Thursday, 28 July 2016

I always loved creating the big family saga...

Interview with Barbara Taylor Bradford 
by Agnes A. Rose

Barbara Taylor Bradford comes from England but now she lives in New York with her husband Robert Bradford, who is a television producer. She started writing fiction when she was only seven years old and sold her first short story to a magazine for seven shillings and sixpence when she was ten years old. Her first novel was “A Woman Of Substance” which was published in 1979. The book went from bestseller to super seller within its first year and stayed on the New York Times’ list for fifty-five weeks. Barbara Taylor Bradford has had about thirty books published and many of them have been produced as TV films or drama series. All her novels are worldwide bestsellers. The author holds five Honorary Doctorate of Letters such as the University of Leeds (Yorkshire); the University of Bradford (Yorkshire); Teikyo Post University (Connecticut); Siena College, Loudonville (New York) and Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh (New York). Barbara Taylor Bradford is also the recipient of twenty five other awards for her writing achievements and philanthropy. Her original manuscripts are housed in The Brotherton Library of Leeds University and are displayed next to those of Yorkshire’s other legendary writers, including the Brontë sisters. The latest stand-alone Barbara’s book is entitled “Secret From The Past”.  

Agnes A. Rose: Mrs. Barbara, thank you so much that you accepted my invitation to take part in this interview. I am very honored that I can host you on my blog and talk to you. At the beginning I would like to ask you at what point did you decide that you’d like to be a writer full time? And why did you decide to create books for women?

Barbara Taylor Bradford: Before I was a novelist, I was a reporter, a newspaper editor and a columnist. Much of what I was writing about was geared toward women’s interests. I wrote about style, fashion and decorating. I even had a nationally syndicated column across America in the 1970s about interior design. I also had a handful of decorating books published. It was during the mid 1970s that I thought about writing novels. I started and stopped four different times, before the character of Emma Harte came to my imagination. After that, everything fell into place.

AAR: Now I would like to ask you about your first novel which was a worldwide bestseller in a very short time. Of course I mean “A Woman Of Substance”. In my opinion the whole series is the best family saga I have ever read. Thank you for these books very much. What motivated you to write the first part of these novels? 

BTB: Before I’d written “A Woman Of Substance”, I was trying too hard to fit characters into a larger story. Then I read a quote from the famous author, Graham Greene about how “character is plot.” I immediately understood what he meant by this and that is when Emma Harte was born in my imagination. I wanted to tell the story of her life in one long novel, showing her struggles, her loves and her ultimate success. I thought I had pretty much covered everything in “A Woman Of Substance”. But because of its popularity, my publishers asked for me to continue the story of Emma’s family in a variety of sequels. That is why I wrote “Hold The Dream”, “To Be The Best” and so forth. 

AAR: Do you remember what you felt when you found out that “A Woman Of Substance” had just become a worldwide bestseller? Did you expect such success while writing the book? 

BTB: I remember that it was 1979 and the book had just been published in the US. I was with my husband, Bob, in a large bookstore on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. There was this huge pile of my book stacked up in a display at the front window. I was really nervous about this. I said to Bob, “Who is going to buy all these copies of my novel? There are just too many of them.” He reassured me that the book was a winner and that it would be a bestseller. Thankfully, he was right.

AAR: What made you decide to write more books about the Harte and O'Neil families? 

BTB: My second and third novels were not about Emma Harte and her clan. “Voice Of The Heart” and “Act Of Will” were both successful, featuring new characters and storylines. But “A Woman Of Substance” continued to be a big bestseller. The publishers kept on asking for a sequel. I finally said yes and wrote “Hold The Dream”. I shifted much of the focus to Emma’s granddaughter, Paula O’Neil. I followed this with “To Be The Best”. Then I took a break from the Hartes until the early 2000s. That’s when I was asked to write about the next generation of the family. I wrote another 4 books which began with “Emma’s Secret” (2002).

AAR: How much important is Emma Harte for you? Is she your favourite female character? 

