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Q&A with "Cavendon Hall" author Barbara Taylor Bradford

Number-one bestseller Barbara Taylor Bradford recently released her 29th novel, "Cavendon Hall."
Number-one bestseller Barbara Taylor Bradford recently released her 29th novel, "Cavendon Hall."St. Martin's Press/Julian Dufort

If you’re missing the world of “Downton Abbey, “ take a look at “Cavendon Hall,” the latest from international bestseller Barbara Taylor Bradford. Spanning from the days before World War I to the roaring twenties, the novel tells the story of the Swanns and the aristocratic family they’ve served for generations, the Inghams.

Charles Ingham, the sixth Earl of Mowbray, is lord of Cavendon Hall, a sprawling Yorkshire estate where he lives with his wife Felicity and their six children: Guy, the heir, who is studying at Cambridge; their younger son Miles, attending Eton; and their four daughters Diedre, Daphne, DeLacy and Dulcie, affectionately known as the Four Dees by staff members.

Attending the Earl and his family is Walter Swann, his valet, and his seamtress wife Alice, who is in charge of the countess’s and the Four Dees wardrobe. The two families lives are—like their ancestors—intertwined as they live side-by-side in the imposing manor. But as war looms, they will face challenges that will test them in ways they never thought possible. Loyalties will come into question in a time where the world— especially Great Britain—will witness huge political and social upheavals.

Bradford, who is published in more than 90 countries in 40 languages and was awarded the Order of the British Empire by the Queen, took the time to talk about her 29th novel, the continuing success of her debut, “A Woman of Substance,” and her best piece of writing advice.

KC: In the author’s note, you mentioned that the character of Cecily Swann popped into your mind one day. Do you often dream up a character first, and then create a story around him/her? Or does it depend on the book?

BTB: Actually it was Cecily Swann and Delacy Ingham who popped into mind one day when I was thinking about the friendships I had with certain women for over 30 years. I always think of the characters first. It is the protagonist and other people in the novel that tell their stories. In other words, character is plot. Who you are as a human being tells your story. You are your own destiny.

KC: Which character do you relate to the most in “Cavendon Hall?”

BTB: As a novelist I have to relate to all the characters in the book. I have to be able to know why they do things, and to stand in their shoes. But I think I do relate to Cecily Swann because she is very much another Emma Harte (“A Woman Of Substance”).

KC: The upstairs/downstairs dynamic continues to be extremely popular in television and novels, especially with the success of “Downton Abbey.” Why do you think people are so drawn to these types of stories? Are you a Downton fan?

BTB: “Cavendon Hall” is not really an upstairs/downstairs book. Rather it is an upstairs/in-the-middle novel. The Swanns are not treated as servants. They are actually retainers who have been in the service of the Inghams for over 160 years, over many generations. I think people are drawn to family sagas because so much drama happens in a family. In this instance, two families. Also, they are a bit of escapism, going back to the past, the Edwardian era which was so glamorous. I have been writing family sagas for years, ever since “A Woman Of Substance.” In fact, another popular series of mine was the Ravenscar Dynasty. The UK press call me "the undisputed Queen of the family saga." Because I thought of Cavendon and did the outline for two books six years ago, I don't watch too much of Downton for obvious reasons.

KC: Your first book, “A Woman of Substance” is one of the best-selling novels of all time. What do you think makes this such a timeless story?

BTB: The human drama in “A Woman of Substance” has made the book one of the all-time hits. Also, I believe that the reader becomes involved with Emma Harte, roots for her, and stays with her right through the story. There's everything in that book: Money, power, passion, and revenge to name a few themes.

KC: Other than the emergence of e-books, what do you think has changed the most about books and publishing since “A Woman of Substance” was released in 1979?

BTB: I think the Internet has changed publishing, also Amazon, e-books and ordering online has helped people. I'm afraid that's why in some areas bookstores are closing. That is so sad. However, I do think that e-books are great. I sell very well on e-books, and recently eight new e-books of mine have become available. They are all published by Rosetta Books, and “A Woman Of Substance” and all the others of my first eight novels have become e-books for the first time in North America.

KC: What’s in your personal “to be read” pile this spring/summer?

BTB: Nothing. I haven't had time to read. I am writing the sequel to “Cavendon Hall.” It's called “The Cavendon Women.”

KC: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

BTB: Not to let a blank piece of paper intimidate you if you have writer's block. That's why I never do. I was told to put something down, even if it's not quite right, because the next day you always have something to rewrite. Great advice.

KC: What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing?

BTB: Travel. My husband and I visit different places every year.

KC: When will the next book in the Cavendon Hall series be released? Can you share what else is on the horizon for you?

BTB: “The Cavendon Women” will be released next April (2015). We are also in the process of moving into a new apartment. That comes next. Very exciting.