Novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford shares the secrets behind A Woman of Substance

Novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford shares the secrets behind A Woman of Substance

It's hard to believe A Woman of Substance first appeared on our bedside tables 38 years ago. Yet, all these years later, Barbara Taylor Bradford's most celebrated novel is just as popular as ever, as each new generation of readers discover the story of plucky Emma Harte, who rises from maid servant to retail tycoon. And of course no one could be more delighted by this fact than Barbara herself, still writing prolifically at 84. 

"It's wonderful that I’m getting new readers all the time and often the daughters of the women who first read the book in 1979," says Barbara. 

"You know what it is, I think the books just seem to be as readable now as they were then and I definitely see when I look at my mail that people who have discovered A Woman of Substance are saying the same things about it as the first readers said 30 odd years ago – that Emma is an inspiring role model."

But just where did the idea for the novel and her incredible heroine, Emma Harte, come from?

"People often ask me where my ideas come from and I just don't know. I might be sitting at a desk writing a letter to somebody or writing another book and suddenly somebody pops into my head. 

"Emma came into my head before I wrote A Woman of Substance. I thought who’s this little girl I’m seeing walking across the moors. Oh she’s going to become famous and successful and, you know, I worked out the whole story and knew her name was Emma but I could never find a second name.

"To find a second name I went to look in a book I had about public houses in Yorkshire and I saw one called the White Hart and thought Emma Hart, that’s a name, and then I put an ‘e’ on the end. That’s where the idea comes from, it comes from a person and obviously my books are very character driven."

Now A Woman of Substance is just one of many of Barbara's books that have been adapted for the screen which will be showcased in the True Entertainment channel's Barbara Taylor Bradford OBE season, which kicks off on January 16 for two weeks. All the adaptations have been produced by Barbara's husband of 53 years, Robert Bradford, which makes it a delight for Barbara to watch on screen. 

"I’m always thrilled with the adaptations because who better than your husband to make the movies of your books? What's more I know he’s not going to do too much tampering with the storyline," she laughs. 

"I like the adaptations to be as faithful as possible to the books. But you know my novels are quite long and you can’t get everything in and he always says to me I’m making a movie, not a book, meaning I’m using a script and of course a script has to be much tighter than a book. 

"I’ve always loved the movies he made of my work because he’s got great taste and has always chosen wonderful actors, people like Anthony Hopkins, Deborah Kerr, John Mills and Lindsay Wagner and Jenny Seagrove and that’s why the movies have been so popular. 

"I think I’m suddenly understanding this in the last few months seeing the films again that they’re more like theatrical movies that you’d go to the cinema to see than always watch on television. They’re so much better than the average television shows. They hold up very well, even though they were made in the late Eighties and early Nineties. And I’m not being influenced by the fact that he’s my husband because I’ve a very critical eye!"she laughs. 

  • The Barbara Taylor Bradford Season will be running from next Monday January 16 for two weeks starting with A Woman of Substance at 11am. The True Entertainment Channel is on Freeview 61, Sky 183, Freesat 142 and Virgin 189
  • There's more star chat in every issue of Yours Magazine, out every fornight, on a Tuesday.