Barbara Taylor Bradford: How the best-selling Leeds author launched her extraordinary career at the Yorkshire Evening Post
Barbara Taylor Bradford OBE talks to Abbey Maclure about life in Upper Armley, her first job at the Yorkshire Evening Post and releasing her latest novel.
Barbara Taylor Bradford was just 10 years old when she sold her first story - for seven shillings and sixpence.
Encouraged by her parents to pursue her dream of becoming a writer, Barbara's mother posted her story to a magazine and eagerly awaited a response.
A month went by before her father handed her an acceptance letter when she got home from school; it was her first of many bylines, kickstarting her interest in journalism.
Barbara told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "I was thrilled - not about the money, but about the fact that my byline was going to be in their magazine.
“I never lost track of the idea of being a journalist and maybe one day writing books. I got paid at 10, imagine that.”
Barbara was born and raised in Upper Armley and fondly recalls Sunday strolls with her parents through Gotts Park and Armley Park.
Now one of Britain's most successful writers - more than 90 million copies of her books have been sold to date - Barbara started her career in the typing pool of the Yorkshire Evening Post when she was just 15.
She scooped a job as a reporter at the paper a year later, becoming one of the first women to work in any British newsroom, and she was promoted to the editor of the women's pages when she was 18.
Barbara credited her early success to the support of her parents, who backed her when she chose a career in journalism over studying at Leeds University.
"I just did my job and did as I was told, got my head down and didn’t flirt," the 88-year-old said.
"My mother said ‘you’re going there to learn to be a journalist and that’s what you’ll do. And if any of the other reporters invite you out, make sure they’re not married!’
“At first, I thought the sub-editors and other reporters didn’t like me. But they said no, Barbara, it’s nothing to do with liking - it’s just that they don’t like having a girl in the newsroom, because they can’t swear in front of you."
Barbara realised her dream of working in Fleet Street aged 20 when she moved to London and became a fashion editor and columnist for Woman's Own magazine.
She added: "My mother came to London with me and we found an apartment in Belsize Park Gardens, she stayed with me for a week or two and came down often to see me.
"After a year on Women’s Own I went to work for the London Evening News. I was a newspaper woman, I wanted to be back on a paper. I loved being on Fleet Street.”
Barbara moved to New York in the 1960s with her late husband, American film producer Robert Bradford, who sadly died in 2019.
Her first novel, A Woman of Substance, was published in 1979 and was the first of many super-sellers - it stayed on the New York Times’ list for 43 weeks.
Barbara has since had 38 books published, ten of which have been adapted on screen, been appointed an OBE by the Queen for her services to literature, as well as winning numerous awards for her writing achievements and philanthropy.
Leeds and Yorkshire have been the backdrop to many of her novels and although she said she loved her childhood in the city dearly, she admits she doesn't miss living in England - New York has been her home for more than 50 years.
But while many may have visions of a glamorous lifestyle in the Big Apple, it's a far cry from the reality of being a best-selling novelist.
“The glitz and glamour of New York is all that’s on anyone’s mind, but I don’t lead a very glitzy or glamorous life," Barbara said.
"I write books, I go out to nice places and nice restaurants. I have a lot of friends who I’ve known all my life who have become famous - we were all kids together in London and now in America.
"But it’s not very glamorous, I work very hard. Writing a novel a year or every year and a half is hard work.”
An ordinary woman finding extraordinary success
Barbara's novels are centred around ordinary women finding extraordinary success, now a fitting reflection of her own achievements.
But she is still a vocal advocate for Leeds - she received The Leeds Award in 2019 in recognition of her dedication to her hometown and she has recently been appointed as a patron of The Leeds Library.
Barbara said: "All my books have been about strong, independent women who have gone out there and conquered their world.
“In some of my historical novels, like the Cavendon Series, not all of them have jobs. They are successful women running a stately home, or running a big house, or being a good mother.
"I like to write about women who are active and do things because I believe they are more interesting than everyday women who do nothing."
A Man of Honour out now
Barbara is celebrating the release of her 39th book, A Man of Honour, which is a prequel to her debut novel released more than 40 years ago.
Opening five years before the start of A Woman of Substance, it tells the story of Blackie O'Neill, an unforgettable character for the millions who read the book.
Orphaned and alone, a 13-year-old Blackie has just buried his sister, Bronagh, and must leave his home to set sail for England, in search of a better life with his mother’s brother in Leeds.
Barbara said: “I realised I didn’t know anything about Blackie - he didn't have a life in that book because he was always with Emma.
“When he left and said goodbye, he was her best friend for a lifetime, although they never married. She would stay with the reader and he would disappear.
"I really understood, as I flicked through the book, that he hadn’t had a life the reader knew about.
"I had a fresh plate to write. I had to work out his life in Ireland when he was 13 and how he came to get to Leeds.
"I think the book works very well, it tells the reader all about that young man they all liked - who, of course, was played by Liam Neeson in the movie.”
A Man of Honour, by Barbara Taylor Bradford, is out now on HarperCollins - priced at £16.99.
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