Of course, having read books 4, 5 and 6 before, I already knew where most of the story lines starting in the first book are going to lead; still, it was interesting to see how it all began for Jack Sheffield, how the characters were introduced and how he first met Beth Henderson.
In real life, the author was headteacher of two village schools in North Yorkshire during the 1970s and 80s, and I think it shows in his books that everything is based on personal experience. In an interview, Jack Sheffield was asked about how much his characters are based on real life people. He states that (obviously, apart from himself) there is only one person who recognized herself in the books and that he has been extremely careful with all the other characters, merging each one of them from several real people he'd met throughout his professional life.
A great deal of the charm of this series stems from it describing a time most of us remember quite well, and rather fondly. The 1970s and 80s were my childhood and youth; in 1977, when the book begins, I was nine years old. And although I never went to a village school but grew up in a town of almost 90.000 inhabitants, I am familiar with a lot of the places mentioned in the book; I spend time in Ripon with my family every year and have been to York, Harrogate, Leeds etc. The oldest of the school children and their teachers go on a summer holiday camp together, visiting Brimham Rocks - I went there two or three years ago and wrote about it here.
There were a few words I had not come across before, such as cagoules, and although I had a pretty good idea of what a Roneo Spirit Duplicator was, I went to look it up and found this picture somewhere on the internet:
Sally filled the Roneo Spirit Duplicator with fluid, took a metal-tipped stylus pen, selected a smooth white master sheet, put a blue sheet of carbon paper underneath and began to print neatly. When she had completed the list, she attached the master sheet to the cylindrical drum, loaded the tray with white paper and turned the handle one hundred times. [She] dreamed of having a photocopier in school like the one at her husband's office but, deep down, she knew they would always be too expensive for primary schools.Something else I looked up was "winceyette": Ruby, the caretaker, gets a cotton winceyette nightdress as a present on Mother's Day from her children. I was close in imagining the nightie a bit like this:
During the children's summer holiday camp, they eat parkin - I had not known it before, but this is what it looks like:
There is a lot of such detail bringing the times and places to life. I am looking forward to the 2nd book, but my next read is going to be non-fiction.