Michael Cox   Born 1948, WGS: c1959-c1968 died on 31 March, 2009

Author Pages:   The Michael Cox Page

Obituaries:        The Times    The Guardian

Michael Cox was born in 1948.


He was educated at Wellingborough Grammar School and St Catharine's College, Cambridge. After graduating from Cambridge in 1971, Michael went into the rock music business as a songwriter and recording artist. Working under the name Matthew Ellis, he released his first album and was described as 'one of the most successful in the field'. He went on to perform under the name Obie Clayton until 1977 when he left the music business.


 He then became an editor with the Thorsons Publishing Group, eventually becoming Editorial Director of their Aquarian Press imprint. In 1989, he joined OUP. Michael's first book, a study of the Christian mystical tradition, was published in 1983. This was followed by M.R. James: An Informal Portrait.

Having contracted a rare form of cancer in 1992, Michael took early retirement from OUP in 2002. In April 2004, he began to lose his sight as a result of the cancer. In preparation for surgery, he underwent treatment that initiated a temporary burst of mental and physical energy.  Ironically, if it hadn’t been for the disease and the threat it posed to his eyesight, he may never have realised his ambition to write a novel. He explained, “Subconsciously I felt, 'I may go blind - if I don't do this now, I'll never do it.’” This spurred Michael finally to begin writing in earnest the novel that he had been contemplating for over thirty years. Following surgery, work continued on what is now The Meaning of Night, and in January 2005 it was sold to John Murray, and then to W.W. Norton.     bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/bn/board/message?board.id=Cox&message.id=15


His debut novel, The Meaning of Night (2006), prompted a furious bidding war which resulted in a £500,000 advance from the John Murray publishing house. The book, a sophisticated 600-page Victorian crime thriller, went on to reach the shortlist of the Costa Book Awards ‘First Novel’ prize. He followed it up in 2008 with The Glass of Time which was also set in Victorian England, one of Mr Cox’s areas of interest.



Michael Cox, who died on 31 March, 2009, aged 60, was a British biographer and editor turned novelist. 

Michael Cox died after a five-year battle with cancer.

Roland Philipps at John Murray paid tribute to him: “In spite of blindness and increasing physical disability, up until days before his death Michael was talking with great excitement about the new novel he was planning.

"He will be very much missed ... It is a terrible irony that the cancer that brought about his untimely death was also the trigger that made him write The Meaning of Night, the novel that he had been writing in his head for 30 years; he and the reading public were then blessed that he wrote (to his mind and that of many critics) the even stronger The Glass of Time and saw it published in 2008.”    http://www.lastingtribute.co.uk/tribute/cox/3055038


Obituary   The Times   http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article6031271.ece

As Michael Cox was wheeled into the operating theatre in 2004 to undergo a life-threatening operation on his brain, he took a decision. If his life and his sight were spared, he would finally start writing in earnest the novel he had been planning and tinkering with since he was a student at Cambridge 30 years before.

Emerging from the operation with his sight intact, Cox committed an opening sentence to paper: “After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.” He then began to write at a furious pace, fuelled in part by dexamethasone, a powerful steroid which gave him formidable energy and quelled his creative doubts.

The following year Cox’s novel, The Meaning of Night, provoked a frenzied auction among British publishers. It achieved a record advance for a first novel, and went on to sell in 26 countries and be nominated for numerous prizes.

Reflecting Cox’s lifelong enthusiasm for Victorian literature, the novel told the story of Edward Glyver, a mid-19th-century bibliophile, scholar and murderer, who would stop at nothing to regain his rightful inheritance, the glorious estate of Evenwood. The book’s success was to fulfil Cox’s long-cherished dream of publication as a novelist and “make sense of my life”.

Born in 1948 in a small town in Northamptonshire, Cox was the only son of Gordon and Eileen Cox who worked in the regional business of shoe manufacturing.

