The Daily Telegraph

Josephine Cox

Author who drew upon her tough Lancashire upbringing to write a string of bestsellin­g novels


JOSEPHINE COX, who has died aged 82, was the bestsellin­g author of more than 60 family sagas that sold more than 20 million copies, each combining romance and tragedy; many reflect the world of her impoverish­ed upbringing on the cobbled, gas-lit streets of Blackburn, Lancashire, making frequent visits to the pawnbroker and dodging an alcoholic father.

The first, Her Father’s Sins (1988), is a richly autobiogra­phical view of her childhood, introducin­g the reader to Queenie, who is astonished by the suggestion of a trip to Blackpool: “Outside Blackburn, Auntie Biddy? Are we going outside Blackburn?” Others, such as Outcast (1991), take the reader back in time to explore through the eyes of Emma Grady how the cotton mills and their surroundin­g towns came into being during the Industrial Revolution.

Poverty, religion, manipulati­on, abuse, rape, illegitima­cy and incest are recurring themes. In Jinnie (2002), Louise Hunter adopts a child who is the result of a fling between her late husband Ben and her sister, Susan, while in Cradle of Thorns (1997), Lilian has an unrequited incestuous desire for her brother. Although Josephine Cox had no personal experience, “somehow, you knew things like that were going on”, she told her biographer Piers Dudgeon in Child of the North (2005).

Despite this bleak and harsh world, Josephine Cox painted light brushstrok­es of character that humanised the community with characters such as Beth Ward in

Don’t Cry Alone (1992), who finds “another kind of love, a deep sense of belonging”, and Fran Docherty in Somewhere, Someday (1999), “a big, bustling mound of a woman [with] a soft, squashy smile”.

All the places she wrote about were authentic and her characters were based on real people – including her mother, who appeared in many different guises. “People tell me they laugh and cry when they read my stories, and I’m like that when I’m writing,” she said.

She was born Josephine Brindle in a cotton mill house in Blackburn on July 15 1938, the sixth of 10 children of Bernard “Barney” Brindle, an Irish road sweeper who also tended Blackburn Rovers’ ground, and his wife Mary Jane (née Harrison), who worked in the mills between births; two more children were lost in infancy.

Barney would receive his wages from the foreman in the Navigation, the local pub, which meant most of his income went on drink before he returned home, where he was violent and the children went hungry. “We kids slept six in a bed and I remember there were rats running around our feet in the [outside] toilet,” she told The

Daily Telegraph in 2009, although she stressed that none of it was unique to her family.

Young Josephine would contribute to the family’s coffers by telling stories.

“Every Friday, the local children would come along and we’d sit in the rubble at the bottom of Derwent Street, where they were pulling down the houses,” she recalled.

“If they hadn’t brought a penny, they couldn’t stay.” An audience of 20 or 30 provided enough money for a loaf of bread and gas for a couple of days.

The struggles of her mother, whose first husband had been a bigamist and who walked out of her second marriage when Josephine was aged only 14, are reflected in her fourth novel, Angels Cry Sometimes


Before long Josephine had met Kenneth Cox at a firework party and they were married in 1956 when she was 18, though she later shaved a couple of years from her age.

Cox owned a haulage business, but during the 1970s recession he borrowed money to buy a new lorry. Work dried up and the couple, who by then had two sons, lost everything, including their home. They were eventually given a wreck of a council house. “We just rolled our sleeves up and filled 10 lorries to clear it out,” she said.

Josephine Cox then worked in a factory making belts, before going to night school and then to teachertra­ining college. She was offered a place at Cambridge, but turned it down because the university would not allow her to live out.

She went on to lecture in sociology and history at Bletchley College, Milton Keynes, close to her home at Woburn Sands.

In 1988, the same year as Her Father’s Sins was published, Josephine Cox was named Superwoman of Great Britain, having been secretly entered for the award by her family. Within six years she had a dozen novels in print, all of which were lapped up by eager readers. Her final book, Two Sisters, was published this year.

While metropolit­an newspaper critics could be sniffy (“a dull and simplistic fairytale”, wrote one of Living a Lie, 1995), Public Lending Right figures put her in the same league as Maeve Binchy, PD James and Jeffrey Archer. In the 1990s she also wrote a handful of novels using her mother’s name, Jane Brindle.

Although the advances and royalties poured in, Josephine Cox never lost the fear of returning to poverty. She was both a generous tipper and a great hoarder: having had only jam-jars and milk bottles to drink from as a child, she kept a dozen bone-china dinner services in the loft, unused.

“I know that if anything happens to me, I’ll always have a cup in the house,” she said.

Her husband died in 2003. They had two sons, Wayne and Spencer.

Josephine Cox never lost the fear of returning to poverty. She was both a generous tipper and a great hoarder

 ??  ?? Cox, above, and three of her novels, right. She also wrote novels under her mother’s name, Jane Brindle
Cox, above, and three of her novels, right. She also wrote novels under her mother’s name, Jane Brindle
 ??  ?? Josephine Cox, born July 15 1938, died July 17 2020
Josephine Cox, born July 15 1938, died July 17 2020
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