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Novels by Barbara Taylor Bradford
- A Woman of Substance
- Voice of the Heart
- Hold the Dream
- Act of Will
- To Be the Best
- The Women in His Life
- Everything to Gain
- Dangerous to Know
- Love in Another Town
- Her Own Rules
- A Secret Affair
- Power of a Woman
- A Sudden Change of Heart
- Where You Belong
"Because you see, when I wrote A Woman of Substance, I wasn't sending a message. I wanted to write a novel about a woman who was a strong woman and who fulfilled her dreams to take care of her child and her brothers. But I didn't have a message. I wasn't saying: You too can be in a boardroom. I was just wanting to tell a good story about Cinderella getting up out of the ashes."
Barbara Taylor Bradford could be the heroine of one of her own novels. Easily. "People say that, but I don't always see it," she says when it's suggested, yet it's true. Born in 1933 in the Yorkshire city of Leeds, Taylor Bradford got a job as a reporter on the Yorkshire Evening Post at 16 because she was done with school and wanted to get on with her writing career. By the time she was 20, she was in London on Fleet Street, working as an editor and columnist.
On a blind date in 1961, she met Robert Bradford, the producer who would become her husband. After the couple were married in 1963, they moved to New York City where Taylor Bradford continued to write: a syndicated column on decorating, seven non-fiction books on interior design, several children's books and then, in the late 1970s, a novel: A Woman of Substance a book that jumped to the New York Times bestseller list and stayed there for 15 months.
37 years later, Taylor Bradford is the author of 16 novels, many of which have been made into television movies and all of which have featured strong women in prominent roles: something that has become a bit of trademark for this author. "When I wrote A Woman of Substance I wasn't sending a message," says the author today. "I wanted to write a novel about a woman who was a strong woman and who fulfilled her dreams." Something she's done in bestseller after bestseller.
Now 67, the author has matured just as one would hope her well-loved characters would. She is truly lovely, with that flawless British complexion, clear blue eyes and carefully coiffed golden hair. Her Yorkshire accent has been softened by many years of living in other places. Truly, today there are certainly traces of the United Kingdom in her voice, but what one hears are the pleasing tones of the cosmopolitan: the result of having lived her life in many different countries. "I think I've really been very fortunate. I have a very good marriage and a good career."
Taylor Bradford's most recent book, Where You Belong, is the story of Valentine Denning, a 31-year-old war photographer involved in a torrid affair and harboring lots of family issues. How she resolves all of her challenges demands most of the pages in Where You Belong.
Currently at work on book 17, Taylor Bradford and her husband Robert share their Manhattan home with two Bichon Frises and her collections of Art Deco and Biedermeier furniture, Impressionist paintings and Winston Churchill memorabilia.
Linda Richards: I understand that dialog is important to you.
Barbara Taylor Bradford: Somebody else asked me about dialog today. I said if you tape us talking it would never work in a novel. You've really got to structure dialog. It's got to do a lot of things.
What sorts of things?
Obviously it's got to pass information on to the reader. In other words, it's got to move the storyline along. It's got to be interesting, to hold the reader's interest. But you're also delineating character. In Where You Belong I'd written 250 pages and I stopped and thought: This woman's voice is coming over so strongly to me. I'm doing it in the wrong form. I really should be writing this in the first person and not in the third person.
And, I said to my husband: I'm going to start this book all over again. I've got to rewrite it. He went white under his tan and said: You've written 250 pages and you've a terrible deadline. And I said: I know, but I know it's not right this way.
I felt it wasn't a lot of work because instead of "them" it's going to be "us" and instead of "her" it would be "I," you know. And it was a lot of the time. Except you can't describe yourself without sounding vain. Nor can you have the thought process -- and this is getting back to dialog -- when you're writing in the first person, I realized as I went along that, for instance I can't get into Jake's head. Because it's all from Val's point of view. She's telling the story so I... can't see into his head. This is when dialog is really important: when you've got a first person narrative the dialog has really got to say what he means and what he's thinking because there's no other way the reader will know.
You're never going to be inside his head.
That's right. She does do things like: I know he's angry with me. I can tell from the tone of his voice and the way he's looking at me. And I bet he's thinking this and... whatever. So dialog becomes very important -- it's always important -- but particularly in a book that is in the first person.
Is this the first book you've done in the first person?
It's the third. But it's a hard way to do it, because you rarely know where to go, because I can't go with Jake or with Tony or with Fiona because how can Val be there to see what the action is? My first [first person narrative] was a book called Everything to Gain. Right at the beginning I had this feeling that this woman would tell the story herself. So that was the first. I was pleased with the way I'd conquered -- having never done it before -- I was really pleased with the first person writing. And the readers loved it because it's more intimate: you really feel you're reading somebody's biography or somebody's diary.