BTB: Emma Harte plays such an integral part of my writing history because she started it all. So yes, I would say that she is perhaps my favorite character that I’ve created. I even gave her a cameo in a handful of books that I wrote through the years which take place during the era of World War II. One of them is my latest novel, “The Cavendon Luck”. I have many female characters that I have created through the years who I feel proud of. But Emma is the one that seems to resonate the most with my readers.

AAR: I must say that each of your novels that I read made a really big impression on me and very often I try to return to them. Let me mention “Voice Of The Heart” which I have read twice. Could you tell us what inspired you to write this emotional story about two beautiful, rich and so different women? 

BTB: I had it in my mind to write about a pair of complicated, successful women: One an actress. And the other a writer. Both of them fiercely determined like me. They both have secrets that will greatly impact their lives and loves. I remember how much fun it was to come up with these characters. I didn’t base either woman on any real-life figure. They both came out of my imagination, perhaps inspired by authors and actresses who I admired.

AAR: The main characters of your books are primarily strong, beautiful and rich women. But in “The Women Of His Life” you created Maximilian West who decided to organize his life again after he had been wounded by a burglar and taken to hospital. Despite the fact that women are still important in this novel, the leading character is Maximilian. Why? 

BTB: I wanted to go in a very different direction. That book is actually quite personal to me. I based it loosely on the story of my husband’s childhood escape from Nazi Germany. Maximilian West shares quite a few things in common with Bob – at least in the early part of the story when he takes a train out of Germany to Paris where he would be raised by another family for many years. The later portions of his life differ. Bob became a movie producer. Maximilian West becomes a business mogul who endures a number of marriages and personal struggles. 

AAR: You very often write about people who come from aristocratic families. Let me mention for example the Ravenscar Trilogy or the Cavendon series. What is interesting about writing about characters coming from the upper class? Do they have richer personalities? Or maybe do they have more life experiences than other people? 

BTB: I grew up in Yorkshire where my mother used to take me to visit many stately homes. I often thought about what it was like to live inside them. Also, what it was like for the families who served the aristocracy. Emma Harte was a character who went from being a maid servant to a successful business woman with a staff of people who worked for her. I covered both sides of the story. The Ravenscar series was based upon the Wars Of The Roses and the Plantagenet dynasty. It was a modern trilogy, retelling the lives of these kings and queens, only now running a business instead of a country. Because of the castle-like homes that they lived in, naturally there would be large staff of people working for them. In the Cavendon series, we have the Ingham family who lives in “Cavendon Hall” and the Swann family who loyally serves them for generations. Eventually, these lines get blurred as an unlikely romance and marriage brings them together.

AAR: Some of your novels are related to the pre-war history. Sometimes the stories of your books include tens of years and the lives of several generations of the same family. Is it easy for you to create such a complex family dynamics associated with history? What type of research do you conduct to write this kind of stories? 

BTB: I always loved creating the big family saga. I grew up reading the works of the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens and other classic writers who wrote novels featuring numerous characters. I often create a family tree, or a scorecard of sorts at the front of my books to give readers a sense as to who is connected to whom. I know that my readers have always loved the idea of these multi-generational stories from me. So I continue to write them. My name is synonymous with this genre. It’s not easy to do. I too need to make a list of characters ahead of writing the novel so that I don’t lose track of an important family connection. As for research, I read a lot about the era of World War I and World War II. I’m constantly looking up things like which hospital existed in London in 1939, or what was the closest air force base to Yorkshire during the Great War. That sort of thing. I actually quite enjoy conducting research on historic time periods.

AAR: I noticed that in your books you focus on details. I very like it because then I can imagine a character very well and I feel as if he or she were next to me in my room. While reading I can see them in my mind’s eye as they are doing their daily activities, such as having breakfast; taking a shower; do the shopping and many others. Why do you pay your attention to details so much? 

BTB: I think this goes back to my days as a journalist. Getting the details right is critical. If I was sent to cover a story for the Yorkshire Post, I always needed to come back with the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and WHY. No news story is complete without it. Later on, when I wrote decorating features, the details were all crucial is describing a room, or a home. This descriptive way of writing has stuck with me into setting the scene, or describing a new character in one of my stories.

