Barbara Taylor Bradford’s blockbuster A Woman of Substance sold millions of copies and became a mini-series that is still Channel 4’s most-watched show.
Now, the author is writing a new novel that revisits the story – but from a different point of view.
The 1979 original followed Emma Harte from Yorkshire maid to business giant.
The new book will return to the young Emma’s era, but telling the story of her friend Blackie O’Neill – played by a young Liam Neeson in the TV version.
“I’m in the in the process of creating a life for Blackie which we never saw in A Woman of Substance,” she told BBC News.
The 86-year-old author was inspired to write Blackie and Emma while at her husband Robert’s bedside in hospital. She had been due to write a third instalment in her House of Falconer saga instead, but was unable to do the required research.
‘Bob’s gift to me’
Robert, a film producer, died in July. “I was sitting there, my mind wandering and knowing what was going to happen, and trying to think, what can I write that will be… no book is easy, but what would be easier than having to do a load of research? And I suddenly thought of Blackie.
“My editor said that was Bob’s gift to me. He made me think of Blackie as a book.”
Part of the new novel acts as a prequel to A Woman of Substance, following Blackie from 13-year-old orphan in Ireland until he meets Emma Harte on a Yorkshire moor. The story then runs in parallel to the original, following Blackie’s fortunes rather than Emma’s.
“Where does he go? What does he do? Is he really a good man? Has he any troubles? Has he had other women? It’s really Blackie’s book,” the Yorkshire-born writer said.
A Woman of Substance has sold 30 million copies, according to Bradford’s official biography, and spawned six sequels. The original mini-series was watched by almost 14 million people on Channel 4 in 1985 and was nominated for two Emmys.
Period dramas are ‘junk’
“I think it was ahead of its time in every way,” the author said. “There’s been no TV series made since that’s had any plot or drama. It’s all junk when it comes to those sorts of ‘big house’ stories.
“A Woman of Substance was very much a big hit with Channel 4. It took all the ratings and it’s a story that’s got everything in it. It’s got love, it’s got drama, it’s got death, it’s got success, it’s got tragedy.”
Taylor Bradford said she doesn’t watch much TV, and when she does she prefers factual programmes.
“I have watched some of Downton,” she said. “It’s very pretty. But I’m more for a documentary or news.”
The second book in her House of Falconer series, In the Lion’s Den, is published on 28 November.