Barbara Taylor Bradford: 'People think I do very little work, but I do 12 hours a day'


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The Independent Culture

I'm surprised I haven't run out of ideas Right now I have seven ideas for novels on bits of paper. I'm prolific: I've been writing for 34 years and right now I'm writing my 29th novel.

I wanted to visit a war zone to write my latest book But my husband wouldn't let me. It's about a female war photographer, so I thought, how can I write about a war unless I'm in the middle of the fray? While we were on holiday in France last year, watching the news in the hotel room, I stumbled upon the Libyan civil war. I ended up watching it unfold every afternoon.

A person's character comes first It's something I learnt from Graham Greene who was once asked, "What is the first thing you think when you sit down at a desk?" And that was his response. Character is plot, character is destiny – who they are as a human will provide the arc of the story.

I try not to base characters on real people A real person gets in the way – it's like, oh, I've got to kill her off now, but I can't as it's based on a real person. I tried it in Letter from a Stranger and found the real person intruded into my head all the time and I couldn't get the character right. I'll never do it again.

You can start with nothing and become something That was the theme of A Woman of Substance [her debut, which sold 32 million copies]. It was only years later that I realised the character [maid-turned-billionaire-businesswoman Emma Harte] is a very modern woman, but set in 1910. There's a bit of me in Emma Harte: ambitious, driven and not giving in to anything.

you can't have it all I don't think a woman can dedicate herself to a career and have seven kids, go home and do the ironing, and then go out and socialise – it's unrealistic. I can't regret not having children. It physically didn't happen and was out of my control.

I'm still excited reading through the first copy of a new book I peer inside and read some pages. When my latest came out, I bought a copy. My husband said, "What are you doing?" and I said, "I'm reading my own book!" It reads differently when it's no longer a manuscript.

The press has been decent with me In 34 years I've had only two bitchy woman writers say a few bitchy things: it was subtle, about something I was wearing or an exaggeration of the size of a string of pearls.

I cannot stand envy It's such a terrible fault. If you see someone in a dress and want it, get a job and earn it.

People think I do very little work They think most of the day I'm going out having lunch and buying dresses – they don't understand how hard I work. I do 12 hours a day. I'm a workaholic and I have been since I got my first job at 15, in a typist's pool at the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Barbara Taylor Bradford, 79, is a novelist. Her latest book, 'Secrets from the Past', is published by HarperCollins, priced £14.99