Edinburgh Book Festival – James Runcie

Fans of the James Runcie “Granchester” series will be delighted to hear that a prequel to the stories has been published called “The Road to Granchester”.

At a lively session yesterday at Edinburgh Book Festival chaired by Jane Fowler, Runcie spoke of his inspiration to write about the influences on the young Sidney Chambers which ultimately led his fictional hero to the priesthood.

As a student in 1939 Sidney is off to war, and much of the story is about his experience as a young officer caught up in the death and mutilation around him. He is witness to all kinds of hell, culminating in the Battle of Monte Casino.

The intensity of all this moulds Sidney into the thoughtful man he becomes, passionately interested in right and wrong. His musing on the morality of war is the backbone to the development of his character. Why do some die, others are saved, and what for? Is it all quite random or is there some point to our lives?

Sidney’s search for meaning and his development along the way make for an intensely readable and engrossing novel, and not one that can be easily adapted for TV, as Runcie points out. The battle scenes alone would be a major production headache.

We were told a little about the background source for this novel, the eloquent letters home from a serving soldier who expressed vividly his thoughts and feelings about the situation.

The background research on war was thorough, but Runcie, son of a previous Archbishop of Canterbury, admitted to his embarrassment at confusing St Catherine of Sienna with St Catherine of Alexandria in this story, an esoteric point which will be rectified in the paperback edition of the book.

The developing friendship between Sidney and Amanda, a major theme further developed in later novels is another important strand to this prequel. For the many fans, it is an important addition to the series.

All in all this was a relaxed and very enjoyable hour.

“The Road to Grantchester” is available from Amazon in Hardback and Kindle editions.


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