Posted in Reading, Writing

Inspired by Books About Boarding Schools

This post was originally written for my publisher Boldwood Books’ blog to mark the launch of Artful Antics at St Bride’s, my fourth Gemma Lamb Cozy Mystery set at the eccentric St Bride’s School for Girls. 

When I dreamed up St Bride’s School, the setting for my Gemma Lamb Cozy Mystery series, I was drawing not only on my experience of working at a girls’ boarding school, but also on my love of the various boarding school stories I read as a child.

While my Gemma Lamb stories are often described as “Malory Towers for grown-ups”, I preferred Anthony Buckeridge to Enid Blyton.

Cover of Jennings Goes to School
Full of hilarious schoolboy humour

Buckeridge, unlike Blyton, was a teacher in the private sector. His Jennings stories, set at the fictional Linbury Court Preparatory School for Boys, are masterpieces of observational comedy. Spirited protagonist Jennings is full of “wizard wheezes” (good ideas), but despite the support of meek yet faithful sidekick Darbyshire, his plans always go awry with entertaining results.

Imagine sending Richmal Crompton’s William to boarding school: this is how life might have panned out for him.

While Buckeridge, like Blyton, wrote for young readers, Crompton’s William stories initially appeared in magazines for adults before being published in book form for children.

The best school stories please all ages. I still dip into all my favourites.

I took further inspiration from Ronald Searle’s collections of cartoons set at the anarchic St Trinian’s. Its wily headmistress Miss Fritton was brilliantly played in the 1950s films by Alastair Sim and in the Noughties by Rupert Everett.

cover of The Complete Jennings
All the more amusing for being written in the voice of cynical schoolboy Molesworth

Searle also collaborated with writer Geoffrey Willans to create a fictional boarding school for boys, the splendidly-named St Custard’s. Here cynical schoolboy Molesworth creates an alternative school prospectus, applying his unique take on spelling and grammar. His memorable catchphrases include “as any fuel kno” and “enuff said”.

cover of first Chalet School book and spines of several more
I’ve still some way to go before I have read all 64 books in the Chalet School series!

Serving as an antidote to the riotous St Trinian’s and St Custard’s is the extraordinarily prim behaviour of the pupils of Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School. The 64 novels in the series are packed with adversity, and the girls’ resourcefulness and courage make them great, if humourless, role models.

My own school stories focus on adults rather than pupils: protagonist Gemma Lamb is an English teacher.

However, in Gemma’s new fourth adventure, Artful Antics at St Bride’s, the mystery hinges on the arrival of enigmatic new pupil Frieda Ehrlich, sponsored by reclusive tycoon Sebastian Goldman-Coutts, who has just moved into a nearby derelict Cotswold mansion. Gemma soon begins to realise all is not what it seems, and so begins a new quest to save the school from disaster!

Artful Antics at St Bride’s, launched at the end of last month, is now available to order in ebook, paperback, hardback and audiobook, from wherever you prefer to buy your books.

Here’s a link to the book’s page on Amazon’s UK store – one of many places to buy it! (Disclosure: it’s my affiliate link.)

I’m pleased to be expanding my contribution to the canon of boarding school stories!


graphic for quote from Niki Preston's review


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

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