Today I’m delighted to feature fellow Yorkshire lass Julie Houston. Julie writes romantic comedies which are also set in Yorkshire. A Village Affair has sold over 140 000 copies in eBook and paperback. Her eighth romantic comedy A Village Vacancy was published this month (October). Her ninth (at the moment titled Frankie Piccione) will be out next year.
Apart from some time in New Zealand, Julie has lived all her life in West Yorkshire. She has been a primary teacher for many years, but now just teaches when the phone rings from her old school to do a day’s supply. She has been a magistrate for the last twenty years.
She is married to a man who was born in East Africa, brought up in the Bahamas and somehow ended up living with Julie in Yorkshire. She has two children in their early twenties, both now working in London.
Julie is represented by Anne Williams at KHLA and published by Head of Zeus/Aria.
Over to Julie,
Which 5 pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
I’m so pleased to have the opportunity to answer this question – I’m a huge devotee of Desert Island Discs – but actually choosing the five that might portray the soundtrack of my life lived so far was really not easy. I don’t think my husband and I have “our song” and we married with just a handful of guests in the register office with no huge reception afterwards so I can’t offer “the first dance” track as one of them. But here goes:
In the Mood – Glenn Miller. This really belongs to my dad’s life soundtrack, but is the one that will always remind me of him. Just out of his teens, he was one of the many to take part in the D-Day landings. He hated the idea of any kind of warfare, and totally argued against any conflict, but nevertheless the years he spent during WW2 were where he made life-long friends, loved the concerts and dances he went to and adored Glenn Miller, but particularly this track which he would often play as I was growing up. When he died a couple of years ago, my sister and I decided to send him on his way to this track, much to the consternation of some of the mourners who looked aghast as the first fabulous notes belted out across the crematorium. He would have enjoyed the moment.
Baker Street – Garry Rafferty. Being both in London and in love.
The Whole of the Moon – The Waterboys. Played constantly through my MP3 player while I was picking mangoes on a Kibbutz in Israel.
Jesus Christ Super Star – Lloyd Webber Probably the best production I’ve ever taken part in and a major influence on my decision to write SING ME A SECRET.
Kygo – Firestone This has to be my all-time favourite piece of music. Take a look on YouTube at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert 2015 and you might understand why. To me it embodies all that is good about music and life. Imagine my delight when, on holiday in Ibiza a couple of summers ago with my kids, (then twenty-one and twenty-four) I was told Kygo was DJing down in one of the clubs. The kids refused to let me go with them. I’ve told them, when I die, I want to come out to Kygo’s “Firestone” being played at my funeral, to which my ever-loving swiftly pointed out he’d heard of people going in, but certainly never once coming out.
What 5 things (apart from family and friends) you’d find it hard to live without.
I guess the obvious answer here is The Internet. I spend a huge amount of time on my computer as well as wasting a hell of a lot of my time procrastinating on eBay, Ancestry, Rightmove (admiring other people’s houses) as well as Twitter and Facebook.
My running shoes. I got into running when I lived and taught in New Zealand as a young teacher over thirty years ago. It soon became apparent – flat sharing with a runner – that it was a case of joining in with all the joggers monopolising every road and pavement in Auckland and so I became one myself. I try to go out most days and, even though I’m having problems with my knees since running too much in Lockdown, I can’t bear the thought of hanging up my trainers.
My passport. I look forward to my annual trip to Turkey to stay with a gang of girls in a friend’s villa in Kalkan. My sister and I relived our youth interrailing a couple of years ago and I’m not averse to going off by myself. Once my husband and kids start planning their snow skiing and diving weeks, I’ll be off to Mexico for a sunshine and reading week (taking Covid into consideration, of course.)
Moisturiser – I couldn’t be without my tub of soft white Nivea. My face actually cries out for a twice-daily plastering.
My kitchen – Give me a Sunday lunch for twenty or a dinner party for twelve to cook for and I’m happy. It’s the one thing that doesn’t faze me (make me ski down a mountain or attempt driving in a strange city – any city really – and I’m terrified) and I love the planning, the preparation and cooking for friends. I’ve been the proud owner of a Thermomix for the last few years and it’s constantly on the go. So wonderful to go into the field behind the house for blackberries, throw them into the Thermomix with sugar and lemon juice, press a button and twenty minutes later out comes jam.
Can you offer 5 pieces of advice you’d give to your younger self?
Don’t waste time and energy worrying about things that may never happen. The amount of time I’ve spent doing just that (and unfortunately still do) is totally ridiculous.