A chronic childhood ear infection was to have two long-term consequences. Bedridden and restless, he was taught to read by his mother at the age of 3 and began precociously to work his way through the Victorian literary cannon with a passion which was never to desert him. The prescribed 1950s treatment for his illness was the insertion of radium rods into his ears, and this was the probable cause of the very rare brain cancer which was to emerge in mid-life.

After attending Wellingborough Grammar School, Cox went up to read English at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, in the late 1960s. There he attracted the attention of the notable Yeats scholar, Tom Henn, and seemed destined for a career in academia. The long-haired youth with soulful eyes and a voice to match also epitomised early 1970s cool. Asked to write and perform the music for a student art movie — “it was all men in tights on tombstones” — in collaboration with Chris Walker (now the respected orchestrator for West End musicals such as Me and My Girl) Cox came to the attention of a record producer in the audience.

A two-album record deal with EMI followed under the stage name Matthew Ellis. Cox/Ellis supported Barclay James Harvest, performed with Helen Shapiro, and his single, Avalon, which was a rock anthem to Glastonbury, brought particular success. His fans also detected the influence of Procol Harum in his music, and rumours continue to circulate to this day that Cox’s second musical incarnation as Obie Clayton was a pseudonym for the Procol Harum lead man, Matthew Fisher. By this time, Cox had not only fallen, coup de foudre, for the love of his life — Dizzy Crockett — after seeing her across a crowded room at a party; he had also married her, and taken on her two young children as his own.

Never one for the rock and’n’roll lifestyle of sex, drugs and alcohol, and tired of lurching from one financial crisis to another, he abandoned the music business in 1977 and joined Thorsons, a publishing house specialising in health books and all things homespun and organic. He was immediately set to work editing such classic texts as Hanssen’s Complete Cider Vinegar before writing his first book, The Subversive Vegetarian, in collaboration with his wife.

Though he took to vegetarianism with gusto, the murky world of Victorian literature still exerted a powerful influence over Cox’s imagination. In 1983 he was commissioned by Oxford University Press to write a biography of the Victorian ghost-story writer M. R. James, and he proved himself to be both a compelling writer and an academic manqué, able effortlessly “to recreate the sense of a vanished world”, in the words of the critic John Bayley. Cox subsequently co-edited (with R. A. Gilbert) the Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories and Victorian Ghost Stories and in 1989 he joined OUP as a commissioning editor in the reference division where he was able to indulge his interests more comprehensively by editing books such as A Dictionary of Writers and their Works and The Oxford Chronology of English Literature. He set literary questions for Mastermind and, though he wore his learning lightly, there was now little about English literature which he did not know.

By 1992, after years of undiagnosed ill-health, it became clear that Cox was suffering from an unutterable kind of cancer, haemangiopericytoma, and five years later he took early retirement.

He might have contented himself with a quiet life in rural Northamptonshire surrounded by his loving family and enlivened by the odd jamming session with musical friends, but all the while The Meaning of Night was brewing in his head. Effortlessly immersed in the 19th century, he instinctively knew the topography of Victorian London, the cadences of the speech patterns and could draw on authentic place and character names.

All this instinctive knowledge was to give The Meaning of Night its rich sense of atmosphere and place and to lift it well above the level of pastiche. Cox followed the novel in 2008 with a dazzling sequel, The Glass of Time, in which Emily, Lady Tansor, the glamorous protagonist was made to pay for the wickedness of her former ways.

Bedridden and near-blind in his final year, Cox never lost his sense of humour or his will to write. Halfway through a ghost story about a writer losing his sight, he would answer inquiries about his state of health with the catchphrase “I’m still buggering on”.

He is survived by his wife, Dizzy, a daughter and two stepchildren.

Michael Cox, musician, editor and writer, was born on October 25, 1948. He died on March 31, 2009, aged 60

* Have your say

I still listen to his two albums: he touched my life and the lives of so many others with his books and his music. He will be sadly missed. My condolences and all best wishes to his widow, his children and his parents, who are in my thoughts today.

Bernard Webber, Santa Barbara, USA

As a copy-editor, he was somebody whom writers cherish. Never snide, he encouraged, drawing out exactly what was meant without imposing himself upon the prose in question.