AAR: Many of your books have been produced as TV films or drama series. What do you feel when you can see your characters animated by actors? 

This is one of the Polish editions of
"A Woman Of Substance"
Published by KSIĄŻNICA
Katowice 2007
Translated by Katarzyna & Piotr Malitowie
BTB: My husband, Robert Bradford, has produced ten of my books into TV movies and miniseries. I’ve always put my trust into his judgment for casting. And he has never disappointed me. For example, Jenny Seagrove was as good as I could ever have imagined in playing the young Emma Harte. Liam Neeson was incredible as Blackie O’Neil. The only casting choice that I look back on now with skeptical eyes is having Lindsay Wagner play Paula O’Neil in “To Be The Best”. She is a fine actress and she was great in “Voice Of The Heart”. But for “To Be The Best”, she was entirely different from Jenny Seagrove in the role of Paula. Not ineffective, but just so far removed from how Jenny played her in the first two movies. CBS wanted a big American star in the role. Lindsay was TV’s Bionic Woman. Jenny Seagrove was only known for British Television. So I completely understand why they did it.

AAR: Do you have your favourite book among your novels apart from “A Woman Of Substance”? If so, which one is it? Why? 

BTB: “Letter From A Stranger” is one of my favorites. I loved that I was able to take my readers to a place like Istanbul for a story that is both a family mystery and a love story. Like many of my novels, I got to pack a lot of history into it as well.

AAR: I guess that one of your favourite classical writers is Emily Brontë because sometimes in your books you write about her. I remember that Emily is mentioned on the pages of “Voice Of The Heart” and “The Triumph Of Katie Byrne”. In “Voice Of The Heart” Victor Mason works on a film adaptation of “Wuthering Heights” and in “The Triumph Of Katie Byrne” Katie plays the role of Emily Brontë on the stage of the Broadway theatre. Why is Emily Brontë so important for you? 

BTB: My mother often took me to Haworth as a child. This is the home where the Bronte sisters grew up and wrote all their timeless novels. Today, the house is a museum which looks very much like the way it did when the sisters were living there. This was one of the factors that inspired me to become a novelist. Another connection that I have with the Brontes is that my original manuscripts are displayed side-by-side with manuscripts of the Bronte sisters at the library in Leeds University. What a great honor this is for me.

AAR: Your latest novel is entitled “Secret From The Past”. Could you tell us something more about this book? 

BTB: “Secrets from the Past” came out in 2013. It is not my latest novel that I’ve written, but it was the most recent stand-alone novel before I began writing the Cavendon series. I was inspired to create a gritty female character who happens to be a war photographer. She is following in the footsteps of her famous father, who made his name as a war photographer a generation earlier. This is a novel that deals with issues like PTSD, a hotel hostage situation, and also a star-crossed love story between two war correspondents and their complicated work situation. It’s wrapped around a family mystery involving a photograph from decades earlier.

AAR: I read online that you don’t use a computer, but you still type. Why? Don’t you like computers? 

BTB: I use computers for research almost every day. But for writing books, I’ve always used a typewriter. I got into a comfort zone when I was first starting out and this was the technology available to me. I’ve used the same IBM Selectric typewriter for at least the last 25 books. Of course, I do have a couple of backup units just in case… Ultimately, my typed pages do get scanned into a computer and formatted into a manuscript once the novel is completed. So they still end up in digital form, no matter how I create them.

AAR: What is your next project? Could you tell us about it? 

BTB: I’ve just completed an outline for a 4th book in my popular Cavendon series. I’m still working on a title and the details. But I can tell you that it will be set in the 1950s, the era in which Britain will be rebuilding after the war. It will feature many new, younger characters from the Ingham and Swann families.

AAR: Thank you very much for this interview and taking the time to speak to us today. Is there anything you would like to tell your Polish readers? Or maybe you want to add something I have not asked you about?

BTB: Thank you for such a thoughtful interview. I am thrilled to have such a nice following of readers in Poland. And I hope that my novels will continue to be translated there for as long as I keep writing them.

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here.

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