Ever since James Herriot wrote about his experiences of working as a vet in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930s and 40s, the genre of the nostalgic memoir has had great currency. Herriot’s winning combination of gentle humour, astute observation and engaging human interaction – all set in a beautiful landscape – is also apparent in the work of Andy Seed, another Yorkshire-based writer.
Now living near Malton, Seed was a primary school teacher in the Dales in the 1980s and his affectionate recollections about that time in his first two books – entitled, with a direct nod to Herriot, All Teachers Great and Small and All Teachers Wise and Wonderful – have been hugely successful. The latest, and final, book in the trilogy – All Teachers Bright and Beautiful – has just been published in paperback charting the author’s fifth year of teaching at “Cragthwaite” Primary and his home life with wife Barbara and their two young sons in the village of “Applesett”.
Originally from Cheshire, Seed studied at the University of York, where he met his wife, in the 1970s and after a brief period in the city, the couple moved to the Dales in the early 1980s. “In those communities everyone seems to know everyone,” he says. “When I first got a job there the people in the Post Office seven miles away knew who I was. People stay there for generations because of the land – farming is the back bone of the community.
“In most towns sometimes you don’t even know who lives next door but if you work on the land, you know what’s happening around you. People care about each other.” As “incomers” to the Dales, Seed and his wife were at first regarded, not with suspicion exactly, but with that special Yorkshire mix of curiosity and reserve. “You go through a series of stages,” says Seed. “You are welcomed on a superficial level but people would keep their distance until they had sussed you out. I think it depends on whether you take part in community life and join in with what’s going on. We decided to get stuck in – that’s when you become accepted.”
Getting to know the children – and parents – at his school, which was in a different village to the one he was living in, was made easier by the Dales’ unique lines of communication. “Because everyone was related in some way, I used to find that people in the village where I lived knew stuff that was going on at school.” He also found that as a teacher he was treated with a lot of respect. “Back then there was not so much of the ‘pushy parent’ approach which is so prevalent now especially in middle class areas and that puts children under pressure,” he says. “They were more relaxed about school and, of course, there was the unspoken rule that if the pupil was a boy he would follow his father on to the farm.” It was Seed’s relationship with his pupils – and the humorous incidents that would sometimes occur – that he recalls with most affection and which eventually prompted him to start writing. “There are certain characters you come across and you don’t forget them,” he says. “And then there was the whole business of funny things happening in school. At the time All Creatures Great and Small was still on television and being filmed round where we lived. That was when I had a germ of an idea that I could do something with those stories and I jotted down a few ideas.” He gave up teaching in 2000 to become a full-time author and now divides his time between writing and visiting schools to give talks and run workshops. “Reading for pleasure is so important and so neglected,” he says. “I do as much as I can to help teachers to get children interested in books and understand how significant it is. By not reading, their academic work and ultimately their life chances suffer.”
• All Teachers Bright and Beautiful, published by headline, £7.99, www.andyseed.com