Christopher Hawtree, Hove,


Obituary  The Guardian     http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/apr/03/michael-cox-death

Michael Cox, the publisher turned novelist who netted a record-breaking advance for his debut, has died aged 60. The author had battled a rare form of cancer for some years, and passed away earlier this week.

Cox's first novel The Meaning of Night, a highbrow Victorian thriller which commanded an advance of almost £500,000 after a frenzied bidding war from publishers, was three decades in the planning. He was eventually moved to write it after learning that cancer threatened his eyesight. "Subconsciously I felt, 'I may go blind - if I don't do this now, I'll never do it'", he told the Bookseller in an interview at the time.

Inspired by Cox's love of the Victorian period, The Meaning of Night is told by a murderer, Edward Glyver, starting with the evocative line: "After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster supper." It was published to critical acclaim and a Costa prize shortlisting in 2006, and followed up with a sequel, The Glass of Time, in 2008.

He was described today as "a wonderful man and a gifted and totally professional author" by his publisher, Roland Philipps at John Murray. "In spite of blindness and increasing physical disability, up until days before his death Michael was talking with great excitement about the new novel he was planning," he said. "He will be very much missed ... It is a terrible irony that the cancer that brought about his untimely death was also the trigger that made him write The Meaning of Night, the novel that he had been writing in his head for 30 years; he and the reading public were then blessed that he wrote (to his mind and that of many critics) the even stronger The Glass of Time and saw it published in 2008."

Cox, who lived in rural Northamptonshire with his wife Dizzy, was a former Oxford University Press editor, and author of a biography of MR James. Before he entered publishing, he was a singer/songwriter, releasing two albums and a number of singles for EMI under the name Matthew Ellis.

Daily Telegraph Obituary supplied by Chris Clucas of the same period:


Michael Cox

In 1992 Cox had been diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer – haemangiopericytoma, a slow-growing but aggressive vascular tumour. He took early retirement from his job as an editor at the Oxford University Press in 2002, and underwent surgery to remove a tumour on his spine. But 18 months later a tumour under his brain began to put pressure on his optic nerve, gradually reducing his ability to see.

In the novel's epigraph he wrote: "For Death is the meaning of night; the eternal shadow into which all lives must fall, all hopes expire." It expressed, he explained, something of his fear of not seeing the world again.

In 2004 Cox underwent a second operation, to remove the tumour and restore most of his sight. A few months later, however, his sight again began to deteriorate, and this time he was treated with gamma knife therapy, a process that uses focused radiation beams to treat brain tumours. Prior to this he was prescribed a corticosteroid which had the effect not only of releasing the pressure on his optic nerve to make surgery easier, but also of releasing "a furious and unstoppable surge of creative energy".

Having lost his sight once, Cox was determined not to waste a minute: unable to sleep, and wandering the house in the early hours, he dug out one of the many first chapters he had written. Reading the first line, "After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster supper", he felt suddenly inspired, and sat down to write. He wrote non-stop for more than a month, day after day, and well into the night. After about six weeks he had written more than 30,000 words which he sent to a literary agent.

As an ex-publisher, Cox thought that he might, if he was lucky, get an advance of £10,000. The bidding began at £150,000 "and then the world went crazy", he recalled: "The needle started to spin towards the stratospheric."

After a week of frenzied bids and counter bids, a final offer came from John Murray for £430,000. The deal dwarfed even that for Zadie Smith's first novel.

In the era of postmodern literature, Cox's advance provided refreshing evidence of the popular appetite for the old-fashioned narrative. "What I really wanted to do was replicate what I, as a reader, value most: the unravelling of a well-crafted story," Cox explained.

Written in a pastiche of high Victorian prose, The Meaning of Night was inspired by Cox's lifelong love of the literature of the period. The plot and page-turning pace owed much to Wilkie Collins. Edward Glyver, the narrator, discovers that he has been cheated of his rightful inheritance. The woman he has always assumed was his mother is not his mother at all. His real mother, Lady Tansor, gave him away as a baby, thus doing him out of Evenwood, a great country estate.

