Her family sagas have made Josephine Cox one of the top 50 most successful writers since records began, generating £26.2 million in revenue via sales of more than 15 million books.
The covers may look romantic – her latest, The Broken Man, features the silhouette of a boy in a burnt orange sunset – but turn the pages and you soon realise that the tales are often much darker than they seem.
Her 50th novel, The Broken Man, is about a woman who has been beaten to within an inch of her life fleeing her violent husband, changing her name and going into hiding. But he continues to stalk her and there’s an air of menace throughout the book.
Cox’s novels are among the most borrowed books from libraries, ahead of John Grisham and Martina Cole, and they’re more tales of survival than sugar-coated romantic yarns.
But then Cox, 71, knows what she’s writing about. Born in a cotton-mill house in Blackburn, she was the sixth of 10 children and daughter of a road sweeper who spent much of his earnings in the pub on a Friday night.
She recalls her father’s volatile nature when he’d had a drink, of living hand to mouth, six in a bed with rats running around their feet in the toilet.
“My dad was a wonderful man - funny, interesting, he worked very hard. But when he got his wages on a Friday, paid by the foreman in the pub, the money went over the counter,” she says.
She says her mother, a quiet, loyal woman, would bounce back after the drunken episodes.
“They adored each other. We had a fairly happy life although we had nothing. We had our clothes from the rag and bone shop, we rarely had a Sunday meal and when we did, the priest would come round and eat half of it.”
Her parents split up when Cox was 14, and she moved with her mother to live with her aunt in Dunstable, Bedfordshire. She was devastated, she recalls.
“It was like a kick in the face. I was 14, 4ft 11in tall and I’ve never grown since. That must have been the trauma. We weren’t just moving into the next street, we were moving 200 miles away.
“Life is not all about romance. Everyone has gone through difficult times, whether it’s to do with money, heartache or a family splitting up or illness. I’m not a romance person. I have a very dark side in my books.
“Whenever I write a book it’s always rooted in my experiences.”
* The Broken Man by Josephine Cox is published by HarperCollins, priced £14.99.