Teachers author Jack Sheffield talks to Yorkshire Life
PUBLISHED: 20:10 14 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:49 20 February 2013
Jack Sheffield, the best-selling author from Leeds, has written a new instalment in his Yorkshire-based Teacher series. Tony Greenway talks to him
Back in 1964, Jack Sheffield was hitchhiking from Manchester to Leeds (it's a long story) when a Rolls Royce stopped to pick him up - and Jimmy Savile was at the wheel.
Now if this doesn't perfectly illustrate the perils of hitch-hiking, we don't know what does. But for Jack, who was wondering which career path to take, it was a turning point in his life.
'Jimmy said to me: "I think you'd make a great teacher",' remembers Jack. 'And he told me to get myself down to the Corn Exchange the next day where there was a recruitment fair; which I did.'
Jack duly trained as a teacher at St John's College in York and by the late 1970s was a head teacher of two schools in North Yorkshire and then senior lecturer in primary education at Bretton Hall, near Wakefield.
Using anecdotes and stories from his professional life in school, Jack has written a series of books (Teacher, Teacher! in 2007, Mister Teacher in 2008 and Dear Teacher published last month) which have been critically acclaimed and commercially popular.
The first novel sold 50,000 copies, became a Waterstones Book of the Year and was called 'a charming memoir' by the Daily Express.
'Jim certainly fixed it for me,' says Jack, who only began writing in earnest when he retired a few years ago.
He describes his Teacher books as 'feelgood tales somewhere between James Herriot and Nicholas "Heartbeat" Rhea'. They tell the story of a young head teacher (called Jack Sheffield) at a primary school in the fictional village of Ragley-on-the-Forest in North Yorkshire in the late 1970s. Sheffield, real name Linley, was born in 1945 on the Gipton estate in north east Leeds and always had a great passion for reading, from Enid Blyton's Famous Five, to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, which he re-reads every five years on average.
He now divides his time between Hampshire and York, has nearly finished Teacher book number four (called Village Teacher) and is planning a York-based teenage novel, called Hexagon.
'I just love the process of writing,' says Jack. 'In fact, I wish I'd started it a long time ago.'
Q: You started writing properly when you retired.What planted the seed?
A: This might sound a bit sentimental, but it's true. My mother died about 10 years ago. In hospital she said: 'You will look after your younger brother, won't you, Jack? And you will write down those stories and put them in a book? Promise me.' The day after I retired I sat down and started typing. I gave the manuscript to an agent at the Winchester Writers' Conference who liked it and took it on. It went from there.
Q: Were you surprised by your success?
A: I was - but my publishers weren't. The first and second books went into the best-seller category, but I don't feel a pressure to repeat that. I'm too old to feel pressure now. I leave that to others.
Q: You write about something you know well. Do people recognise themselves in your stories?
A: Probably only one person has: the deputy head in the Teacher stories (and a main love interest), who I haven't changed much, if at all. All the other characters I've been extremely careful with, and they're composites of people I've met throughout my professional life.
Q: Your books describe a simpler time, don't they? Is that part of their charm?
A: They do - and I think it is. I'm on my fourth book now, and the school still doesn't have a computer, a Trim phone is thought of as cutting-edge technology, and beer is 30p a pint. I'm describing a world that's gone, by and large.
Q: I can see a television adaptation fitting into the Sunday night ITV schedules rather snugly. Has there been any interest from TV producer types?
A: It's been ear-marked for Sunday nights! But these projects take a long time to get onto the screen. My personal guess is that when I get more stories out there, it could happen. If it does, it does.
Q: If it happens, who would you like to play you?
A: Someone good looking, preferably. And from Yorkshire, with a sense of humour.
Q: What do you like about Yorkshire?
A: The spectacular east coast, the industrial heartland, the wild North Yorkshire moors and the Dales plus the people, brass bands and cricket.
Q: What do you dislike about Yorkshire?
A: Tourist crowds and fast-food litter in the centre of York.
Q: Do you have a favourite Yorkshire view?
A: I used to play rugby for Wharfedale and this is my favourite dale of all. Stand on Goat Scar Crag and there before you is a wonderful panoramic view of the spectacular glacial valley towards Starbottom. You would need a heart of stone not to be uplifted by the experience. This truly is God's Own Country.
Q: Do you have a favourite Yorkshire location you visit often?
A: Headingley, the home of Yorkshire Cricket Club. On a summer's day, especially if we are beating Australia, it's perfect.
Q: What about a favourite Yorkshire building?
A: There are many in Leeds that I love but it has to be York Minster. I also spend so much time in York library researching my books that I love it in there, too. I find a quiet corner and I'm away.