I wrote a book called Dangerous to Know and I knew the whole story and then I realized as I was doing the first part of the book in Vivian's voice that Vivian really had to be replaced because I needed now to know the point of view of this man Jack. He was so important a character, I really did need him to speak. I then decided to turn the book into parts. So I had Vivian, Jack's voice, then his sister and then a woman called Countess Zoe and then Vivian at the end. I actually wrote four voices in that book. That was very hard because I was an old woman of 78 or whatever she was, I was a man, I was a younger woman, I was a 35-year-old. That was tough. And then I do it again with Where You Belong. [Laughs] But anyway, it works for that. But my new book is in the third person which is easier. It really is.
Does that one have a working title? Can you talk about it at all?
Well, I can mention it but what happens is my publisher gets mad at me if I do, and I'll tell you why: because people tend not to pay much attention to things. So they'll read a magazine and they'll say, "oh, a title" and they'll go and ask about it and that's the one I'm writing, not the one that's out. It happens to be called Miracles, but I prefer not to talk about it because it gets confused with the one I'm promoting right now.
Are you able to keep them straight in your own mind?
Well, I've forgotten a little. [Laughs] I handed that book [Where You Belong] in last October. I started the other one a month later and you know what happens, you forget a little bit the things that have happened in that book.
This is book 15?
Sixteen. The first one was published in 1979 and that was A Woman of Substance.
Which did amazingly well.
And it's never been out of print?
No. None of them are. They've all sold in about 89 countries and 39 languages because that's when it happened, with A Woman of Substance. If you can imagine it in Turkish and whatever else.
You had been a journalist before that?
I was a short story writer first, at the age of 10. Sold a short story to a magazine and then became a journalist, yes. On the Yorkshire Evening Post as a reporter and then women's page editor and then went to London to Fleet Street when I was 20 and then worked there until I married Bob Bradford and came to live in America. So I was nine years in Fleet Street.
That's quite a relationship, between your husband and yourself.
A long one. People say: What is the secret? I say: You know he makes movies, so he travels a lot. [Laughs] We're apart a lot, but that's not quite the truth.
What year did you move to the United States?
1963 so now it's 36 years.
And the first novel was a bestseller. You sat down and said: I'm going to write a bestselling novel now.
No, I didn't. No, I'd started four novels which I did not finish and I thought: I've really got to start a new book and it has to be one that I really actually care about enough to finish.
I had the idea for A Woman of Substance and actually once it came to me it came to me very quickly and it really wasn't even that inspiration that you sometimes get. It was really saying: Well, you haven't liked these four books you started and you put them away, so what do you want to write and where do you want to set it? And what kind of book would it be? And what is it about, basically? And who are the characters?
I didn't ask the questions out loud, obviously, I do that of myself today [Laughs]. Walking around muttering to myself. But my answers were: set it in England because I'm English and I know the English. No! Set it in Yorkshire, because you really know the Yorkshire people. I want to write about a woman who makes it in a man's world where women are not making it. Well, makes it in a man's world, what's new about that? Oh: when women weren't doing that, at the turn of the century, maybe. Maybe that will work. I realized as I answered these questions and wrote them down on a yellow pad that what I was describing in these mental questions, and my answers on paper, was a saga. I was really talking to myself about writing a traditional, old-fashioned saga.
That's what I did write. And when I realized I was going to write about a woman who makes it in a man's world when women weren't doing that and that she'd be a business woman, I thought I wanted to write about a woman who becomes a woman of substance. And I looked at it and I thought it was a damn good title, especially since it can have two meanings: substance, money and substance, the development of her character. You know, certain people didn't like this title. And I said: Well, I'm not changing it. I love this title. And I didn't ask you your opinion. [Laughs] I mean Bob loved it, but people are funny, you know? They think they know better than you if they're in the business. I said: I will never change this title.
I was half way through that book -- and remember you're really obsessed and involved with a first novel that you're going to finish [Laughs] -- and this journalist friend of mine said: You know, you keep talking about this woman, Emma Harte. You know I've just read a book in the last year about somebody called Emma Hart." If you can imagine: you've typed "Emma Harte" hundreds of times by now, because I was all the way through Part One and into Part Two and I mean: not only do I not use a computer now, I didn't use one then. It would have been easy to press a button, right? And change the name. I really got quite upset about it and I said: I can't change this woman's name!
