Catherine Jones shares an extract from her latest novel, The Bells of Little Woodford.

Across town, at the comprehensive school, Megan pushed back her mass of jet black locks to peer at her class tutor with her smouldering eyes and answer to her name.

‘Megan Millar?’

‘Present, Mrs Blake.’

Megan, who reminded everyone of her parent’s generation of a young Sophia Loren and her own of Kim Kardashian, was about as different from her stepmother as it was possible to get. Bex was blonde, blue-eyed and curvy while her daughter was sultry and leggy. And it had been her stunning looks which had made her integration in the local comp difficult the previous term as she’d aroused the jealousy of Lily, the class beauty who was also the class bully.

But after a particularly ugly incident Lily had been removed from the school, the equilibrium of the class had been re-established and Megan had made new friends – foremost amongst these being Sophie, who was as much an English rose as Megan was exotic, and who now sat next to Megan.
It wasn’t just good looks that the two girls had in common – they’d both had to cope with more than a fair share of personal tragedy; Megan had lost her father, killed in a ghastly traffic accident, while Sophie’s mother had been struck down by multiple sclerosis and was confined to a wheelchair. They shared a sisterhood of adversity.

Mrs Blake handed out the new timetables. Same old, same old, thought Megan as she scanned the subjects. But, yuck, double science last thing on a Friday. Was the school having a laugh? From the look on the faces of the girls sitting near to her, her opinion was pretty much universal. At the front of the room their class tutor droned on about other admin arrangements, including dates for their year group assemblies and the parent’s evening.

‘Of course, emails will be sent to your parents to remind them…’

Megan leaned across to Sophie and pointed out the scheduled science lesson. ‘That’s well rotten on a Friday,’ she whispered.

‘Do you want to share your conversation with the class?’ said their tutor, from her desk.

‘Er… no.’ Megan felt her face flare. Bloody Mrs Blake, she thought. She’d been horrified to discover that this school’s policy was for the class tutor to remain with the same group of children from Years Seven to Eleven; better pastoral care, apparently. This was fine if your class tutor didn’t hate you which, Megan reckoned, Mrs Blake did.

‘Then shall we get on?’

Megan nodded.

‘So…’ And Mrs Blake read from her list of admin points and the teenagers in front of her fidgeted. Ashley Pullen, the first friend that Megan had made at her new school, sent her a sympathetic look.

The bell went and finally they were released.

‘That was a bit harsh of Mrs Blake,’ said Ashley, catching up with Megan as she left the classroom.

‘She’s never liked me,’ said Megan.

‘True. She always thought the sun shone out of Lily’s arse.’

‘Yeah,’ said Megan gloomily. ‘She probably blames me for allowing myself to get bullied by Lily.’

‘Well, she’s at St Anselm’s now.’

‘Lucky St Anselm’s. Lily’s poison.’

Megan peeled off to walk to the next class with a group of boys. ‘See you after school?’ said Ashley over his shoulder. ‘Meet you at the gates?’

‘Cool,’ said Megan. She stared after him. He was still, she reckoned, the hottest boy in the school; those grey eyes, those dirty blond curls and those eyelashes! But while they were friends he’d never shown an interest in being more than that. She sighed.

The town of Little Woodford seems peaceful and picture-postcard beautiful, with its marketplace, ancient church and immaculate allotments. But behind the tranquil facade, troubles are brewing.

Olivia Lewthwaite, former town councillor, pillar of the WI and all-round busybody, has been forced by her husband’s gambling debts to sell their house – her pride and joy. She hates the new estate they’ve moved to and knows she needs to humble herself to apply for a job.

To make matters worse, a thoroughly disagreeable woman has bought Olivia’s beloved Grange and sets about objecting to everything she can, from the ringing of the church bells, to the market stall selling organic local meat. It isn’t long before the town is in turmoil.

Catherine Jones lives in Thame, where she is an independent Councillor. She is the author of eighteen novels, including the Soldiers’ Wives series, which she wrote under the pseudonym Fiona Field.

Twitter: @lacekate

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