Catherine Winchester met Mr John Thornton for this interview soon after his marriage to Miss Margaret Hale.
Catherine Winchester: Mr Thornton, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I know you're a busy man.
John Thornton: It's my pleasure, Miss Winchester. What can I do for you?
CW: Straight down to business I see.
JT: [Abashed smile] Generally speaking, I don't have much time for small talk.
CW: No, of course not. So, [Looks at notebook] you and Margaret Hale are married. I have to say you surprised a few people with that one.
JT: Not least myself. From the first time I met Margaret, I knew she was special, too special for the likes of me but by some miracle she grew to care for me.
CW: That's putting it mildly.
JT: [Polite smile]
CW: Sorry, moving on. You and Margaret seem to be doing wonders here for your workers. Can you tell me what, exactly, brought about this change in you?
JT: It was a hard change to make, I admit. I've been in the cotton industry for quite some time now and I learned to view the business as masters verses hands. To be honest, until Margaret came into my life, I hadn't even thought to look at things a different way.
JT: [He smiles. When he answers his voice is warmer than usual] Margaret is a strange creature, I've never encountered anyone quite like her before. Her manner is that of lady and yet, probably thanks to her father being a minister, she's just as happy mixing with the poorest of the poor as dining at the Ritz. Her morality also gives her a strength that is uncommon among her sex. Those things combined means that she was able to challenge me and put to me a point of view that was previously unknown to me.
CW: So Margaret is the reason for this change in your priorities?
JT: Margaret was the catalyst, yes. [He pauses looking slightly uncomfortable] I confess that there were times when her views seemed idealistic and even simplistic but between us we have been able to find a way to improve our hands lot and keep a sustainable business.
JT: Definitely not! [He smiles slightly] No, Margaret was able to appeal to my sense of justice and fairness. Higgins carried on where she left off and the workers were no longer a group of hands, they were real people, just trying to do their best for their families.
CW: I have to say, you're doing very good work here.
JT: Thank you.
CW: I'm curious about your relationship with Margaret though. Would you mind answering some questions about her?
JT: Of course not.
CW: Your opposing points of view, especially when you first met, meant that sparks frequently flew between the two of you. Is your marriage smoother now or do the sparks still fly on occasion?
JT: [He smiles] I confess, there are sparks on occasion but on the whole we're a team now. If we disagree with each other, we both talk things out and find a compromise. And of course, since we married, Margaret has also come to see the masters point of view a little better, so she is not so innocent as she once was.
CW: I hope you don't mind me asking, but how does Margaret get along with your mother?
JT: It was difficult at first, I won't deny it, but Mother is a sensible woman, she knows a good thing when she sees it. I knew she'd come to like Margaret in the end. Truth be told, it was really only her desire to protect me that caused any friction with Margaret.
JT: Aye, perhaps. But I can hardly go saying that to another southern lady, can I?
CW: [Blushes at his charming manner] Um... Right... where was I?”
JT: My mother.
CW: Right, yes. Sorry. So, what does she think of your ventures?
JT: She's proud of me. Of both of us. She wants the best for me, she thinks the whole world should know how great I am and of course, this project had brought people like yourself here to interview me, which means that I am becoming known as a humanitarian as well as a business man. She's thrilled.
JT: You want to tell my story though, don't you? Something about you tells me you'll be fair and impartial and I'm usually a pretty good judge of character.
CW: Right... [Blushes] Is it hot in here?
JT: Not unduly, I believe. Did you have any more questions for me?
CW: Do you have a brother?
JT: Excuse me?”
CW: Nothing, sorry. That was for another interview. [Coughs] Right, just one more question, if I may.
JT: Of course.
CW: If you could teach the other mill masters one lesson, what would it be?
JT: To listen to their workers. This confrontational attitude we have to relations with our workers doesn't do either side any good. There will always be one or two bad apples, of course, but on the whole the workers are just trying to look out for their own. Only by understanding one another can we ever hope to put an end to strikes and move this industry forward.
CW: Thank you for your time, Mr Thornton.
JT: [Smiles] It was my pleasure, Miss Winchester. I think I have time for a quick tour if you would like to see around the mill?
CW: [Giggles like a school girl] Yes, I think I'd like that.
About the Author - Catherine Winchester (from Cat's official site)
As a young child, Cat loved reading; spending hours devouring her Storyteller series, but as she grew up her love of books faded. Faced with choices like the Famous Five or the Railway Children, and combined with dyslexia which wasn't recognised, Cat's love of reading dwindled.
In her early teens however, she discovered science fiction, staying up to 2am to finish her first sci-fi novel. This reignited the love affair and Cat soon realised that she no longer needed to be stuck in the childrens' section and graduated to adult literature.
When she finally got an English teacher who cared just as much about content as grammar and spelling, her love expanded to include writing. She penned many stories in notebooks but thanks to rather illegible handwriting, most of these stayed confined to notebooks. When she was 15 she discovered computers and Cat has never looked back. She penned her first novel on the school computers and it amuses her no end when she thinks of her teachers stumbling across that first, amateurish work.
When asked why she loves reading and writing so much, Cat's answer is simple. "There have been some very dark and lonely times in my life and during those times reading was my lifeline. It allowed me to step out of my own head and into someone else's world; somewhere I could forget my own problems, if only for a little while. When I discovered writing it was the same thing, except I could control the world I was in and manipulate it to my own desires."
Which question that Catherine didn't , would you have asked John Thornton if you could have met him?
Propose your question in your comment and don't forget to add your e-mail address, please. You'll get a chance to win NORTHERN LIGHT, the sequel to Mrs Gaskell's North and South by Catherine Winchester. The giveaway is open worldwide and ends on October 17th. Good luck!
About the book
Sometimes described as the female Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell's classic novel, North and South, dealt with issues of class, feminism, social reform and the plight of the working classes, entwining those themes seamlessly with a timeless romance between Margaret Hale and John Thornton. Northern Light is a continuation of that novel which sees John and Margaret embarking on their lives together whilst working to improve the lives of their work force.
With the threat of another strike, a series of bad mill accidents, a lethal fire and failed speculation, life in Milton is not easy for anyone and it won't be long before the mill masters and their workers clash once more, with devastating consequences.
Getting married and starting a family is difficult enough at the best of times but for John and Margaret, married life will present unique challenges and despite the reforms they are making, even they will not escape Milton's troubles unscathed.