Julie Houston shares the inspiration and research behind her new novel, A Village Affair.
A Village Affair is my fifth novel and, like the previous four – as well as Coming Home to Holly Close Farm to be published by Aria in February 2019 – all the action is centred around the Yorkshire village of Westenbury in the mythical town of Midhope. All the novels can be read totally as stand-alone, but there are a few characters, namely Harriet, Grace and – the rather glorious – David Henderson who always seem to manage to grab themselves a piece of the action, however brief, in all the books.
As writers, we’re always advised to write about what we know and A Village Affair began its life under the guise of ‘Not in My backyard’ influenced, very much, by a real-life fight in my village where acres of fields and greenbelt land were in danger of having hundreds, if not thousands, of houses built upon them.
As the main focus of the plot moved and centred upon the village school, the novel took on the handle “Little Acorns” and many of the school incidents are based on real happenings in the primary schools I have taught in over the years. When Aria suggested the final title A Village Affair, I welcomed it with some delight, if not relief, completely encompassing as it does the story of Cassie in her role as reluctant new headteacher, her involvement with the fight for ‘Norman’s Meadow’ and her falling in love with a new man after her husband runs off with her best friend.
Our profession means we are constantly storing up little stories and anecdotes to be brought out and used when their time comes. Fifteen years or so ago a house, along with its most amazing Japanese garden, came up for sale in my village. I went to look around it but, before my husband could accompany me for a second viewing, I was told it had been sold. Frustrated that we’d not been given the opportunity to put in a bid, I was gleefully told by a friend that many years previously she and a boyfriend had snuck into that amazing garden and had an illicit picnic there. I was then informed who the new owner of the house was: an extremely successful novelist with a string of quite superb books to her name. If she is ever to read A Village Affair, I wonder will she recognise the Japanese garden that Cassie’s mother, Paula, takes her boyfriend to for an illicit picnic on a heady evening in that legendary hot summer of 1976?!
From a famous novelist’s back garden, to a village school, to a fight for Norman’s Meadow, Cassie finds herself getting away from it all in Mexico and, here again, I’m guilty of drawing upon my own experience. When my husband and kids were planning yet more ski and scuba diving trips from which – as I loathe snow, don’t like water anywhere above my neck and am a physical coward – I’m always excluded, I decided I was off to Mexico. By yourself? Doesn’t your husband mind? Will you go out to dinner by yourself? Won’t you be frightened on your own? I confidently answered: Yes; No, not at all; Yes, with my trusty Kindle; and I’d be far more frightened hurtling down a black run or eyeballing a Great White, to the above questions regularly thrown at me when I say I’m off tout seul.
I’ve now done Mexico two Februarys on the trot and the idea for Cassie’s little trip there was conceived as I lay on the most glorious beach on the Riviera Maya located on the Caribbean coastline in the eastern bit of the Yucatan Peninsula. Unlike Cassie, I didn’t end up meeting the man of my dreams there (he was already hurtling down some ridiculously off-piste mountain in France at the time) and I didn’t embarrass myself singing Karaoke as Cassie – in a rather drunkenly impulsive move – does, but I have to confess the idea for the Karaoke story came from being persuaded by my teenaged daughter and her mate to do a Dolly Parton in a bar in Marbella. I actually thought I wasn’t a bad singer; watching the girls’ recording of me going for it brought home to me the real truth!
So that’s A Village Affair: an everyday tale of country folk, but with bit of a twist at the end, and an acknowledgement that fact can sometimes be as interesting as the fiction that is created from it.
Cassie Beresford has recently landed her dream job as deputy head teacher at her local, idyllic village primary school, Little Acorns. So, the last thing she needs is her husband of twenty years being ‘outed’ at a village charity auction – he has been having an affair with one of her closest friends.
As if it weren’t enough to cope with, Cassie suddenly finds herself catapulted into the head teacher position, and at the front of a fight to ward off developers determined to concrete over the beautiful landscape.
But through it all, the irresistible joy of her pupils, the reality of keeping her teenage children on the straight and narrow, her irrepressible family and friends, and the possibility of new love, mean what could have been the worst year ever, actually might be the best yet…
Julie Houston is the author of The One Saving Grace, Goodness, Grace and Me and Looking for Lucy, a Kindle top 100 general bestseller and a Kindle No.1 bestseller. She is married, with two teenage children and a cockerpoo and, like her heroine, lives in a West Yorkshire village. She is also a teacher and a magistrate.