Do go after every opportunity that might arise. I wish I’d been so much braver when I was younger.
Don’t get involved with damaged/commitment-phobe men thinking you can change them. You can’t.
Life happens for a reason. Not getting that job, a bad relationship, not getting that particular publishing deal means they weren’t right for you at that time. The real thing will come along when you – and it – are ready for it!
Don’t sunbathe your face – it causes wrinkles.
Tell us 5 things that most people don’t know about you
I’m a physical coward: I won’t go skiing or diving or on fairground rides with my family. I was taken on a skid pan last year and ended up taking my hands off the wheel and grabbing the instructor. I won’t cross a field of cows or horses (sheep are just about my limit but, even then, I keep my distance.) and I reckon I need taking in hand because I’m becoming more afraid of things that can hurt me as I get older…
I get terribly travel sick. As a child, sat in the back of my dad’s car with my sister, the pair of us couldn’t travel from Huddersfield to Barnsley (where my aunt lived) without my mum having to crush a Marzine (if you’ve ever had one you’ll know how disgusting they are) into lemonade or jam prior to us setting off. Sand dunes in a Land rover in Dubai – a disaster. Fairgrounds – forget it. A boat in Turkey had to head back to port after I was mortifyingly sick after half an hour at sea (the influence for Cassandra’s sea sickness episode in A Village Affair.)
I’ve gone through the distress of five miscarriages. I only report this to say never give up: I eventually gave birth to two whopping nine pounders.
My children’s Great Grandfather fifteen times back was the Duke of Milan (this is his statue in Sforza Castle Museum in Milan) and they have Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft in their family tree. My own great grandfather was from Naples and it’s my own Italian family background that has had me just finish my ninth book (my agent has sent it off to my editor just this morning) all about Frankie Piccione and her Sicilian family.
I’m a qualified manicurist and pedicurist. When my kids were tiny, I wanted to do something totally different so enrolled in a year’s course one evening a week. I thought it would show me how to put on my nail varnish properly without smudging. The next thing I knew I was in a white coat and white shoes learning about fire extinguishers, and the physiology of the arm and hands as well as taking exams. I still can’t put on nail varnish properly.
Tell us 5 things you’d like to do or achieve.
I want to turn my hand to script writing. There’s an MA in script writing I’ve got my eye on at Manchester Met.
I’d like to persuade either Kay Mellor or Sally Wainwright (I might as well aim high and the latter’s dad was one of my college lecturers!!) to take on either A Village Affair, Sing Me A Secret or my new book out in October – A Village Vacancy – for TV. Well, I can always dream…
One of these days I’m going to take the train from Wakefield to Kings Cross, then the Eurostar to Belgium. From there it’s the train up to Moscow and then the Siberian railway down to China. A friend of mine did it with his son. I don’t mind doing it by myself. (Strange that that wouldn’t faze me and yet I daren’t cross a field full of cows.)
Get properly involved this Christmas with the newish charity in my town that helps youngsters leaving care to have a proper Christmas lunch.
Crack the Times Crossword. I’m getting there but it’s taking me all day.
Many thanks for sharing today Julie. I have to say thank you for including Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty, he’s one of my favourites and I played his albums to death! I’m a moisturiser fiend too, should you ever run out (unlikely) I’ve always got a pot, or 3 to spare! Great advice to your younger self, I’m definitely an advocate of taking your opportunities when they arise – even if it does sometimes mean taking a leap of faith. As another Ancestry addict I wish I could find an exciting, famous ancestor – I’m still digging but I’m not holding out any hopes! Hope you get to take that MA – maybe you won’t need Kay or Sally to get you on TV. Good luck with your other aims too.
A Village Vacancy
As the Yorkshire village of Westenbury mourns the loss of one of their own, the women can’t help but contemplate who will fill the vacancy in one handsome widower’s life…
Grace Stevens has decided it’s time to move on without her husband. He’s off gallivanting around Devon in search of a new life, and good riddance. It’s time to go back to teaching, so Grace returns to Little Acorns and takes on an unruly class of pre-teens.
As she deals with disasters in – and out of – the classroom including an accidental dalliance with her most troublesome pupil’s dad, helping track down a drug ring and keeping up with her closest girlfriends, Grace begins to wonder more and more about the sparkle in David’s eyes and the sparking chemistry between them.
Could Grace be the one to fill this village vacancy?
