We shared questions from the young people we work with on our Words for Work programme with our Ambassador, the fantastic Barbara Taylor Bradford OBE, about her extraordinary career path.
Barbara started out at the Yorkshire Evening Post before moving to London where she worked as a fashion editor and columnist on Fleet Street. She went on to become a bestselling author whose novels have been published in over 90 countries, in 40 languages, with sales figures in excess of 90 million.
Words for Work is our flagship literacy and employability programme which gives young people from disadvantaged communities the literacy and communication skills they need to reach their potential. Participating young people were interested to know what her advice would be to those starting out in their careers.
Hi Barbara! Our first question is: what advice would you give to young people starting their careers?
Well, that they must first of all be sure it’s the career that makes them happy. You can’t choose a career where you’re going to be miserable. You’ve got to love the work, because then the work is easy, because you love it. And then I have some words they should remember. The desire to do it, and then discipline, dedication and determination. I call them the four Ds. If you stick with those, you’ll make it. Work is hard and it’s always been hard, and you have to work hard if you want to be a success, but because you love it, you do it.
It’s been 40 years since your first novel was published, A Woman of Substance, which has sold over 30 million copies worldwide. So what do you think has made the book such an enduring classic and success?
Well, I think perhaps the character of Emma Harte. I think it was Emma and her character, the way she was and how she worked hard, and I believe that people got attached to her. It starts when she’s a grown woman, and then it goes back to when she was a little girl – a servant – and I think it’s that she works hard, and has discipline, desire, determination. Basically I think there’s a lot of women who saw Emma as a role model.
What motivates you to work or to write?
Well, I think first of all the desire I’ve had since childhood to write, and express myself, and get out the stuff rolling around in my head, but what would I do if I didn’t work? You have to have a purpose in life. You have to have a goal. You have to go towards being better in every way, you know? More money, more security, more challenges, and you know, I get a lot of satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment when I’ve done that, and when I’ve finished a chapter, and especially when I’ve finished a book.
What do you think is your biggest achievement?
I think my career overall. I’ve written 34 major books and four novellas. I’m still a journalist, I still write for newspapers, I think my biggest achievement is having a great career.
And if there was any job in the world that you could do that wasn’t writing, what would you do?
I would either want to be a screenwriter, or a director of movies.
Your new novel, In the Lion’s Den, is out now. Do you have any more writing plans? Are there more books to come?
Goodness me, what would I do if I didn’t work? I’m writing lots of books at the moment, but just at the moment, I’m writing down memories of the past and doing research of the fifties and the sixties, because I am now going to start writing my autobiography. As yet, without a title.
Is there anything else that you would like me to tell the young people that I work with in schools?
Well, I think they have to be very focused and very determined, and very concentrated. One of my great gifts is that I have an ability to focus on what I’m doing. Whatever noise is going on round me, or whatever’s happening, once I’m in my office in my home, I’m in that room and I do nothing but work, and I don’t get distracted. I think it’s because I have immense focus and I think that’s a great gift if you’ve got it. So try and be focused and concentrated when you’re doing your work, whatever it is.