On Friday I had lunch at the Dorchester with Barbara Taylor Bradford.
That is a sentence I am highly unlikely ever to write again on Random so I am going to repeat it:
On Friday I had lunch at the Dorchester with Barbara Taylor Bradford.
I had been contacted by Liz Dawson, Head of PR at Harper Collins (the lovely publishers who hosted a bloggers tea party in the summer at the Oxo Tower, see my post here) who I had met while slurping back chocolate cocktails and eating chocolate and strawberries, and she asked if I would like to meet 'the lovely Barbara Taylor Bradford'. My response to this was a ladylike Blimey and yes please and who else would be coming as I assumed it was a blogger do and not an exclusive. And then came an email 'er, actually Elaine it IS an exclusive'. OK so pick myself up off the floor to ask WHY and was told that Liz 'thought Barbara and I would get on well'. So having quoted the L'Oreal ad a few times ('You're worth it) I said I would love to and Friday found me on the train up to London. Not wanting to be late I arrived far too early but no matter, I would have some time to put some slap on and brush my hair before lunch and so it turned out with a smooth and elegant young man escorting me to the Ladies Room when I requested directions. For one moment I thought he was going to come in but he smiled, bowed and left me there...phew
Now I will freely admit that I was nervous. When I started off Random Jottings you never think you are going to actually get to know authors and people you write about and, let's face it, Barbara Taylor Bradford is a superstar. I had read A Woman of Substance and the entire Emma Harte series and remember the huge impact A Woman of Substance made when it was published back in 1979. BTB has written some 25+ books, all of them best sellers, has world wide sales of over 85 million in 90 countries and in 40 languages. Ten of her books have been made into a televeision mini-series and television movies, produced by her husband Robert Bradford. These books are full of clever, charismatic, beautiful people who jet around the world in designer labels and visit exotic places, and the author is known world wide. I am a blogger from Colchester. I am not given to false modesty so none of this is to make you leap in with cries of Oh but Elaine you are wonderful (though do feel free to do so if you wish), and I was genuinely apprehensive.
Well, I needn't have worried. Barbara was charming, friendly and delightful and the lunch got off to a really good start when all three of us found out we were all on the Dukan diet and shrieks of How much Have you Lost certainly broke the ice and made me feel better. While Liz had a salad Barbara and I had the Club Sandwich and then spent the next half hour shredding the bread and eating the innards with our fingers. Once you have eaten a lump of chicken and mayo with somebody you cannot be shy.
Barbara had been recording interviews in the morning and had more lined up in the afternoon, earlier in the week I had seen her on the One Show, she had been on Woman's Hour and lots of other promotional activities in between. It is a matter of record that she is now 78 and, quite frankly, I am in awe of somebody who can carry out this staggeringly long list of appointments which would fell a lesser woman, me included. But as she pointed out 'I'm a pro. I write a book and it is published and this is part of what I do. You get out there and you promote it and do what you have to do'.
It was clear to me throughout out conversation that Barbara is still driven, is still ambitious, loves to write and has no intention of giving it up just yet, if ever. In an interview which I saw shortly before our meeting she said that she had ideas popping up in her head all the time, even when writing the current book so I asked her about this and she said, yes this happens. She has a notebook and she jots things down ideas and situations as they come into her head. Sometimes a character from an earlier book will re-surface as she has an idea for them in another story.
So where do the ideas come from and what starts them off? Barbara gave me an example of how she came to write Playing the Game. She had an idea of a story of a woman with a secret, a secret that she had to hide as it was a dangerous one and could ruin her, she could even end up in prison if it came out. What was her profession that made this so potentially calamitous and why should the secret now be found out? Barbara was mulling this over in her library and there were some books on art to hand, so she said she thought that an art setting might be good and that her heroine could be an art dealer and that it would involve fakes and Old Masters and so the idea gradually grew exponentially until she had the plot.
Now, I can dash off a review, I can write a post about cleaning out my kitchen and finding spiders and decorating and fallilng off a ladder, no problemo, but my mind is a desert when it comes to ideas and plots. No way would I make a novelist and though the thought my occasionally cross my mind that I should have a crack at it, I know I lack the application to do so. So, to sit and listen to someone who has ideas popping up all he time is quite something. Of course, the idea is just that - then comes the hard work, the research, the background and the writing. Each book takes about a year, then it is off to the publishers and then Barbara starts to get out and about, as she was when I met her, to let the world know that there is a new Barbara Taylor Bradford for you to buy and read.
Her latest book is called Letter from a Stranger. What would you do and how would you feel if you received a letter in which you discovered that the beloved grandmother who you thought had been killed many years ago was, in fact, alive? And how would you feel when you realise that your mother has lied to you about this and betrayed her two children?
Justine Nolan, an award winning film maker returns to her childhood home and discovers an envelope addressed to her mother who is absent as she so often is. She opens it and makes the discovery that will shake her world and that of her brother Richard. The letter comes from Istanbul but has no address so Justine determines to go there and to hunt down her grandmother and to find out what dreadful mystery is behind this lie.
Now, I was enjoying the book but enjoyed it even more when we arrived in Istanbul as I visited this fascinating city with my daughter Kathryn a few years ago. I always find a knowledge of place adds to the enjoyment of a narrative and each time Justine takes a boat down the Bosporus, I remember the day we sailed down it; when she sees and marvels at the tiles in the Blue Mosque I remember how I loved them too; the description of the Topkapi Palace, the fabrics, the patterns, the pottery and embroidery all added to the richness of the setting and there were times when I could say of the heroine 'Oh I know exactly where you are'.
Well, I am not giving anything away when I tell you that Justine finds her beloved grandmother, but that is not the end of the story, oh no. The book then takes an unexpected twist which I am not going to tell you about and we learn more of her grandmother's background and begin to realise what her secret was that had brought about the rift.
I discussed the reasons for this betrayal with Barbara as originally we are told it is about money, but I was pretty sure that would not be enough and she told me that she had realised this when writing it and that it needed something more. And so she came up with something more. Easy. Well, to her yes.
As I said, I had been a tad nervous. This is a lady who through determination and hard work has achieved wealth and fame, who lives in Manhattan in a superb apartment on Park Avenue (I have seen it featured in magazines so I know it is superb), has a fabulous life style and a very happy marriage and yet does not take it for granted and still gets up in the morning to do a full day's work at her beloved typewriter. Oh, yes not a laptop but a typewriter - she says she sticks with it because it suits her and if 'it isn't broken then don't fix it'
A superstar yes, but charming, friendly and enormous fun and I had a great time and left feeling as if I had met an old friend for lunch as we laughed and gossiped and put the world to rights. In the afternoon, I nipped off to the cinema to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy of which more later, but Barbara was back up to her suite to do more interviews.
A Woman of Substance indeed.