Sing Me a Secret
The four Sutherland sisters have all had very different paths in life, but one secret and a slighty tense production of Jesus Christ Superstar are about to bring them all back together again…
When the news that pop-superstar Lexia Sutherland is returning to Westenbury, not everyone is thrilled by the news – including Lexia. There are too many memories she doesn’t need to face – or need re-surfacing.
Meanwhile, Juno Sutherland just wants a little peace and quiet. As the local village doctor, she’s got her priorities in order; kids, job, husband, tenacious pony, a role in the village musical… So when the sexy new locum turns up – and steals her office – the last thing she needed was to be hit with rising temperatures and an over-active imagination.
Will these sisters be able to uncover the past, deal with the future and put on the performance of a lifetime?
Coming Home to Hollyclose Farm
Charlie Maddison loves being an architect in London, but when she finds out her boyfriend, Dominic, is actually married, she runs back to the beautiful countryside of Westenbury and her parents. Charlie’s sister Daisy, a landscape gardener, is also back home in desperate need of company and some fun.
Their great-grandmother, Madge – now in her early nineties – reveals she has a house, Holly Close Farm, mysteriously abandoned over sixty years ago, and persuades the girls to project manage its renovation.
As work gets underway, the sisters start uncovering their family’s history, and the dark secrets that are hidden at the Farm. A heart-breaking tale of wartime romance, jealousy and betrayal slowly emerges, but with a moral at its end: true love can withstand any obstacle, and, before long, Charlie dares to believe in love again too…
A Village Affair
Cassie Beresford has recently landed her dream job as deputy head 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 that weren’t enough to cope with, Cassie suddenly finds herself catapulted into the head teacher position, and at the forefront 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…
Looking for Lucy
Clementine needs to find Lucy before it’s all too late. She also knows bringing up a child on your own down on Emerald Street where the street walkers ply their trade isn’t easy, even when your daughter’s as adorable as four-year-old Allegra.
When Peter Broadbent, wealthy, kind and possessed of the most beautiful house Clementine has ever seen, proposes, she knows it seems almost too good to be true.
Will this be the happy-ever-after Clementine deserves, or will her dreams come crumbling down around her?
The One Saving Grace
Harriet Westmoreland did not expect to go into labour in the Harvey Nichol’s men’s underwear department!
Nor did she expect that at exactly the moment she does she would set eyes on Alex Hamilton, and mark the start of a year of madness… For her, her family and, at times, it seems most of the West Yorkshire village of Midhope.
Giving birth only two months after Harriet, her lifelong best friend Grace has her own craziness to contend with. As both women hurtle down unexpected and very different paths, they flounder in a maelstrom of passion and confusion, perilously clinging on as the chain of events threatens not only their comfortable, ordinary lives but also their very existence…
Goodness Grace and Me
When Harriet’s husband quits his job she doesn’t think life could get any worse… until an old enemy reappears!
Harriet’s old nemesis, Amanda, is back. And she’s here to stay. As the wife of her husband’s boss, Amanda will be accompanying Nick on his business trips. And Harriet can’t help but think, how will Nick not succumb to her ruthless charms once he’s in glamorous Milan?
Knowing Nick is at risk of being seduced is bad enough, but when Harriet’s best friend Grace falls madly in love with Sebastian, Amanda’s much younger son, it can only mean trouble ahead.
Determined to fight for her man, Harriet’s seduction techniques go into overdrive. Unfortunately she is hampered in her attempts by two bolshy teenagers, an increasingly eccentric mother and a job teaching cantankerous children.
Can Harriet save her marriage, as well as her friendship with Grace? And what will happen if Nick’s new venture fails, especially now that the one thing Harriet has not even considered in all this mess appears to be staring her right in the face…?
An Off-Piste Christmas – Novella
Prepare to spend Christmas in the Italian alps…
The last thing Harriet Westmoreland wants is Christmas away from home, particularly when skiing, snow, heights and freezing her backside off are on the menu. While her own family, together with her best friend Grace’s, are soon whizzing down ridiculously scary mountains in the fashionable Italian resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo, Harriet is stuck in the remedial class on the nursery slopes unable, it seems, to remain vertical.
Tired of trying to stay upright in the dunces’ class, Harriet decides to overcome her fear of heights and take her bruised body off to explore the refugios in the magnificent Dolomites above Cortina. And maybe catch a glance of George Clooney, rumoured to be in town…
But what happens next triggers a totally unexpected avalanche of events which proves that, for friends Harriet and Grace and all their families, Christmas really is a time for little miracles…