To make matters worse, the man now likely to succeed to the estate, thanks to dastardly double-crossing, is none other than his arch-enemy Phoebus Rainsford Daunt, the rotter who had him expelled from Eton and is now a rising poet. But the influence of Dickens is apparent in the fruity cast of minor characters (Fordyce Jukes, Willoughby le Grice, etc), its Machiavellian lawyers, its oyster suppers and its darkened alleys.

At OUP, Cox had edited such titles as The Oxford Book of Victorian Detective Stories and The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories, and his scholarly familiarity with the 19th-century literary canon (complete with Latin tags and copiously footnoted historical arcana) was impressive without ever being heavy going. In fact, he inhabited the era so completely that reviewers found that they could easily forget that Cox's Victorian novel was not the real thing. It won a Costa prize shortlisting in 2006, and was followed up with an equally gripping sequel, The Glass of Time, in 2008.

It is unusual for someone who is suffering from cancer to describe himself as lucky, but that was how Cox saw it. "Through a unique set of circumstances, I've been given the chance to write the book I'd always wanted to write," he told an interviewer in 2006.

An only child, Michael Andrew Cox was born in Northamptonshire on October 23 1948. His father manufactured machinery for the shoe industry. His mother taught him to read when he was confined to bed, aged three, with an illness, and he fell in love with Victorian fiction after reading David Copperfield and Great Expectations.

From Wellingborough Grammar School, Cox went up to St Catharine's College, Cambridge, to read English. He had intended to pursue an academic career but, while still an undergraduate, he wrote some music for a silent film being made by a friend and got a small band together to perform it, playing live as the film was shown. A record producer in the audience asked him if he wanted to sign for a deal as a singer-songwriter and, after graduation, he went on to make two albums under the name Matthew Ellis.

He played a few gigs as a solo performer, supporting Barclay James Harvest. Later he assembled a new band, which performed at one point with Helen Shapiro, and released another album under the name Obie Clayton.

In 1977 Cox left the music business and became an editor with the Thorsons Publishing Group at Wellingborough, eventually becoming editorial director of their Aquarian Press imprint. In 1989 he joined OUP, where he became senior commissioning editor for reference books.

Cox began trying to write his novel in the early 1970s. "I'd read Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle, and I knew they always started at the end of the puzzle and worked back. I wasn't confident that I could do it, and I couldn't do it for 30 years. I wrote endless first chapters."

In the interim he published several other books. Handbook of Christian Mysticism (1983) was followed by the acclaimed MR James: An Informal Portrait (1983), an affectionate account in which Cox quoted with amusement the "lady typist" who, after struggling with the transcription of some of James's scrawl, said that "she wished these 'University Gentlemen' could write better, and that she, at any rate, wouldn't send any son of hers to the University – prize waste of money in her opinion!"

His biography of James was followed by a number of Oxford anthologies of short fiction, including The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories (1986) and The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories (1991), both co-edited with RA Gilbert; The Oxford Book of Victorian Detective Stories (1992); and The Oxford Book of Spy Stories (1997). In 1991 he compiled A Dictionary of Writers and their Works for OUP, and in 2002 The Oxford Chronology of English Literature, a major bibliographical reference work.

Cox's advance for The Meaning of Night was followed by further deals for the publishing rights in America, Canada and elsewhere. As he and his family had been struggling to live on a reduced income, the money came as a welcome relief.

In the autumn of 2005 he found that his cancer had returned and that his sight was fading. The money helped to fund a flat in London for his regular hospital visits. At the time of his death he was working on a third novel.

Michael Cox married, in 1973, Dizzy Crockett, with whom he had a daughter. They survive him with two stepchildren.






