Barbara Taylor Bradford inspired by her late husband to revisit her first novel
88-year-old novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford published her first book, A Woman of Substance, in 1979.
She has since sold 90 million books in 40 languages and 90 countries.
Now, she revisits Emma and her best friend Blackie in a new prequel, A Man of Honor.
We spoke with the bestselling author about the tragic moment she decided to write her 39th novel and the secret to her success.
So how do you get started?
I wrote stories when I was seven in my school notebooks and wrote one about a girl who wanted a pony. My mom liked it so she made me copy it neatly and sent it to a children’s magazine.
One day she said, “You have a letter. They bought it and attached a money order of seven shillings and six pence. But I didn’t care about the money – the point is, I had my very first signing on a story.
I’ve always had a lot of “acting friends” and they always said that those who become big hits were always entertained as a kid – they wanted to tap dance, recite poetry, and perform in front of guests. . My great friend Christopher Plummer was the same – he always knew he wanted to play. I was born with this desire to write.
What was your first job?
I left school and joined the Yorkshire Post typing pool, earning £ 2 a week. I was desperate to be a little reporter and when I found a job in the newsroom my mom advised me to keep my head down and never flirt with men.
At the age of 20, I moved to London to work on Woman’s Own magazine. I met Bob, my future husband, on a blind date in 1961. I was an ordinary girl from Leeds but I was a workaholic and that has never changed.
How did you write your first novel?
I didn’t know how to write a book but when I wrote my first novel, A Woman of Substance, I had a mentor who was a war correspondent called Cornelius Ryan, who later wrote The Longest Day and A bridge too far.
He said, “You have to think about your story and write an outline, which looks like a long jacket. Connie advised me to try to write a thousand words a day so that by the end of the year I have 365,000 words.
He said: “I write about real people who have existed, but you have to believe that the people you create are real, so if you have a character, actually give them a full background. You want to know the person’s name, when they were born, where they were born and what their good and bad habits are.
For years I had postcards and wrote a card with the details of each character and put them in a shoebox.
The facts: what it’s like to be an author
Salary: Book deals for unknown authors can be as low as £ 3,000. In 1992, Barbara was awarded a $ 32 million three-pound contract with HarperCollins.
Regular hours? I get up around seven each morning and try to be at my desk at nine or ten, working until four. I say, “I have to go to work” and go to another room, which makes the mental shift from workday easier.
Little and sweet advice: Make sense of your story.
So, did your most famous character, Emma Harte, start her life in a shoebox too?
She did it ! She was a poor girl crossing the moors and I said to myself: “Who is she? She is going to be a woman with nothing and will become one of the richest women in the world.
Then I thought, ‘How is she going to do that in the 1900s?’ I thought, “She’s gonna be a serious woman,” then I realized that was a good title. I liked the name Emma but to find her last name I looked in an English pub book.
I saw the pig and the whistle and the black swan, then saw the white deer, which I liked, so I just added an E at the end.
Was it difficult to find the beginning of the novel?
I wanted Emma to be a tycoon and I created her character – ambitious, smart and driven – but I needed a start and I thought, “People won’t want to read about a maid.
But one day I had a brainstorm and thought, “I’m going to start it when she’s successful – a middle-aged woman sitting in her department store in Knightsbridge and something will happen that will have her back in. the past.”
So I had Emma in her office, listening to a recording of two of her sons plotting to overthrow her. She is hurt and upset but she knows she can outsmart them. A Woman Of Substance was released in 1979 and sold 30 million copies.
Barbara’s best advice:
“To write a novel you need desire and discipline. A lot of people want to write novels to be rich and famous, but these are not the right reasons. You must want to write the book more than you want to do anything else ‘
Do you start a novel, then write yourself as you imagine the plot?
My suggestion is that you’d better get to know your whole story first, although it might take a long time. I thought about my whole book and it took months.
Once you have your main characters, think about the structure. Breaking your book down into different parts means you can skip the story a bit by skipping the time a bit – so it might be 1901, then suddenly it’s 1904.
You wrote this, your 39th novel, as you sat next to your husband in his dying days …
Bob was smart, gentle, warm and loving, but he would have been a bad patient. I couldn’t wake him up one morning in July 2019 – he had had a massive stroke. He was rushed to the New York hospital by ambulance and he never opened his eyes but he shook my hand and he knew I was there.
As I sat next to his bed for the third day, I thought, “What am I going to do if Bob doesn’t live?” I owe the publishers a book. I was in the middle of a series of Falconer books but I thought to myself, “There is too much research. I wish I could do a book on Emma.
I had already written seven books about Emma but realized that I had not written about her best friend, Blackie. It was then that I started to prepare my book. Bob always told me that I should keep writing if anything happened to him.
A man of honor (HarperCollins) by Barbara Taylor Bradford is out now
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