine’s ambition was to be a pianist, and she studied at the city’s Conservatorium of Music. But at aged 15 she made a decision that was to set the course for her life – to write a novel. To fit around her studies, Catherine got up at 4am each morning to write, completing the book in the Christmas holidays when she was 16. She sent the manuscript to four publishers, without mentioning her age; three rejected it and one invited her in to the office. As reported by Esme Scott in the Daily Mirror (August 18th 1947) the publisher was surprised to come face to face with a schoolgirl: “I expected a girl of twenty-seven or so,” he said, “not this mite.” Catherine left school to revise the manuscript, and when This Other Eden was published it sold 50,000 copies in its first two months, making her a bestselling author at the age of just 17.
The following year, Catherine moved to London with her mother and sister Moira (known as Pip), where she lived for seven years. Catherine worked in the library at Harrods for six weeks, and wrote more novels. It was during this time that she wrote Sara Dane, the rags to riches saga of an English convict in Australia, which sold more than two million copies, and was turned into a TV mini-series.
It was also while in London that she met her future husband, Sol Cornberg, on a blind date. He had asked a friend of his if she knew anyone who would like to go and see the film Moby Dick with him. Catherine was the one person the friend knew who did. “And,” said the Daily Express (November 5th 1956), “so they were married.”
Sol Cornberg was an American, over from NBC in the US to design television studios in England. The couple lived for ten years in Manhattan, on Central Park South and Broadway. They spent summers in Duchess County, NY.
After a shorter stay in the Virgin Islands (1965-67), and a brief return to the US, Catherine and Sol moved to Ireland. Catherine told Roy Plomley during her Desert Island Discs interview (1980), that she had held an ambition to go back to live in Ireland. At the time she returned, the Irish government was keen to encourage writers, artists and composers to live in the country; fellow writers who settled there during that period included Len Deighton, Frederick Forsyth and Susan Howatch.
In 1981, Catherine and Sol made their home on the Isle of Man. Sol Cornberg died there in 1999, and the following year, Catherine returned to live in Sydney. She remained there until September 6th 2009 when, at the age of 80, she died of ovarian cancer.
Catherine Gaskin retired from writing twenty years before her death, writing her last novel, The Charmed Circle, in 1988. She was quoted as saying that she was resigned to becoming obsolete in her own lifetime. On the contrary, her stories and characters are well remembered and loved by readers around the world today, and the announcement of new ebook editions of her titles has been greeted with interest and excitement. These new reissues have been licensed by The Society of Authors, to whom Catherine left her literary estate.
Good storytelling never goes out of fashion, and now a new generation of readers have the opportunity to discover Catherine Gaskin’s writing.