Our Series of the Month is Julie Houston's set of novels based in the fictional West Yorkshire village of Westenbury.
The books that feature Westenbury don't have to be read in any particular order, so take a look at all of the books in the series and dive into the one that appeals to you the most. As there are twelve books already available, there's more than a Summer's worth of heart-warming and witty reading to indulge in. That being said, if you're drawn to the story of the Quinn sisters, we recommend you read The Village Vicar and The Girls of Heatherly Hall before A Wedding at Heatherly Hall which is released on the 1st February 2024, as they form part of the 'Village Vicar' trilogy.
The trilogy is based around three devoted sisters...part of one complicated family. When Rosa Quinn left her childhood home in Westenbury, she never expected to return over a decade later as the village vicar. But after a health scare and catching her boyfriend cheating, Rosa jumps at the chance to start over and live closer to her triplet sisters Eva and Hannah.
The Girls of Heatherly Hall, released in July 2023 revisits the Quinn sisters as they find themselves unlikely owners of a vast manor house overlooking their home village. The story is described by our Editorial Expert Maureen Stapleton as "a lovely escape to Yorkshire".
The final book in this trilogy is A Wedding at Heatherly Hall and it's going to be a busy spring in Westenbury. The sisters are determined to maintain the picturesque Heatherly Hall which leads to romantic entanglements, A-list weddings and a treasure hunt for missing diamonds.
Julie Houston lives in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire where her novels are set, and her only claims to fame are that she teaches part-time at ‘Bridget Jones’ author Helen Fielding’s old junior school and her neighbour is ‘Chocolat’ author, Joanne Harris.
After University, where she studied Education and English Literature, she taught for many years as a junior school teacher. As a newly qualified teacher, broke and paying off her first mortgage, she would spend every long summer holiday working on different Kibbutzim in Israel. After teaching for a few years she decided to go to New Zealand to work and taught in Auckland for a year before coming back to this country. She now teaches just two days a week, and still loves the buzz of teaching junior-aged children. She has been a magistrate for the past nineteen years, and, when not distracted by Ebay, Twitter and Ancestry, spends much of her time writing. Julie is married, has a twenty-four-year-old son and twenty-one-year-old daughter and a ridiculous Cockerpoo called Lincoln. She runs and swims because she’s been told it’s good for her, but would really prefer a glass of wine, a sun lounger and a jolly good book - preferably with Matthew McConaughey in attendance.
We were thrilled to have the opportunity to ask Julie about this lovely collection of books before the release of The Girls of Heatherly Hall as well as find out a little bit more about her writing process and future events planned in Westenbury. So without further delay...
For those who haven't visited Westenbury before, can you give a brief introduction to the series?
I began featuring a village called Westenbury in West Yorkshire in my first book, Goodness, Grace and Me, introducing friends Harriet and Grace and their families. I’m still there, thirteen books on, having amassed a whole load of new and different characters in the process. A Village Affair (the 7th most downloaded book of 2020) centred on the village school - Little Acorns - while The Village Vicar brought in triplets Eva, Hannah and Rosa. Along the way, there have been very much stand-alone novels ie Looking For Lucy and A Village Secret but in all of them, there’s the village pub – The Jolly Sailor – the primary school and the church. While the village might initially appear sweet and cosy, the characters are very human with their fair share of human vices as well as virtues!
We love the premise of The Girls of Heatherly Hall, how did you come up with it?
The Quinn triplets, Eva, Hannah and Rosa seemed to come up with it themselves!! Once I’d written The Village Vicar with the story of the girls’ conception up at Heatherly Hall, it just seemed natural to carry on and place them back there as adults. I feel, now that I’ve written three books about the hall, I could carry on! I’d love to do WESTENBURY, a massive rock festival to rival Glastonbury and held in the grounds of the hall. There’s so much potential still – maybe a whole TV series along the lines of a modern-day Downton Abbey (or even Crossroads!!)
The novels set in Westenbury are books that, for the most part, can be read in any order, but The Girls of Heatherly Hall is the second book that follows the Quinn sisters. Did you always know you wanted them to have more than one appearance?
