She has sold more than 90 million novels and is one of the UK’s most commercially successful authors of all time. Her first novel, A Woman of Substance, was published in 1979 and became a bestseller overnight. Her 39th book, A Man of Honour (HarperCollins, £16.99) is the prequel to that.
The best thing about your first novel?
A Woman of Substance still has a huge fan base. People see the protagonist, Emma Harte, as a role model. She was a woman making it in a man’s world. We have a lot of female tycoons today, but in Emma’s time, there were none. The best thing about it is that it’s still selling today, after 42 years. It’s not old-fashioned: it’s as much a book for today as it was back then.
The best childhood memory?
I was an only child and my mother and father were very encouraging. My mother taught me to read by the time I was four, and I had a library card at five. She read a lot too, and gave me a love of books. When I was 10, I wrote a story which she liked and sent to a children’s magazine, having made me write it out very neatly and carefully. I was delighted when they accepted it, and about a month later I received a postal order for seven shillings and sixpence for the story.
The most significant achievement of your early career?
I was thrilled when I left the Yorkshire Evening Post’s typing pool to be a junior reporter. I’ve been told that, at that time, I was the only young woman in a newsroom in England. My mother said, if the men flirt with you, don’t flirt back. Keep your head down, do your work and learn to be a journalist. And that’s what I did. Some older reporters resented me, but the writer Keith Waterhouse looked after me. I said to him, they don’t like me – and he said, it’s not that Barbara; the problem is that they can’t swear in front of you. When I was 20, I went to Fleet Street, and it was a dream fulfilled.
The best relationship of your life?
I was married to my husband Bob [the American film producer Robert Bradford] for just under 56 years. He died in July 2019. It’s hard to talk about without crying. I met him in London while he was making a movie. We married two years later, and then went to live in America and France. We had an extraordinary marriage. The best day of my life was the day I met him, and the worst day was the day he died. I couldn’t write for a long time afterwards. But I manage, because he would want me to manage. He wouldn’t want me to fall apart.