Barbara Taylor Bradford: From typing pool to the Dorchester

Barbara Taylor Bradford
Barbara Taylor Bradford
Have your say

This week sees the publication of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s 30th novel. “I can’t believe it myself,” chortles the 81-year-old, who has taken up residence in her suite at the Dorchester Hotel, London before travelling to Yorkshire next week to promote The Cavendon Women.

“I don’t really think about how many books I have written, but then when you look inside the front cover of The Cavendon Women and see the list of books I have written over a 35-year period it is rather a lot of words.”

At the top of that list is A Woman of Substance, the family saga which launched Barbara Taylor Bradford’s literary career. It has sold 32 million copies since it was published in 1979.

Since then her novels have sold more than 88 million copies worldwide, in more than 90 countries and translated into 40 languages.

They have been turned into ten mini-series and television movies.

Although Barbara now lives in Manhattan with her television producer husband of 50 years, Robert Bradford, she still calls England her home and loves to return to her Yorkshire roots whenever she is in the country. She will be returning to the county next week to make appearances at Rudding Park and Harewood House.

I do sometimes think I’ll take a break but then after a few weeks I get bored and a character or an idea will come to me and I have to write it down.

Barbara Taylor Bradford

But the opulent surroundings of the Dorchester Hotel are a far cry from Barbara’s upbringing in Leeds.

She left school at 15 for the typing pool at the Yorkshire Evening Post. At 16 she was a reporter, at 18 she became the paper’s first woman’s page editor and, at 20, moved to London and became a fashion editor and columnist on Fleet Street.

Barbara started writing fiction when she was just seven years old and sold her first short story to a magazine for seven shillings and sixpence when she was 10 years old.

She often gets asked when she will stop writing, but that isn’t something she will entertain.

“I do sometimes think I’ll take a break but then after a few weeks I get bored and a character or an idea will come to me and I have to write it down.”

She says she has normally formulated the plot of her latest book while still completing its predecessor.

Her latest book published on Tuesday is the second in a family trilogy surrounding Cavendon Hall and the lives of the people, particularly the women, who live there.

Any references to Downton Abbey are swept aside.
“A few people have suggested that I copied Downton Abbey. I have been writing family sagas for 35 years, long before Downton Abbey.”

As well as promoting her latest novel, Barbara’s visit to Harewood House will also see the launch of a competition to get more girls writing.

“I am ambassador for the National Literary Trust and in conjunction with the Sunday Times, we are launching a competition to get more young women writing. There are great problems in this country about people reading.”

Girls are less confident in their writing ability as they get older; 41.2 per cent of 8 to 11-year-olds consider their writing to be very good, compared to 32.1 per cent of 14 to 16-year-olds.

As for Barbara Taylor Bradford, there is no sign of her slowing down any time soon. She is already working on the third Cecily Swan novel which, like most of her books, will have a happy ending.

• The Cavendon Women is published on March 24 by Harper Collins priced £16.99.