The Girls of Heatherly Hall is the second in the 'Village Vicar' series. When I started the Quinn Triplets’ story, it was never my intention that it would become a trilogy. A woman I know started talking about “the trips” and I thought she meant holidays. She actually was referring to the three baby triplet girls she brought home from the hospital when her sister was unable to care for them herself. It was this that sparked the idea of writing about triplets (don’t anyone ever tell you that you can’t get pregnant with triplets on a one-night stand!) and I loved writing about these sisters so much, the first book easily spawned another two. This second book is perhaps more Eva’s story, but tells how the girls adapt to running Heatherly Hall on the death of their natural father. While the girls are very loyal to each other, Eva and Hannah, particularly, do tend to have run ins with each other.
Will you be revisiting any of the other characters we've met so far?
This second book actually opens with Rosa, in her role as village vicar, marrying Grace to the man we all hoped she would eventually end up with. Daisy, the village vet, who we first meet in Holly Close Farm and then again in A Family Affair has her part to play when she hosts a dinner party at which Rosa and Hannah – the latter being rather worse for wear – are both present. Daisy has quite a large part in the third book of the trilogy – A Wedding At Heatherly Hall (published by Aria in January 2024.)
You're a Huddersfield-based author and we also have links to the Yorkshire town, so we have to ask, do you have a particular village in mind as you write about Westenbury?
So, I’ve lived in The Woodsome Valley, on the outskirts of Almondbury and Farnley Tyas for the past thirty years. Our village church is All Hallows (same as Rosa’s church) and the totally charming new vicar, most fortuitously, arrived as the new incumbent just as I was planning The Village Vicar. She allowed me to interview her to get the low down on all things vicarly when I was at the planning stage. Having said that, the more books I write about Westenbury, the bigger and more crowded it becomes and the more creative I have to be with regards its features and geographical aspects. I wouldn’t say my own village is Westenbury.
Do you have a favourite character from the series so far?
It’s so difficult to have a favourite character – a bit like asking which is your favourite child – impossible to answer. I suppose Harriet, who is a teacher like myself and narrates the Grace novels, is the character most like me. She was my favourite until I wrote A Family Affair when I wanted to investigate my own Italian heritage (my grandmother was born Madeleina Scaramuzza.) Francesca (Frankie) Piccione, my protagonist in this novel, is born in Westenbury but brought up with all the traditions of her Sicilian forefathers. She must be a favourite as I allowed her to end up with Daler Dosange who I based on the very gorgeous Dev Patel! Of the three Quinn triplets, it would be absolutely impossible to name a favourite, but Eva, being the bolshiest and bravest of the three, perhaps just has the upper hand, especially when I encourage her to fall in love with the charismatic Russian/Italian Andrea Zaitsev up in the Lake District, in this second book of the vicar trilogy.
Can you give us some insight into the process of how you write your books?
So, when a book is finished, I feel terribly sad at abandoning the characters I’ve created and learned to love (probably why I end up writing a series) and sit at my notebook and computer and have a bit of a panic and melt down as to what I’m going to write next. Luckily, this doesn’t last long as I generally have some idea stirring as to what I want to write about next. I will then fill my notebook with ideas, family trees, character descriptions and different timelines. I enjoy the research bit (I went a bit over the top with WW2 research when I was writing Holly Close Farm and had to be brought to heel by my agent, the lovely Anne Williams from KHLA) but then like to crack on straight on to the computer, aiming for 100,000 words in six to eight months.
If I’ve not been rung to go into my school to cover a lesson, or not in court (I sit as a magistrate) it will be a writing day. I’m a lark rather than an owl and a fairly early riser. I like to get admin over and done with, usually go over and edit what I’ve written the day before and then start the day’s writing aiming for 2000 words a day. When I’m heading for the finishing line, it usually ends up at 3000 words, but at the beginning can be as little as 1000. I’ll break for a run or a swim and then have a late breakfast (best meal of the day) and get several hours writing under my belt in the afternoon.
What is next for you in terms of writing? Have you planned where the series will be taking us next?
One idea that has been with me for a while is a story set in the flourishing 1960s textile industry here in the north, the consequent invitation to the Asian subcontinent to come to Yorkshire to work, and its subsequent demise with all that that encompasses – probably a dual timeline story. The 1960s with its music, fashion and social norms is just waiting to be written about. Apart from that, I’ll hear something, read something or someone will tell me something that totally sparks my interest and that will be it: the new characters will take me where they want to lead me!