The Inventory: Barbara Taylor Bradford

‘To be a novelist, you’ve got to be able to tell a lot of lies, basically’

Barbara Taylor Bradford, 80, is the author of A Woman of Substance, which has sold over 32 million copies since it was published in 1979. Her novels have sold more than 88 million copies worldwide. In 2007, she was awarded an OBE for services to literature.

What was your earliest ambition?

When I was 10, my mother sent a little story I’d written to a children’s magazine. I got a postal order for seven shillings and sixpence. My destiny was sealed.

Public school or state school? University or straight to work?

Christ Church, a C of E primary school in Armley [Leeds], where I grew up. From nine to 16, I was enrolled at a private girls’ school, Northcote. I went to the best university in the world – a newspaper office. I got myself out of the typists’ pool at the Yorkshire Evening Post and became a copy boy and eventually they sent me out on a story.

Who was your mentor?

My mother. She encouraged me to pursue my dream. When I was a young woman on Fleet Street, I met Cornelius Ryan [the Irish journalist and author]. He said, “Every day you should write four pages.” It’s because of him that I’ve never had writer’s block.

How physically fit are you?

Very, touch wood. I look after myself.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

Carbon footprint? 'I turn out lights'

Talent isn’t enough. To be a novelist, you’ve got to want to do the work more than you want to do anything else. And you have to have an imagination. You’ve got to be able to tell a lot of lies, basically!

How politically committed are you?

I’m a journalist and I want to know who’s killing whom in which country today. I believe that the press must have the freedom to write the truth.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

I turn out lights and I’m good about garbage. I hate plastic bags.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?


Do you have more than one home?

No. We have an apartment in New York. In London, we stay at the Dorchester – it’s like coming home.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

I can’t think of a single thing.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Always having a car pick me up, because I’m always running late.

In what place are you happiest?

Anywhere my husband Bob is.

What ambitions do you still have?

My ambition is to die at my desk. I love work.

What drives you on?

The adventure of sitting down and starting a new novel.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

Being married to the same man for 50 years. We’re lovers, friends, partners, we’re a team.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

That my parents didn’t live long enough to see what I’ve achieved. And not having had a child. I had two miscarriages and didn’t get pregnant again.

Second home: in London we stay at The Dorchester

She would be pleased. I think I’ve gone beyond my own expectations.

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

Start again. I can’t accept failure.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?

Yes, if someone is desperately ill or in pain, or out of it mentally. But I could never help Bob to commit suicide. I love him too much.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

I don’t know anybody who’s come back and told me they’re here again, but I think it’s very arrogant to say I don’t believe it. I just don’t know!

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?


‘Cavendon Hall’, Barbara Taylor Bradford’s 29th novel, is published by HarperCollins on February 3

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.

More on this topic

Suggestions below based on Barbara Taylor Bradford

‘I do like a shock room’

Novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford was born in Yorkshire, northern England, and started writing for the local newspaper in her teens. By the age of 22 she was an editor on a national publication. Her books have sold more than 80m copies. She lives in New York with her husband of 43 years, Robert Bradford, a film producer.

My first million: Barbara Taylor Bradford

Barbara Taylor Bradford has followed up the success of her 1979 blockbuster with 22 more novels, achieving sales of 81m copies worldwide. Just published is Heirs of Ravenscar. Barbara and her husband, who turned her best-known book into a TV mini-series, live in a New York apartment overlooking the East River.

A testament of riches shared

Perched 17 floors above Park Avenue, with the traffic barely audible through an open window, Barbara Goldsmith is surrounded by friends. Louise Nevelson and Andy Warhol greet guests beside the door, while in the living-room Stone Roberts mingles easily with Roy Lichtenstein, Donald Sultan, Brian Hunt and Jim Dine. The bestselling author and philanthropist began her career writing about art for Harper’s Bazaar and New York magazines and she has known them all.