WHEN Charlotte Bradman took her first step on the property ladder it was the start of a living nightmare.

Living with a crippling mortgage, a flooded cellar, a temperamental 30-year-old boiler, mounting debts and a constant stream of bills through the letterbox ended up making her ill.

So she broke free - from the house and the nine-to-five treadmill - to live in a campervan. Stripped back to basics, no longer weighed down by the trappings of home ownership, she discovered the joy of simple pleasures. And, on her campervan journey, she found the time to connect with herself, with nature and with people she met along the way.

Now Charlotte has written The Happy Nomad - a frank, funny, moving memoir about how she found a simpler life in her beloved campervan. The book, which Charlotte will showcase at Bradford Literature Festival, is an inspiring story of self-discovery, freedom and the real value of life.

Charlotte has embraced a simpler life since losing her house Charlotte has embraced a simpler life since losing her house (Image: Charlotte Bradman)

Charlotte, 41, writes movingly of her troubled past - experiencing domestic violence as a child and young adult and turning to alcohol and drugs as a way of coping.

Growing up in Keighley, she’d seen her dad work six days a week to pay for a Range Rover, speedboat, six-berth caravan, fishing boat and four-bedroomed house - not to mention all the loans and mortgages he’d taken out. It took a terrible toll on the family. “Dad turned to alcohol as a refuge”... “It opened the door to his deep discontentment and general rage at the world,” writes Charlotte. “My mum, my brother and I ended up with PTSD.”

It also affected the way Charlotte measured her own achievements. “All my life I’d been taught that success is about ticking boxes: house, car, clothes, even the right brand of cosmetics. It got me into serious debt, with credit cards and store cards. I fell into the same trap as my dad,” she says.

After buying a house in her early twenties, Charlotte amassed huge debts and struggled with a mortgage she couldn’t afford. When the house was re-possessed it was in negative equity. With nowhere to store her possessions, she got rid of them - “It was liberating” - and went to live in a caravan. “Then my relationship broke down and I moved to a flat in Bradford; it was full of mould and the central heating didn’t work. I’d had enough,” she says. “We’re taught from being very small that ‘home’ has to be made of brick or stone. I found another way to live - in a campervan.”

Van life has brought Charlotte closer to nature Van life has brought Charlotte closer to nature (Image: Charlotte Bradman)

During the pandemic Charlotte worked for the NHS, supporting community nursing teams. Then, following a break-up with her partner and the death of a friend, she started up her van and drove to Cornwall, a place she’d loved as a child. “I knew I was having some kind of breakdown. So I packed my rucksack and went for a long walk.” Charlotte ended up walking the South West Coast Path, then settled in Falmouth, living in her van by the sea.

Inside Charlotte's cosy campervanInside Charlotte's cosy campervan (Image: Charlotte Bradman)

“There’s a big van life culture in Cornwall,” she says. “A lot of people can’t get on the property ladder because of all the multiple home-owners buying up properties for holiday lets. Most employment is in hospitality and wages are low. So people seek other ways of living. Van-lifers contribute to the local economy; they work in cafes, restaurants and hotels - you don’t get rich landlords changing sheets in hotel rooms, cleaning holiday lets or selling pasties. But there’s a lot of negativity and the local council introduced no overnight parking for vans.”

Parking restrictions, says Charlotte, exacerbate the situation and displace the van community: “Instead, councils need to accept this growing community as a legitimate way of living and look at more constructive ways to support them and encourage engagement with local communities. I wrote an open letter to a local paper about this and it got a really positive response. It led to me being contacted by literary agents.”

Charlotte’s book is laced with humour, which got her through adversity, but in writing it she had to re-visit some dark places. “I’d never really addressed my past. I was aware that I could be triggered,” she says. “I was focussed while writing the book but once I’d finished I fell to pieces. I had trauma counselling with a brilliant Bradford charity, Survive and Thrive. I hope that by sharing my story I can show that trauma and difficulty in life can be a force for positive change.”

Charlotte enjoys the view from her vanCharlotte enjoys the view from her van (Image: Charlotte Bradman)

Now back in Keighley, Charlotte plans to bring her campervan to the Literature Festival. “It will be in Centenary Square, covered in fairy lights,” she smiles. “I’ll invite people in so to see how I live, comfortably, and what little space we need. I want to inspire people to see what really matters. Working a 50-plus hour week so you can buy more and more stuff isn’t good for anyone. I saw that growing up. You’re not a better person just because you have a Prada handbag.

'Own the moment, not the things' is Charlotte's mantra 'Own the moment, not the things' is Charlotte's mantra (Image: Charlotte Bradman)

"Living closer to nature, I’ve realised I don’t need much. I live on a campsite and when I open my door in the morning I see wild deer. You can’t buy that.”

Charlotte has discovered the health benefits of open water swimming Charlotte has discovered the health benefits of open water swimming (Image: Charlotte Bradman)

Since living in her van, Charlotte has become a keen open water swimmer and rambler. She swims regularly in the Dales and is planning a trip to Scotland. “I have a part-time job and not many outgoings; I put more time into relationships and my mental health,” she says. “When I had a mortgage I was stressed all the time.

Feeding wild deer at the campsite Feeding wild deer at the campsite (Image: Charlotte Bradman)

"I hope my book shows that you’re not a failure if you can’t afford a mortgage, a fancy car or the right clothes. There are other ways to live. ‘Own the moment, not the things’ is my mantra.”

* The Happy Nomad is published by Yellow Kite (Hodder and Stoughton). Charlotte Bradman will be at Bradford Literature Festival hub in City Park on Monday, July 1, 7pm. Visit bradfordlitfest.co.uk.

She will also be at Wave of Nostalgia in Haworth on Saturday, June 15 at 2pm.