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Barbara Taylor Bradford celebrates the 40th anniversary of A Woman of Substance

PUBLISHED: 14:02 05 December 2019 | UPDATED: 14:18 05 December 2019

Barbara Taylor Bradford (c) Mike Daines

Barbara Taylor Bradford (c) Mike Daines

Copyright 2006 Mike Daines_ All Rights Reserved.

It's a landmark year for Yorkshire born writer Barbara Taylor Bradford as she celebrates the 40th anniversary of the book that brought her global fame, but success is tinged with sadness, as she tells Kathryn Armstrong.

Barbara Taylor Bradford is a literary superstar by any standards. Named as one of The Queen's 'Great Britons', the Leeds-born writer has long held 'Yorkshire treasure' status in her home county and has legions of fans worldwide from book sales which run into the many, many millions.

Her home is Manhattan where life appears glamorous and luxurious, yet even at 86, there's a fierce work ethic, which delivers Barbara to her writing desk every day and still produces best-selling novels, such as the newly released, The Lion's Den, novel number 34.

In tandem is the 40th anniversary reissue of A Woman of Substance, the iconic classic which spent 40 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and became a mini series starring Jenny Seagrove, which still airs on TV channels today.

In November Barbara returns to Yorkshire to receive The Leeds Award which acknowledges her dedication to her hometown, and the part the city has played in her novels over the decades. Her name will be inscribed on a 'wall of fame' in the Civic Hall in Leeds.

Barbara and husband  Robert Bradford who died earlier this year. (c) Julian DuFortBarbara and husband Robert Bradford who died earlier this year. (c) Julian DuFort

A landmark year indeed - but tinged with sadness following the death this summer of Barbara's husband Bob. They were together 57 years, married for 55 and devoted throughout.

'I feel like part of me has been cut away', admits the author when we speak by phone as she starts her day in New York.

It's little more than weeks since Bob died but the release of a new book and the huge attention surrounding the reissue of Woman of Substance give reason to go on.

And, she concludes: 'You get through this, that's who I am as a person, I've some Yorkshire grit in there'.

It's that grit which saw Barbara rise from writing stories as a child with her first published when she was just ten, to work in a typing pool to become women's editor at the Yorkshire Evening Post when she was only 18.

By 20 she was a Fleet Street journalist and in 1979 she published the legendary Woman of Substance in 1979, that life-changing first novel which still ranks as one of the ten best-selling fiction books of all time, selling more than 32 million copies.

It's a measure of a good book that as a reader you return to it time and again - even when you're its author. Barbara has been delving into the pages of the Emma Harte triology as she reflects on the book's anniversary.

'I started reading To Be the Best and thought 'when did I write this?' I spent the weekend reading it - and went to the bookcase to find Emma's Secret - I didn't remember writing it - it was 30 years ago. But I couldn't put it down - I wrote a damned good book!'

Barbara Taylor Bradford with Jenny Seagrove at the Dorchester Hotel to celebrate 30 years in publishing in addition to being the Woman of Substance awards. (c) Toby MaddenBarbara Taylor Bradford with Jenny Seagrove at the Dorchester Hotel to celebrate 30 years in publishing in addition to being the Woman of Substance awards. (c) Toby Madden

Few would disagree. Barbara coined the phrase 'woman of substance', epitomising not only the vigour and drive of her heroine Emma Harte, but that of a new generation of women. Today something that seems as relevant as ever, agrees Barbara.

'Emma had drive, ambition and dedication. She was ahead of her time and the first woman who was a great tycoon and that broke down a barrier. Reading it again I was struck by the fact that it was the first book that treated a woman as a normal woman determined to make it.

'At that time lots of male writers featured women who were either madonnas or whores, not real women, not someone who sets out to be a great tycoon and makes it. She broke a glass ceiling before it was there.

'I led the way and what has changed is that the world has become full of women of substance,' says Barbara proudly.

She admits women continue to struggle for equality in status and pay. 'I think it has become a lot better but at the same time, I do think it's still a man's world; somehow men still seem to have the last say.'

As the ultimate role model for a generation of writers, Barbara has no intention of stopping.

'I am always itching to write. I don't believe in retirement, people who retire sometimes fall apart. I can't retire because I am devastated by the loss of my husband and it has been a very trying time emotionally. To tell you the truth, I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have to write.

'Bob always said, "you have a God-given gift. You know what women want to read and you inspire them".'

Barbara and Yorkshire

'Yorkshire features in so many books - Emma Harte had stores in Leeds, London and Harrogate.

'I write about the moors, the crags, the waterfalls, the heather. I love the great stately homes like Harewood. Penistone Royal was kind of based on Fountains Hall.

'I admire the Yorkshire spirit. I grew up in an atmosphere of a work ethic that you had to work hard and believe in God'. 

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