Novelist says she came back to the story that made her name 40 years ago when she struggled to deal with the death of her husband.
‘I suddenly thought I could write about Blackie’ (Barbara Taylor Bradford.)
The husband of Barbara Taylor Bradford, Robert Bradford, always said to her: “Keep writing if anything happens to me, it’s your solace as well as your career.”
So it was natural for her to pick up her pen, when he died from a stroke this summer. Yet Bradford was surprised after 55 years of marriage to find herself returning to the megahit novel that made her name in 1979: A Woman of Substance.
A prequel, Blackie and Emma, is expected to be released next year, bringing readers back with the story of Blackie O’Neill, the closest friend of Bradford’s most famous protagonist, Emma Harte, before the start of her rags-to-rich bestseller.
She said,” After Bob had died and I was alone, I was full of this idea,” she added. “In A Woman of Substance, Blackie is with Emma a lot, her best friend … but we don’t know what happens to him after he leaves Emma. So what did he do, did he have other women, did he have any scandals?”
Bradford explained that her husband was “in hospital for only a week, thank God, before he sadly died”.
Yet while she was sitting in the hospital with him, she can not concentrate on reading: “You’re just looking at the man you love unconscious.”
She knew that writing a book would take things off her mind, but she had already been contracted to write historical novels in her Falconer series, which would require substantial research.
“I was sitting, my mind wandering, and I thought ‘Thank God I’ve got a book to write because I know he’s not going to make it and I’m going to be on my own’,” said Bradford.
“And then I thought ‘Oh God I don’t think I can write another Falconer because of the research’ … It didn’t frighten me but it was a bit daunting.” Trying to imagine a book that would require less groundwork, inspiration struck: “I suddenly thought I could write about Blackie”she added.
Bradford was born in Leeds in 1933 and left school at the age of 15 to join the Yorkshire Evening Post typing pool, becoming the first female editor of the journal at the age of 18 before moving to London at the age of 20 to work as a columnist and editor on Fleet Street.
It took her two years to write a Woman of Substance, with the original manuscript running to 1,520 pages. It’s been selling more than 30m copies worldwide today.
Fern Britton wrote in a foreword to the 40th anniversary edition that in Emma Harte’s “force of nature,” “Barbara created a heroine that has inspired women over the past four decades – encouraged them to be brave and courageous, break laws, and follow their dreams.”
A week ago, just before coming to the UK to promote her 34th novel, In the Lion’s Den, Bradford finished the outline for Blackie and Emma.
The 86-year-old said when she returns to her New York home, she will sit down to write, but actually planning Blackie and Emma has already helped her cope in the wake of the death of her husband.
She said,” Bob was by my side at the beginning when I wrote A Woman of Substance,” she added, “and I felt compelled to tell Blackie’s story … I rather like the idea of visiting Blackie again and inventing a life we never saw, and seeing Emma again.”


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