Cassie Beresford has recently landed her dream job as deputy headteacher 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…
I’ve spent a good part of the last hour searching through albums for this particular photo. What is perhaps strange is that, as a prolific reader and writer myself, this is the only photograph I have of my offspring reading. And this is the reason: now twenty-four and twenty-one, my children have never, as far as I know, read a book in its entirety in their whole life. Which brings me to the conclusion that one is either born with – or without – the reading gene.
I think it’s fair to say my makeup is almost entirely made up of the reading gene. While my parents were both readers, I don’t actually ever remember them reading to me but, by the time I was four, I was more than happy to read to myself, head stuck in a book and totally engrossed. I can still see the black and white front covers of the reading books at infant school and the utter joy of immersing myself in a world of Rumpelstiltskin and Rapunzel.
Comics played a big part in my life and the excitement of waiting for my first copy of Bimbo, aged five was almost palpable.
I’m not making this up – by the age of five I had a subscription to Bimbo! I’m also not making up that I have every copy of Bunty ever read, up in my loft. Every time I’ve moved house, Bunty and Petticoat and Romeo have come with me, despite my husband’s protestations that one night we’ll drown in a sea of girly stories when the ceiling caves in on top of us. I had a tendency towards bronchitis as a child and craved comics to read when I was ill in bed. What I really wanted was a box of comics that I didn’t have to wait until the following week to know what the Four Marys – Mary Cotter, Mary Field, Mary Radleigh and Mary Simpson (I promise you, those names have just rolled out without any Googling) – were up to. Thus, the thinking behind this hoarding was that if ever I had a daughter – with or without bronchitis – she would be delighted when I presented her with my cache of comics.
Wrong. She showed no interest whatsoever.
I empathise totally with children I teach who are totally swept away into a different world through their reading book and have to be brought back, almost blinking against reality, because it’s now Maths or Science and we have to ‘get on.’ They have the reading gene and almost definitely will remain readers throughout their life. They will get a thrill as they go into bookshops and come to recognise and love the smell of the library. They will hover around friends’ bookshelves and stroke new editions that have never been read. They will be found behind the sofa at parties – as I still am – excited by the find of an unknown title by a favourite author.
I read to my children when they were still bumps, lovingly stroking my abdomen as I read my favourite childhood books to them in the womb. They were going to love reading like I did, be readers before they went to school. Well, yes, they could both mechanically read at the age of four and adored being read to, but neither had any inclination to pick up a book and immerse themselves in it. The rugby, hockey, skiing, deep-sea diving and watching TV gene firmly entrenched in my husband’s gene pool trounced any reading gene of mine.
Both my offspring were bright children who did well at school and are now intelligent young adults with excellent degrees from a top university, and yet will cheerfully admit to never having read a book in its entirety. For them, reading is a necessary evil to be got through in order to filter required information before leaping down slippery slopes, scuba-diving or pre-lashing (drinking copious amounts for the uninitiated) and socialising, and certainly not the wonderful pleasure that it affords me.
There may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon. My daughter asked to read one of my books while we were away in the summer.
‘Gosh, Mum, I can’t stop reading this. It’s good isn’t it…?’
A lovely mix of humour and romance set in a vibrant English village.
Cassie’s world crumbles when she finds out her husband and best friend are having an affair, starting a new job as a Deputy Headteacher seems impossible, how will she survive the gossip. Cassie’s life takes on the appearance of a roller coaster, but she discovers she likes who she has become.
The plot is pacy and full of twists and the characters bring the setting to life, and you feel part of the community. Cassie is a great character, easy to empathise, and the story has so many laugh-out-loud moments that it’s guaranteed to brighten up a dull day.
The romance is gentle and unexpected and the not without its challenges but the ending is worth the angst and makes you want more of Westenbury and its inhabitants.
I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
‘She’s Right Off My Christmas Card List…
At 1 a.m. on the Monday morning – the morning when I was apparently supposed to breeze into Little Acorns and take over at the helm, steering both staff and pupils in the direction demanded by the local authority, the governors and, more pertinently, bloody Ofsted, my husband slunk back home. I say ‘slunk’ but to be honest I didn’t have a clue as to the speed or mode of his arrival, being dead to the world as a result of a couple of Fiona’s little helpers.
Totally shattered from lack of sleep and the shock, as well as the bombshell of my sudden promotion, I was in a pretty catatonic state by the time Fiona and Clare left, late in the afternoon, to sort out their weeks ahead.
Clare, who was in the process of expanding her rather successful stag do business, Last Stagger, to incorporate hen dos, had been given a lift by Fiona to get her own car and laptop and, on her return, set herself up at my breakfast bar dealing with emails and the many enquiries for new business. Fiona, who believed any problem could be solved through food, and lots of it, found my pinny, ingredients in the fridge and freezer and set to rustling up a meal in order to have some semblance of normality for the kids. At least when Freya and Tom finally got around to realising this particular Sunday was shaping up to be rather different from the usual Sunday in the Beresford household, I had the excuse of being in shock and terror at suddenly finding myself headteacher instead of deputy. Having said that, while there might be a shepherd’s pie in the oven, I still didn’t know how I was going to explain Mark’s absence.
Before Fiona left to feed her own brood, she’d nipped down to Sainsbury’s, returning with an enormous chocolate cake, concealer and a pack of Nytol.