Michael Cox page    www.authortrek.com/michael_cox_page.html 

 Michael Cox is the author of “The Meaning of Night”. Michael Cox was born in 1948 in Northamptonshire, where he still lives. After attending Cambridge University, Michael worked as a songwriter and recording artist. This career had its origins in Cambridge however, since Michael wrote the music for an arty black and white student film. The film had no soundtrack whatsoever, which meant that Michael and his band played the music live at film showings. Record Producer Jerry Dane was in the audience, and he asked whether Michael wanted to sign a recording deal. Michael went on to make several records under the pseudonyms of “Matthew Ellis” and “Obie Clayton” (which was the name of the band), since there was already another recording star called Michael Cox, and besides, Michael wasn’t into having a big rock ego. This degree of anonymity probably helped propel unfounded rumours that the real identity of Matthew Ellis and Obie Clayton was Procul Harum’s Matthew Fisher. At one point, Obie Clayton became Helen Shapiro’s cabaret band. After leaving the music business, Michael worked for the Thorsons Publishing Group, before joining the Oxford University Press in 1989. For over 30 years, Michael had been mulling over the idea for a Victorian murder mystery novel. However, it was only when his sight was threatened by a rare form of cancer (haemangiopericytoma, diagnosed in 1992), that Michael Cox began writing in earnest. Prior to the second and more successful treatment to save his sight, Michael was prescribed the corticosteroid dexamethasone, which made surgery easier by releasing the pressure on his optic nerve. Yet dexamethasone had an interesting side effect, in that it released a huge amount of creative energy, which Michael Cox poured into his writing (although his wife was alarmed that he so hyperactive that it affected his sleep). The fact that Michael Cox was threatened with losing sight has undoubtedly worked its way into “The Meaning of Night”. Yet Michael Cox has always had an abiding interest in Victorian fiction, and for many years, he was employed as Senior Commissioning Editor for the Oxford University Press. It was in this capacity that he became the editor of many anthologies, such as “The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories”, “The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories”, “Victorian Detective Stories: An Oxford Anthology”, and “The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century Ghost Stories”. He has also edited “A Dictionary of Writers and Their Works”, and he is in the process of compiling “The Oxford Chronology of English Literature”. Michael Cox is also the author of the biography “M. R. James: An Informal Portrait”. British publishing firm John Murray (the publishers of one of Michael Cox’s favourite authors, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), won the bid to publish “The Meaning of Night” as they were evacuating their HQ due to a fire alarm, such was their desire to win the rights. The publishers have also taken the unusual step of sending out proof copies of the novel to over 600 “ordinary book buyers” (i.e. library users and reading group members). If “The Meaning of Night” ever becomes a movie, then who better to write the soundtrack than the author himself?

 Seeing the Light of Day – an article in “The Telegraph” which relates how Michael Cox’s cancer impelled him to write

 Author ‘overwhelmed’ as first book wins him £500k – a report in “The Daily Mail” about the huge interest in “The Meaning of Night” from publishers, and possibly the largest ever advance for a British author

 Who does Obie Clayton think he is? – a fabulous article by Claes Johansen about Michael Cox’s previous career as a musician, featuring what looks to be some cover art from this time. And then there’s More on Obie Clayton, an article that looks to have been written by Gordon Cox, Michael’s father, who bought Michael his first guitar at the age of 14, while Repent Mat Fisher, the incorrect article concerning Obie Clayton’s identity, has some good images of Obie Clayton’s album covers

 Authortrek reader Stewart Roberts writes “Having just read reviews for the book, The Meaning of Night I realised that Michael Cox, aka Obie Clayton/Mathew Ellis is the Mick Cox I went to school with in Wellingborough Grammar School in the 60's.

Mick formed a band called the Fireflies which had a good local following and I was one of the guys who helped carry their kit around so I could take advantage of the groupies who never got as far as Mick (who was very good looking). Mick kinda 'owned' the group and had more money than the other band members who were often offered his cast-off clothes - but usually refused out of pride. He then went off to University, as I did a year or two later, and I lost all track of his subsequent career.

Good luck Michael - you've had a roller coaster ride but the best may be yet to come!”

 Meet the Author – watch Michael Cox talk about “The Meaning of Night” in this video

 Londonist – their interview with Michael Cox