Barbara Taylor Bradford: A working woman of substance

You know what you're in for when you open a Barbara Taylor Bradford novel – usually a feisty, talented working woman with ambition, in stories peppered with glamour, lust, wealth, jealousy and betrayal.

This combination, which won her acclaim with her bestselling novel A Woman of Substance, published more than 30 years ago, has never let her down. Her 26 novels have sold more than 82m copies worldwide in more than 90 countries and 40 languages and spawned 10 mini series and television movies.

Indeed, it is claimed she's now among the richest authors in the world, which is some achievement for the Yorkshire woman from Armley, Leeds, who joined the typing pool at the Yorkshire Evening Post before going into journalism.

She started and ditched several novels while pursuing her journalistic career until she hit the big time at the age of 46 when A Woman of Substance made her an overnight success.

Today, she lives in a sumptuous Manhattan apartment overlooking the East river and Long Island with her husband of 47 years, TV producer Robert Bradford, and has enjoyed the trappings of success, the cruises, the designer clothes and jewellery.

Yet Barbara, 77, couldn't imagine life without work. No sooner has one novel been finished than she's working on another. This attitude comes from being brought up with a strong work ethos.

Her mother Freda worked as a nurse and a housekeeper, while her father Winston, who had lost a leg in an accident, was largely unemployed during Barbara's childhood.

"I felt that if you weren't working all the time, God was going to strike you down," she says. "I grew up as an only child with a quiet, reticent mother, but she instilled in me a lot of my ambition."

Her work schedule is as disciplined now as it was when she first began her journalistic career in Leeds newspapers, then magazines. Her average day is pretty packed.

"I get up about 5.30am, make a cup of tea and sit at my desk and look at yesterday's work." She reads a lot of English newspapers to keep abreast of events at home and after making breakfast for her husband, goes to work in her office in their apartment, using an electric typewriter.

"I can't write on a screen. I can research, but something happens when I'm staring at the screen, which blocks my mental process."

Friends know not to call her during the day while she's working, so they won't provide a distraction, and she doesn't go out to lunch because it kills the creative process.

"I can buy anything I want but I'm a Yorkshire woman with my feet on the ground. I'm not one for saying, 'Let's have lunch and go shopping' as a lot of my girlfriends do in Manhattan. I do have to buy clothes but I don't make it an expedition. But during the day I'm in old trousers and a T-shirt."

Barbara and her husband use the Dorchester in London as their base when they visit to promote her books, the latest of which, Playing the Game, is set in the art world. The heroine, Annette, is a glamorous art dealer who is making a name for herself after the 20m auction of a Rembrandt. Her love life is complex as she's married to a much older man but attracted to a journalist who is writing a profile about her.

"I decided to use the art world because I know quite a lot about art and there were stories trickling into the news about art going up in price and I wanted to investigate."

Her research uncovered a highly competitive world which is bitchy and gossipy – perfect fodder for a novel.

"I also discovered criminality because there are many forgeries and fakes which fool even reputable dealers."

Bradford herself has collected some art over the years but stresses it doesn't fall into the megabucks bracket. The most she's ever paid for a painting was $90,000.

Critics may sneer at her brand of commercial fiction, but the sales of her books are the only response she needs. Why does she think she's been so successful?

"People say to me, 'Barbara, we're sure it's another page-turner'. I tell a good story and there's a lot of suspense and tension so that you want to find out what's going to happen to the main character and I think my characters are sympathetic.

"I'm told by my readers that a lot of my women are role models. After 25 books, they know what they're getting. They know they're not going to come across a page of dirty words or bad language or horrific things. I don't write romances – there's so much more going on in my books than just a love affair."

Yet she's had the most enduring of love affairs. She met her husband on a blind date in 1961 when she was 28, and they fell in love at first sight. They married in 1963 and Barbara moved to New York to live with him. It hasn't all been plain sailing, but it's worked.

"I think love changes and it either disappears or it grows. You have to work at a marriage. I don't believe young people really want to do that today when they feel the gloss has gone. You've got to like somebody a lot as well as be in love with them.

"Bob and I have had our fights and our rows, but if you have a lot in common and shared interests, you get over it."

They don't have children and Barbara reflects that maybe that's why they have remained so close.

"I had two miscarriages in my early 30s and I actually never got pregnant again. But I was always so busy – I was a journalist for newspapers and then edited an interior design magazine in America.

"Bob was making movies and travelling, and I didn't dwell on the fact that I hadn't had a child. Then one day I was 45. At times I've said to Bob, 'Are you sorry we didn't have a child?' and he's said, 'Sometimes I wish we had, but you don't miss somebody you've never known'."

She says being childless never left a void in her life because she didn't let it.

"I thought, 'I wish I'd had a child' and then I just got on with something. I tend to have a very positive personality. My glass is always half full.

"If it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be. I don't worry about things that haven't happened, I want to think about things that I can make happen."

Retirement wouldn't sit easily with either of them, she reflects.

"People who retire die," she declares. "They fade away because they've no purpose unless they've got lots of children and grandchildren."

Playing the Game, by Barbara Taylor Bradford, HarperCollins, 17.99. To order your copy, ring our order line 01748 821122 Mon-Sat 9am-5pm. Or by post, please send a cheque or postal order, plus 2.75 postage, to Yorkshire Books Ltd, 1 Castle Hill, Richmond, DL10 4QP. Order online,

YP MAG 15/1/11