A Grand Tradition Of Family Drama In 'Cavendon Hall'

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Barbara Taylor Bradford is one of the best-selling authors in the world — and, proudly, a working stiff. She's written 29 novels, beginning with A Woman of Substance in 1979, which became one of the best-selling novels of all time. Her books have been published in more than 90 countries and 40 languages.

Her latest is Cavendon Hall, which takes its title from the great old Edwardian home shared by two families: the aristocratic Inghams and the Swanns, who've served the Inghams since time immemorial.

As the book opens, Lady Daphne Ingham is about to be presented at court when — there is no nice way to say this — she is brutalized. And it's the Swanns, the household staff, who move to protect her. Bradford tells NPR's Scott Simon that she began her career as a journalist, struggled to write her first novels, and found inspiration in a quote from Graham Greene. "He said, I always remind myself that character is plot. And the moment I read that, Scott, I knew how to write a novel."

Interview Highlights

On the enduring popularity of the British great house drama

It's human drama. You've got one place, Cavendon Hall, where everything is happening there. Life is being enacted, there's dramas because of the attack on Daphne — how do they hide that, what's going to happen ... so, why do people love this? Because they see people interacting with each other — you know, I always say, go to a family and you'll find a lot of problems ... I think it's a way of containing life in one house, I suppose.

On Genevra, the Romany character

As you know, I grew up in Yorkshire, and we often saw the Romany wagons on a hill, or in a field, and I thought, I wonder who lives there? And that's where she came from. And she's always popping up, and Cecily, who is one of the main characters, she is always bumping into the Gypsy, who's got something interesting to say, and she's in there because she adds a bit of mystique, if you like.

On coming up with plots after 29 novels

When I wanted to go from journalist to novelist, [my mentor] said, you must put something down every day. And he was right about that, and I sometimes have a day when it's a bit tough, obviously — I'm human, and it doesn't always come the way I want it to come out of me. So I'm lucky that I had that advice so many years ago.

On whether it's important to have strong women characters

Yes, because I am strong, and wouldn't really — of course, I have weak characters in the book, you've got to have people of all kinds — but I think women have found the books both challenging and inspiring, because I have women that conquer the world, they overcome terrible odds and terrible problems, and I don't mean to send a message, but I guess in a funny way I am intending to send one, which is, stand up and be counted, and go out and do it!

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