"A Woman of Substance" is the title of the rags-to-riches novel that launched the spectacularly successful career of Barbara Taylor Bradford. Thirty years later, she's still going strong, and still producing her trademark bestsellers. Rita Braver has the Fine Print:
That big shopping bag, being toted into New York's historic Flatiron Building, is not filled with money - but it might just as well be.
"Hello, Sally, I'm here and it's very heavy!" says Barbara Taylor Bradford, delivering a manuscript.
It's one of her trademark tales about a smart, sexy and successful woman:
"And that's my 25th book," she told Braver. "All best sellers."
At 76, she's a writer with the Midas touch: 82 million books sold, in 90 different countries.
So it's no wonder that "Breaking the Rules," coming out this week, is cause for celebration at her publisher, St. Martin's Press.
"What's it like when you come in now, and they're so excited to get your book?" Braver asked.
"Well, I'm happy that they're excited, but I still worry," Bradford said. "You know, I'm still at heart a worrying author who hopes a book is going to work. I haven't become blasé about it."
She even frets about details like the book's cover, a picture of a woman's legs.
"I like the photograph," Bradford tells the artist. "It has reality for people. Nobody saying, 'Oh, no one has legs like that.'
"But I do!" she added, pulling up her pants leg to show off her gam. "Not a bad leg!"
Barbara Taylor Bradford's writing career took off in 1979 with "A Woman of Substance," later made into a TV mini-series. It's the story of Emma Harte, a poor but plucky and beautiful Yorkshire servant girl who manages to found a booming business empire.
"I gave Emma a lot of my characteristics," Bradford said, "which is drive, ambition, discipline, determination - and ambition, ambition, ambition!" she laughed.
A special 30th anniversary edition of "A Woman of Substance' was just released, complete with a gala in London featuring Bradford buddies, like Cherie Blair, wife of the former British prime minister; and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York.
"She's like an icon to me, because she has achieved so much success through her soul and her heart and her mind," said Ferguson.
And she did it all herself . . . a girl from a middle class family in Leeds who dreamed of becoming a writer!
She started as a typist . . . a "bad typist," she laughed. "Lord, I couldn't read my shorthand, and part of it was nerves."
At 16 she talked her way into a journalist's job, and within a few years was reporting in London. It was there on a blind date in 1961 that she met Bob Bradford, a German-born film producer from California.
"She says it was pretty much love at first sight," Braver asked her husband. "Was it love at first sight for you?"
"Immediately," he said. "I mean, it's hard to explain. She sat there in a sweater, she was a little plump . . . "
"Plump!" Barbara said.
"Well, something just hit me very . . ."
"'A little plump'?" Barbara asked.
"Yeah, I mean, sort of, a young woman journalist," he said. "And for me it was amazing."
They married and she followed him to the U.S., where she wrote a column and several books on interior design, a talent still on display in their sprawling Manhattan apartment.
There's the blue room, the red dining room, the small sitting room, and her office, with the typewriter she still uses.
"Do you have to drag yourself in here every day and say, 'I've got to get this written!'" asked Braver.
"No," she said. "If I had to drag myself in and feel, 'Oh, God I can't face it,' I'd stop. I love coming in here. It's an adventure."
An adventure that didn't really begin until she was in her forties. She'd started and abandoned 4 novels, before she got the idea for "A Woman of Substance." She sent an outline of the book to an agent in London:
"He called me up when he'd read it, and he said, 'You know, Barbara, I think you've written an outline for a best seller.'"
And so it began! With two dozen bestselling books, she's now one of the wealthiest authors in the world. Many works turned into television dramas, most produced by her husband.
There is one constant in all of Barbara Taylor's Bradford's books: Her heroines are so devastatingly beautiful, the heroes are so handsome.
"You know what, readers really don't want to read about ugly people, Rita," Bradford laughed. "They want to read about a good-looking man, a good-looking woman, making it together in many ways, not necessarily just sexually, but in life."
In fact, she and Bob Bradford and their two Bishon Frises dogs (they don't have any children) have made quite a nice life for themselves. She dedicates all her books to him. He gives her a new piece of jewelry each time she completes one.
There's the parrot from "Act of Will," the diamond necklace from "The Women in His Life," and a pair of bracelets for the latest books.
But perhaps the most important jewel in Barbara Taylor Bradford's collection is this: the Order of the British Empire, presented by Queen Elizabeth in 2007 for her contributions to English literature.
"And then she said, 'You've written a lot of books, Mrs. Bradford.' I said, 'Yes, I have, your majesty, and many of them set in England and some of them about English history.' And she said, 'Oh, well, that certainly gives you lots of opportunities.'"
Opportunities that this author has known how to take advantage of:
"Do you ever feel like your own life has been like a Barbara Taylor Bradford story?" Braver asked.
"No, but everybody else does!" she laughed.
For more info:
"Breaking the Rules" (St. Martin's Press)
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