He went back to London with his wife and she said the same thing: No, no, no Barbara. Honestly. I know this name. It's a character in a novel I've just read and George read it too.
It did worry me and I wracked my brains, you know, whenever I could I asked somebody: Have you read a book with an Emma Harte in it? And no. I decided to do nothing and I went on writing and about a month later, my journalist friend called me and he said: You know Barbara, there was a book about Emma Hart. We've read it. I could feel myself getting sick. By now I'd written about 800 pages [of what would be a 1500 page manuscript] which is already a full novel to begin with. And I'm listening, and he said: But you're OK. I don't think it matters because do you know who the first Emma Hart was?
And I said: The first Emma Harte? I created the first Emma Harte! Defending this as aggressively as I can, with a sinking heart, I'll tell you. And he said: No. You're OK. It was a real person. Emma Hart was a real person. And I said, who was Emma Hart? Emma Hart was Lady Hamilton, the mistress of Nelson. Her name was Emily and she changed it to Emma and her maiden name was Hart: H-A-R-T. Mine had an "E" at the end, as it happened. And then of course she married Lord Hamilton and became Emma Hamilton and then later on she became Nelson's mistress and died impoverished after he died.
Anyway, I didn't have to change it, obviously, because it was a real figure and not in a novel. But it bothered me, so later I went back and changed the name of the clothing line that she created to Lady Hamilton Clothes and I put in some dialog with Victor Kalinsky saying to Emma and his brother David: You know, there was another Emma Hart. Because I think I'd put in that the clothes were going to be called Emma Harte or something like this. And she was going to call it the Emma Harte line and Victor said: No. You've got to change it, there was a real Emma Hart and then he tells her this, what I've just told you. And she says: We'll call the clothing line "Lady Hamilton." So I covered myself by adding that bit of dialog.
That was inspired, because not only did you cover yourself, but you included a bit of trivia and history for your readers. That's wonderful.
Yes, the world knew she was called Emma Hart in those days, but Lady Hamilton was how she was known in history books.
You've continued bringing real people into your other books occasionally.
Yes, I do. I like to do that. Also, in some of the books I have people go shopping at Harte's in London and in my last year's book, a novel called A Sudden Change of Heart I have a character called Maximilian West who I truly love as if he exists and I brought him back into a A Sudden Change of Heart. He's a minor character: he's just in one scene. But he employs the main character.
Which is your favorite of your books? Is there one that you're attached to?
Well, yes. You love your first novel. Everybody I think loves their first novel and certainly I love A Woman of Substance because it launched a very big career. And I loved her. She became so real that when I finished the book, I started to cry. I thought: Oh, I've lost Emma. But I didn't because I wrote another book with her in it.
That and a book of mine called The Women in His Life and I suppose if I had to really be forced to choose, I'd choose The Women in His Life. I think it's a piece of marvelous popular writing, because I write popular fiction as you know. It's 51 years of the history of the world from 1938 to 1989 and it begins in 1989 and it goes back to Germany in 1938 and it's really about the destruction of a family by the Nazis and how this young man comes out of it. He's taken to England as a child. The title might be misleading. It sounds like a man's romantic liaisons. But in fact, the women in his life are the women behind the man: his mother, his grandmother, the woman that subsequently brings him up, his first wife, his daughter, various women who have helped to form the man or are important to the man. It's really a book that is about the holocaust, a man's survival and a man's triumph over probably the most evil regime in the world, although we're seeing a lot more evil regimes these days.
So I suppose that that's my favorite.
You must be a very disciplined writer.
Well, I think everybody that has a contract for a number of books -- and they really want you to deliver a book a year now because everybody is doing a book a year so you've got to do a book a year if you want to really retain that nucleus of the readership -- so you have to be disciplined. But it's silly: when I'm telling a story, I want to keep going. I want to tell it. I want to do it every day, because by doing it every day you really stay on a straight and narrow. The funny thing is, it's quicker if you do it every day than if you do it three or four days a week because you have to do longer hours. I like to do from six in the morning until three in the afternoon, with half an hour off at lunch time.
You work in longhand?
I do, but there's a misnomer about this. Somebody somewhere said I wrote a whole manuscript in hand and I didn't really. I mean, I'd write a bit in hand and throw it away because I'd typed it up. And somebody said: Well, why didn't you keep the hand written pages? But it never occurred to me. I'd write ten pages in hand, type it up and chuck the handwritten pages away. Then I'd maybe write 20 pages on the typewriter and keep going. Then I'd think: Oh, I have to write in hand a bit because it's descriptive. So I write in hand and I type and I write over what I've typed.
But you don't use a computer?
