Barbara Taylor Bradford: The prolific novelist on love, Emma Thompson, and why she can't be friends with people who don't read


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The Independent Culture

You have been involved in a number of campaigns to increase literacy and are an ambassador for the National Literacy Trust, encouraging young people to read. What did books mean to you as a child?

As a little girl, I was the only child of four, in my first classroom in my church school, who could read. Books were my companions. I had a library card as soon as I was old enough. By the time I was 12 years old, I'd read every Dickens book that had been written – although I didn't always understand them. When I go to somebody's house and I look around – if there are no books, I think, 'Oh, do I really want to know these people?'. Books were my friends and they've taught me about life and have taken me on adventures. Wuthering Heights is still my favourite – it's one of the greatest novels in English literature.

You've recently released the 150-page book Hidden and your longer novel Cavendon Hall. Did you work on the two projects simultaneously?

I'm constantly asked, "When is the next book?". A book the length of Hidden can be written in a few weeks if you go at it day and night. Cavendon Hall took almost eight months. My publishers said to me, when you take a break can you write us something short for an e-book, because you're very popular on them. So I wrote it for Quick Reads, another charity that promotes literacy. You see, people get out of the habit of reading and then get intimidated by a long book. Now it's the number one e-book!

People say that a stint as a journalist is the best training for a novelist. Did your time at the Yorkshire Evening Post inform your later novels?

Absolutely. I think I went to the best university in the world, which is a newspaper office. I am still a journalist in my mind and I write for many of the British papers. I think that when you go out and do a story, you see life. And that's what being a novelist is: it's writing about people.

Love is a pretty fundamental theme across all your books. How would you describe love to the uninitiated?

It's like feeling safe and being part of another person.

You are famous for your heroines. Who do you think are some good examples of female role models in the public eye right now?

I think if a girl wants to become an actress, she should look at Emma Thompson. She seems to be fun and straight in her talk, not devious. I think if they want to have a writer as a role model, it should be me! I'm down-to-earth, practical, honest and straightforward. But of course, they do want trendy and cool don't they... Throw some names at me and I'll tell you if they're good role models.

Um, Adele?

Oh well, yes, I think that she's a young woman who seems to be very straightforward and honest. Of course, I love her voice. I think she could be a role model, yes indeed. Usually it's somebody in show business because apparently young girls prefer to watch television than read books.

How about Katy Perry?

I don't know a lot about her. She's American, isn't she? I think another role model is the Duchess of Cambridge. How about her? She's very well dressed, she shows a lot of kindness, and she certainly has a great deal of patience.


Barbara Taylor Bradford, 80, began her career as a reporter on the Yorkshire Evening Post. Selling over 30 million copies, her debut novel, ‘A Woman of Substance’, is one of the 10 bestselling novels of all time. Her 29th novel, ‘Cavendon Hall’, and her Quick Reads book, ‘Hidden’, are out now