A MUM who left school at the age of 15 is being hailed as the next Catherine Cookson after her work was picked up by a top publishing house.

Emma Hornby, aged 33, is celebrating the publication of her debut novel A Shilling for a Wife, a historical saga set in 1860s Bolton, which was inspired when the former care assistant researched her family tree.

She said: “I’d been researching my family tree for years and was fascinated by what I unearthed.

“Generation after generation lived, worked and clawed out a life in the poorest slums in Bolton and Manchester.

“I’d spend hours imagining what their lot must have been like, picturing these faceless people, wondering about their struggles, their daily lives, their relationships, loves, fights, hopes and struggles.

“My mind was soon swamped with imaginary scenarios and I began penning down snippets, immersing myself in the research of the time.

“The result was a full-length novel – my debut, A Shilling for a Wife – and an overflowing trunk of ideas now sitting patiently in my mind, waiting to be turned into future books.”

Although the book is a work of fiction, some happenings and names are inspired by true events.

“For example, I have family members who died in the workhouse and of the consumption at a young age — hardships faced by some of my characters," said Miss Hornby, who lives with her fiancee and children, aged 15, 13, and nine.

“Also, the protagonist’s married name in the book is an anagram of my grandma’s maiden name. Little touches like that.

“As research into my family history centred around the Breightmet, Bolton and Ancoats areas where my ancestors lived, it was inevitable that I set this book, and future ones, here.

“Readers familiar with these districts will certainly recognise streets and buildings as many still remain today.”

Before becoming an author, Miss Hornby had a variety of jobs, from care assistant for the elderly to working in a Blackpool rock factory.

She said: “I’ve always had a passion for writing and began jotting poetry in my teens. After selling some of my poems and having short fiction pieces accepted for the internet, print and stage, I decided to give novel writing a bash — I’m so glad I did.

“It’s been an incredible journey so far. I have a deep passion for the Victorian era and have read for as long as I can remember.

“Therefore, writing historical sagas was the inevitable route I took once hit with the author bug.”

The novel tells the story of Sally Swann who lives in a cottage in the heart of Bolton after she was bought as a wife from the workhouse. She is forced to flee him to protect her and her son, but he is determined to find them both.

Miss Hornby added: “Initially, I made the common mistake of most budding writers —dived in without learning the ins and outs of the book business.

“A few rejections later, I knew I must do this properly if I was to get anywhere. After spending some time honing my craft, polishing my work and researching the complicated world of publishing, I was fortunate enough to acquire a top London literary agent — no mean feat for a Breightmet lass who left school at 15.

Her book went to auction and was snapped up by Dame Catherine Cookson’s former publisher Transworld, who have described her as their new Cookson.

“I signed a three-book deal and now write full time," said Miss Hornby.

“It’s a dream come true; I still have to pinch myself.”

The eBook and hardback of A Shilling for a Wife are available and the paperback is out on May 4.

Her second book, Manchester Moll, is also published in May.