Now I've had lessons and I can now do all my research. I can send e-mail, do my research, receive e-mail without losing it now [Laughs] and what else can I do on it? Well, mostly research is what I do on it. It's silly to try and learn something if you're comfortable doing a job in a certain way.
And it's working well because you are, arguably, the top author of popular women's fiction in the world.
Well, there's Danielle Steel. But the books are different. And she does two a year. Well yes, I suppose there are a few others, well there's Maeve Binchy.
But you're certainly in that category.
Yes, well... and I don't know how well Maeve works in foreign countries. Don't forget I'm published in Finland and weird places: 89 countries and a lot of languages where you wouldn't think books about women being warriors would work.
Is that what your books are about?
Well, no. But I think it's about strong women going out and doing things. When you think about women in Turkey or in Afghanistan...
And the books sell there?
Well, I don't know about Afghanistan but they sell in Turkey. A lot of those Middle Eastern countries. Yes. Morocco. And in French. Not in Arabic. So I write about strong women and that was just a phrase I thought about.
No: I liked it.
I did too, actually. They're women warriors, going out there.
Where do you think women today are? Are we warriors? Are we meeting that?
Yes, I think so. But in a different way then 20 years ago. I think today's woman is much softer than the older counterpart. I think those women that invented women's lib -- which I never thought I was part of and don't think I am today -- were very strident and harsh and aggressive and I think what they did was not win because you don't catch flies with vinegar, as my mother always said. I think they were too harsh and I think a lot of men ran away from that. I think the woman warrior is truly women today, because it's a new generation. It's a younger generation. I think they're much softer and a lot more subtle about it. You don't have to be a ball breaker today, which is what always troubled me about that early women's lib stuff, what was it? Twenty-five years ago. Because you see, when I wrote A Woman of Substance, I wasn't sending a message. I wanted to write a novel about a woman who was a strong woman and who fulfilled her dreams to take care of her child and her brothers. But I didn't have a message. I wasn't saying: You too can be in a boardroom. I was just wanting to tell a good story about Cinderella getting up out of the ashes.
If you'd been sending a message it wouldn't have been as successful.
Exactly. And I never think I'm sending a message but a lot of people do think there's a message there. They say, We like your women because they're role models and if she can do it I can do it and you helped me solve my problems. I think that's nice, if I can do that: enlighten people. But I'm a novelist and I'm trying to entertain.
You could also be a heroine in one of your own novels.
[Laughs] People say that, but I don't always see it. Although I have an English friend who says that everybody that I write about is a clone.
But, you know: the cub reporter in Leeds. Marries an American producer and goes off to America and writes bestselling novels.
Yes [Laughs] I suppose so.
So you got to New York...
Yes, from Fleet Street. And I married Bob in 1963 in London and then came to New York. We lived in California and New York, but we gave up our apartment in Los Angeles: we haven't had it for years. Because he did a lot of productions in England. He was one of the people who put together [the film version of] A Woman of Substance, although he didn't actually produce it. Then he did Hold the Dream and Voice of the Heart, Act of Will and To Be the Best so we had a place in London for a long time. But now just New York. Now we earn a living in New York. We had a house in Connecticut which we sold because we never went there much.
It feels like you sat down to write A Woman of Substance and it was this amazing success.
Making it quick -- that's a Hollywood movie, right? -- no, I was a journalist and I wrote some books on interior design and some children's books and then I attempted to do four novels which I never finished and then I wrote A Woman of Substance and that came out 20 years ago or so. In 1976 I started A Woman of Substance and I finished it in 1978 and then we had to cut 300 pages without it showing. [Laughs] Try it. You've got to do a page here and a page there and five pages there and you usually do description and I actually did lose three minor characters which we felt we could get rid of. It took them a few months, so that came out in 1979.
You know, now there'll be people clamoring to see it uncut: the director's cut.
Well, I'll tell you a funny story. When Bob was making To Be the Best, which was the third book in the Woman of Substance trilogy, some magazine... in London asked me if I would write them a short story about the Emma Harte family and I said: I can't. I'm in the middle of a novel, whatever one it was. They came back and said: Are you sure you haven't got anything left over? It doesn't have to be about anything at all. What about a short story somewhere. And I told them I didn't write short stories anymore. Only when I was a child. And they said: Oh! We'll have one of those. No.
Bob was at the studio in London and he called me and said: Try and find them something, you must have something somewhere because they're driving me crazy and it's very important that we get this big spread. So as I'm talking to him, I said: Oh Bob. There's the lost chapter. A chapter that the editor took out in its entirety and she had said to me: We still haven't lost enough pages. There is one chapter where Emma's not in it.
