Barbara Taylor Bradford pens prequel to A Woman of Substance for HarperCollins

Barbara Taylor Bradford pens prequel to A Woman of Substance for HarperCollins

Barbara Taylor Bradford has written a prequel to her bestselling 1979 novel A Woman of Substance, to be published by HarperCollins in 2020.

The original book, now marking its 40th anniversary, sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, spending over a year on the New York Times bestseller list and spawning an Emmy-nominated television mini-series starring Jenny Seagrove and Liam Neeson. 

Called Blackie and Emma, the prequel tells the story of Blackie O’Neill, lifelong friend of Emma Harte, for the first time. It follows his tumultuous life, the obstacles facing him, the desire he has to throw off the impotence of poverty and move up in the world. “Like his friend Emma, he is ambitious, driven, disciplined, and determined to make it to the top,” the publisher said. “And like Emma Harte, he is an unforgettable character for the millions who loved the book.” 

Bradford said: “After my beloved husband, Bob Bradford, died in the summer, Blackie O’Neill came back into my head. Bob was by my side at the beginning when I wrote A Woman of Substance and I felt compelled to tell Blackie’s story. The true Blackie O’Neill will be revealed and fans of Emma Harte will be able to live his tumultuous life with him.”

The novel is set five years before the start of A Woman of Substance when a 13-year-old Blackie O’Neill is facing an uncertain future in rural County Kerry. “Orphaned and alone, he has just buried his sister, Bronagh, and must leave his home to set sail for England, in search of a better life with his mother’s brother in Leeds,” the synopsis explains. “There, he learns his trade as a navvy, amid the grand buildings and engineering triumphs of one of England’s most prosperous cities, and starts to dream of greater things... And then, high on the Yorkshire moors, in the mists of a winter morning he meets a kitchen maid called Emma Harte.

Lynne Drew, publishing director for general fiction, said: “Blackie and Emma is the kind of idea that gives an editor goosebumps. When Barbara rang me to tell me she wanted to write Blackie’s story I could immediately hear the excitement in her voice – and knew the fans would go wild. I can’t wait to bring the never-before-told story of Blackie and Emma out into the world.”

The publisher has British Commonwealth rights, excluding Canada, for the new book under an existing publishing deal and also controls translation rights.

HarperCollins reissued A Woman of Substance earlier this month with a new introduction from Fern Britton. It is also available on e-book and in a new unabridged audio recording. In the Lion’s Den, published next week, will be Bradford’s 34th book.