In this blog post we sit down with Aria author Julie Houston to go behind the scenes on her last novel, The Village Vicar...
Usually, when I’ve finished writing a current work in progress, I find it hard to not only abandon the characters I’ve created, lived with and grown to love, but also to come up with an entirely different plot for the next book.
The germ of the idea for The Village Vicar was totally different: even before I’d finished writing A Village Secret, I knew exactly where I was going to be heading with this next one, and it was all because of a conversation with D, a vibrant bundle of four and a half feet of energy who is revered, seemingly by the whole of my village, because of her brilliant cleaning. (There’s a fabulous line in one of Jilly Cooper’s early novels which says people would sooner you go off with their husband than their cleaner!)
The idea for The Village Vicar came one morning when, chatting to D who comes every Wednesday for a couple of hours to help clean, she mentioned ‘The Trips.’ I assumed she meant holidays she had taken, and we chatted further. ‘The Trips’ were actually nothing to do with holidays, but new born triplet girls, now in their thirties, and who D had taken on from birth when her sister was unable to care for them. I was fascinated by this, and my story of the Quinn triplets – Rosa, Eva and Hannah - was born. In my story, it is the village vicar – the curmudgeonly Cecil Parkes’ - younger daughter Alice who finds herself pregnant with triplets after a one-night stand, and his elder daughter, Susan, who insists on adopting all three girls rather than their being split up and adopted in France as is Alice’s intention. I knew I wanted one of my triplets to become a vicar herself, and I felt it a good omen when I realised we had a brand-new vicar in office in my own village. Young, attractive, newly married and happy to talk to me about “vicaring,” I spent a fascinating Saturday afternoon chatting to the Rev Felicity (Flic) Cowling-Green who explained what is involved in the job, as well as the training a vicar needs to go through.
While I was at the editing stage of this book, I was in London for a few days and booked to see The World of Stonehenge exhibition at the British museum. One of the exhibits was labelled The Jet Set and, rather than an international social group of wealthy individuals who frequent fashionable resorts, the exhibit was a jewellery set crafted years ago from jet, taken directly from the cliffs of Whitby, in Yorkshire. I was so taken with this exhibit and its Yorkshire origins, I saw immediately the possible involvement of the Quinn triplets and knew I was going to have a follow up novel with a Jet Set at its heart. A follow up, then, if not an actual series, I thought at the time.
I must have been well over half way into writing this second novel – The Girls of Heatherly Hall – to be published by Head of Zeus/Aria and out in the world July 2023 - when I had to acknowledge, both to myself and my Editor, Rachel, that, as much as I wanted to write about The Jet Set, my triplets’ complicated personal lives – especially as I was concentrating, in this book, on the second triplet, Eva - kept getting in the way, and I was going to have to leave the mysterious jet set to a third book.
This, then, is how a book featuring a village vicar, inspired by a throw away comment about “The Trips” has turned itself into a three-book series involving all three Quinn triplets. This third book, possibly titled The Jet Set of Heatherly Hall, is concentrating on the third triplet – Hannah – as well as bringing Rosa, the vicar’s story to a satisfying conclusion.
I have previously written what, I suppose, can be classed as a series: Goodness, Grace and Me, The One Saving Grace and An Off-Piste Christmas, with each book able to be read as a standalone novel and, similarly, my intention when creating this Village Vicar series, was to ensure the reader is able to find pleasure and a satisfactory read and conclusion for each of the books themselves. The beauty, and satisfaction for me, of writing a series which involves the lives of the same characters is that, once I’ve written The End, on each book, I’m not saying Goodbye, but merely Au revoir, while looking forward to where they’re going to end up next, as well as how they might – sometimes somewhat unexpectedly- develop and progress.
The Village Vicar is published on January 19th 2023.
The Girls of Heatherly Hall is published on July 6th 2023.
The Jet Set of Heatherly Hall is due to be published in early 2024.