How do you come to terms with losing the love of your life after more than half a century together?
That is the dilemma bestselling novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford has been dealing with since losing her husband of 55 years, TV producer Robert Bradford, who died from a major stroke in 2019.
“After Bob’s death, I couldn’t write for about six months. I was devastated,” says the UK author, whose most famous book, A Woman Of Substance, was adapted into a hit TV series starring Liam Neeson and Jenny Seagrove, and whose novels have sold more than 90 million copies worldwide. “My mind wouldn’t work on anything except my grief.”
Bob, as he was known, looked after his wife’s business interests, including her record-breaking publishing deals and the production of the TV adaptations for her books – so the partnership was both personal and professional.
“He managed my career, he made the publishing deals and came up with new marketing ideas. When I met him, he was a Hollywood producer so he produced 10 of the books as movies. We were interlinked in every possible way.
“He’d always said to me, if anything happens to me first, please keep your job, your career and keep writing. It will keep you busy but it’s a solace to you, so I just got on with it.”
She kept a vigil at his bedside for a week at a New York hospital until he slipped away. It was there that she had the idea for her latest book, A Man Of Honour, the prequel to A Woman Of Substance. It starts five years before the original and follows the fortunes of Blackie O’Neill, who leaves County Kerry for Leeds to build a better life, and meets kitchen maid Emma Harte.
“I had a whole childhood ahead of me and Blackie’s life, thoughts and ambitions. In some ways, he and Emma were very alike. I said to myself, you can’t write another book about Emma Harte, but I didn’t really know much about her best friend Blackie. I left the hospital and looked at A Woman Of Substance and that was it.”
Like her strong-willed heroine, Ms Taylor Bradford, 88, is tough. She continued working in their luxurious Manhattan home during the pandemic. “Being busy does help to take your mind off it. It’s taken me two years to realise that he’s not going to walk in at any moment. It’s not been easy. We had a very good marriage.”
Historically, she has often written about strong, ambitious female characters, which is in some way a reflection of herself, she agrees.
“I just said to a friend, ‘I’ve become Emma Harte’. I’m now having to look after Bob’s assets, talking to accountants and stockbrokers and making decisions. My friend said I probably learned a lot from Bob without realising it.”
She’s among the world’s richest authors, which is some achievement for the Yorkshire lass from Armley, Leeds, who joined the typing pool at the Yorkshire Evening Post before going into journalism.
Her family always had a strong work ethic. Her mother Freda worked as a nurse and a housekeeper, while her father Winston, who had lost a leg in an accident, was largely unemployed during Ms Taylor Bradford’s childhood.
“I felt that if you weren’t working all the time, God was going to strike you down. I grew up as an only child with a quiet, reticent mother, but she instilled in me a lot of my ambition,” she has said.
She met her husband on a blind date in 1961 when she was 28, and they fell in love at first sight. They married in 1963 and Ms Taylor Bradford moved to New York to live with him. She started and ditched several novels while pursuing her journalistic career – until she hit the big time at the age of 46 when A Woman of Substance was published, making her an overnight success.
Today, she is still a workaholic, she admits. After she’d had her COVID jabs, she wasn’t going to let life pass her by, even though some acquaintances voiced their surprise at her venturing out.
“I grew up in a war, with bombs dropping on me. Do you think I’m scared of COVID? I think Americans can’t deal with catastrophe. They’re not used to it.
“In Europe, we lived through two world wars within 20 years. You’ve got to live through wars and disasters to be a grown-up. And I don’t know what this word ‘woke’ means, so please don’t tell me. I’m the least politically correct person you’re ever going to meet. I’m a bit of a maverick, you know.”
But there is still grief behind the glamorous veneer, especially when she comes home to an empty apartment.
“I immediately turn on the television for some noise. During the day the phone is ringing, I’ve got housekeepers there and everything is busy, but at night it’s bad. Being alone, you’re one person instead of two. It’s a big loss not having him.”
Yet, even in her 80s, she keeps a strict regime with her writing, rising early and doing full days. “I’m better working during the day. I get dressed and go to my office. I’m very disciplined. You can’t write 39 books – 35 major novels and four novellas – if you are not disciplined. I was born that way, to be a workaholic. That’s in my system.”
She’s lived in New York for many years and returns to the UK a lot – but has no plans to return for good.
“My life is in New York, besides which, Bob is there. I feel him in the apartment and I have a big life there and a lot of friends in New York. And I can’t leave him behind.”
As for the future, she’ll keep writing books, while a TV company has optioned the seven books in the Emma Harte saga and the prequel, with a view to creating a 10-hour miniseries. Never one to let go of the reins, she’ll keep a firm hand on development.
“I’ve got script approval, casting approval, location approval and a lot of other approvals – it took seven months to make the contract,” she states, quite business-like.
Bob would be proud.
A Man Of Honour by Barbara Taylor Bradford is published by HarperCollins, available now.
Have you read any of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s books? Which is your favourite? Let us know in the comments section below.
– With PA
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