‘The cake’s for pud to stop your two talking,’ she announced drily. ‘If their mouths are full, they can’t be asking too many questions. You’ll need the concealer to cover up those red eyes in the morning and the Nytol…’
‘I’m not taking sleeping tablets,’ I protested. ‘I don’t believe in them…’
‘They’re just antihistamine,’ Fiona said calmly. ‘Far better that you actually get some sleep to face tomorrow than have another night like last night. You probably won’t need them, you’ll be so exhausted. I usually drop a couple when Matthew is snoring horrendously and doesn’t respond to my clapping.’
‘Clapping?’ Clare looked up from her laptop, bemused. ‘You applaud him for bloody snoring. God, I’d be kicking him, not encouraging him. Clapping?’
Fiona laughed. ‘Honestly, it works. Try it next time one of your men happens to be a snorer. You just gently clap two or three times and they turn over and sleep without another sound. It doesn’t always work.’ Fiona started giggling. ‘The other night I was so fed up with him I clapped really angrily – staccato – in his left ear, and he shot out of bed shouting, “What is it, what is it, wassamatter…?” fell over his bloody great size-fifteen boots – that I’m always telling him to shift from the bedroom – and landed in a naked heap on the carpet.’ Fiona carried on chortling. ‘Great entertainment,’ she added.
‘I think you need to get out more,’ Clare said. ‘Why don’t you go into the spare room when the snorer from hell kicks off?’
‘Haven’t got one any more. Now that the girls are horrible adolescents and can’t stand sharing a bedroom – or each other, come to that – Bea has purloined the spare room for herself. Moved all her stuff in there a couple of months ago and refuses to move.’
‘I’d smack her bottom,’ Clare said.
‘Not when she’s almost six foot and her hockey stick’s a constant accessory, you wouldn’t,’ Fiona said mildly. ‘Anyway, enough of my lot. How are you feeling now, Cassie?’
‘Like I’m in a dream,’ I shrugged. ‘Totally not with it. Even if Mark hadn’t done what he’d done, if he was here now with me instead of you two, I’d still be in a state about tomorrow.’
‘But why?’ Clare looked up again. ‘I thought you wanted to be in charge?’
I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself as terrifying thoughts of the next day replaced incredulous thoughts of Mark’s recalcitrant behaviour. ‘I know you two – particularly you, Clare, not having any kids in the system – don’t know much about what’s going on in education at the moment, but being a deputy head in a primary school is totally different from being the head. I have a class of my own to teach, albeit on a slightly, and I emphasise the word slightly, reduced timetable. I’m given two afternoons off to perform my deputy’s role.’
‘Sounds much better now then,’ Clare said, draining her cup of coffee. ‘As head, you won’t have a class to teach and you can shut yourself away in your office and swivel round on your chair, pressing those red and green lights that say, “Come In” or “Bugger Off”.’
I actually laughed at that. ‘You don’t know the half. I’m still going to have to deal with my new class tomorrow; someone will have to teach them and I can’t see David Henderson having sorted out any supply.’
‘David Henderson.’ Fiona whistled. ‘I’m still amazed that the man they call “the Richard Branson of the North” is actually your Chair of Governors. What’s he like? Rather attractive, isn’t he?’
‘Rather?’ Clare snorted. ‘Very, you mean. He’s gorgeous…’
‘With a very attractive wife,’ I smiled.
‘Since when’s that stopped Clare?’ Fiona sniffed, giving me an anxious look. ‘Look, Cassie, you can’t do everything. You can’t be expected to teach a class of thirty ten-year-olds and be deputy head and now head as well. What did David Henderson say? What’s likely to happen?’
‘Well, in cases like this, where the head is suddenly no more if the deputy has been in situ for years then they will be acting head and another member of staff will be acting deputy until the post of head is advertised and filled. In my case, where I’m brand new, a new acting head is usually brought in from the authority. You know, someone who’s been a deputy for years in their own school and is actively looking for a headship. They’ll ship them in to take over temporarily.’
Clare looked disappointed. ‘Oh, so you’re not going to be head after all? Well, that’s all your problems halved in one fell swoop. You just need to sort Mark out and you’ll be back to square one, job done.’
‘Clare!’ Fiona frowned as she saw my face. ‘I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that. You get back to sorting your rampant stags and don’t be so damned flippant.’
I smiled at Fiona but realised my stomach was churning and I wanted to throw up. ‘I’m sure they will bring someone in to take over as head but, according to David Henderson, it won’t be tomorrow. He said he’d be on hand in the morning to help me. Shit,’ I said, suddenly realising. ‘I’m going to have to do a new-term, new-year, new-beginning assembly and I’ll have to explain to the children that Mrs Theobold is dead. Or do I say she’s with Jesus? No, I can’t; what about the Muslim children? OK, Mrs Theobold is with Jesus or Mohammed – take your pick, kids.’
‘Calm down,’ Clare said as she realised panic was mounting in every fibre of my being once more. ‘Sit yourself down, pen and paper in front of you, and we’ll help you compose your very first assembly as head. How hard can it be?’’
Julie Houston is the author of The One Saving Grace, Goodness, Grace and Me and Looking for Lucy, a Kindle bestseller top100 general, and a Kindle bestseller Number1. She is married, with the two teenage children and a mad cockerpoo and, like her heroine, lives in a West Yorkshire village. She is also a teacher and a magistrate.