When you've got a book about a woman that everybody by this time has become very involved with halfway through the book, you don't want to cut any of her. You've got to find other things to cut because you don't want to lose the heroine because everyone now loves her or hates or: whichever. So my editor had said: We can take out the war chapter. And I said: My favorite chapter! Which wasn't really my favorite chapter, but I wanted her to feel badly. [Laughs] Because I really didn't want to cut anymore. Anyway, she said: It lifts out and you don't know it's gone.
I tried it and it was true: Emma waves goodbye to everybody on the railway station, they go off to war and the next is six months later, she's there with her children, she's going to work, she's doing everything she normally does. Anyway, the end of the story is, the chapter disappeared. It was lifted out. And really it's true, it did not affect this book at all. So I said to Bob: There's the lost chapter. The one that was taken out. And he said: Yes. That's a good idea. Try and find it. I went back to my original manuscript for A Woman of Substance and it was there. The lost chapter.
So they ran it.
I sent it. They ran it. And then the British publisher said: Why have we never seen this chapter! We want this chapter. We're putting it in the book. And they had reason to bring out a new edition, which said: For the first time, the missing chapter. With a big medallion.
So there is a director's cut!
They did the same in America: they put that chapter in. And it's a good chapter, actually and it was one that I liked because it was the war.
And you were vindicated.
Well, I was vindicated, but I was vindicated in another way. One of the reviewers had said: Bradford goes into great detail about -- whatever -- and yet hardly touches on the First World War. [Laughs]
Are you happy doing a book a year? Or would you prefer a little more time?
Well, you know, it's a funny thing. Where You Belong was 600 pages [in manuscript format] and we really didn't cut anything from it. Maybe a few lines here and there. My publisher said to me: it's a bit long. And I thought: Jesus! [Laughs] You know, years ago I used to write 1500 page novels. But that was too long and that was reduced for A Woman of Substance.
I suppose if I thought I wanted to write a longer book I would have to take a year and a half. I don't mind the year. As long as it's not going to be a 700 or 800 page novel.Then it becomes very hard for me because I try not to lose the quality of the writing.
What happens if you don't have an idea?
Well, I'm OK for a few books because every time I get an idea I write it down and develop it a bit -- even if I'm in the middle of a book -- and stick it in a folder. So I have half a dozen untapped ideas.
You're not one that suffers from writer's block?
You can have days when you stare at that empty page but I'll tell you what I do, and I think it's a good lesson for people who do get blocked, and that is: get something done. As long as it's something. Let's say it's two people in this room having a conversation that's not particularly dramatic, but you need information passed. You know, it's easy to write a row or drama or passion or something like that: that comes very easily. But if it's a low key scene, they're often very hard. So if I couldn't get this moving I'd sort of describe the room and the next day I'd say: Oh. I don't need all of this description. What I need is him saying this or her saying that. Whatever.
That's how I do it. I put something down that bears a resemblance to what I want to say. So writers block, to end it, is genuine. I think people really do have it. My way of getting out of it is writing something down and rewriting it the next day. People panic, I think, when they're getting nothing down. That's what the screen does to me, when I've sat at the screen and nothing is coming out. I start thinking: Oh my God! I've got to get something on that! So now I don't even attempt it. I write on a typewriter.
I want to ask you something, and I don't want you to be offended but it seems to fit here, somehow. There's a salad-making scene in Where You Belong.
A scene where Valentine makes a salad and an omelette.
Were you blocked when she was making the salad?
It was very detailed. I could learn how to make that omelette and salad from that scene.
[Laughs] No! I wasn't blocked at all. But readers love to have food! You'd be amazed. People have written to me and said: You talked about Chicken in the Pot. Do you have a recipe?
I think I picked that up from novelists that have done scenes where someone has carefully made this salad or whatnot. I think it shows something about her [Valentine]. But I wasn't blocked. [Laughs] No.
I understand that you and your husband live in Manhattan with two Bichon Frises?
And no children?
Can I ask why?
I had a miscarriage and I never conceived again. It didn't bother me because that's half full. It's not half empty. I don't think you dwell on those things. If I'd had children I would have been happy, but I'm not sad that I haven't. That's not my nature. What I have I'm glad to have. What I haven't had I can't really grieve about and you can't grieve about a child that's never been born. I think if you had a child that was killed or died or stolen: imagine trying to live with that. So I think I've really been very fortunate. I have a very good marriage and a good career and you can't always have everything. Although, [Laughs] my women in books usually have everything. You can't really have everything. | April 2000
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.