When tradition and manners clash with brash modernity and the need for money, who loses?
We're thrilled to release a free ebook preview of Saving Grace:
For 99 years, Grace, Britain’s oldest magazine for women, has 'graced' coffee tables the length and breadth of the country. The arbiter of national etiquette and source of domestic staff for most of Britain’s grand houses, it still offers genteel advice on how best to wash silk corsetry (gently and in tepid water) and what to give one’s household staff for Christmas (nothing, they’re the staff, not family or friends). But as its centenary approaches, trouble looms.
Grace’s owners, Eustace Benson and his sister Cordelia, well into their eighties now, have only spoken through lawyers for the last forty-five years. What was the foundation of the family fortune - keeping one in eccentric suits in the city and the other in faded elegance in the country - is now a heavy financial burden. Readers are leaving faster than the comfy-slipper wearing ladies of the subscription department can make tea, and the Great Twenty Year Facsimile Machine Experiment of 1989 is about to come to an end. Troublingly, two of the wheels on the office 'dainties' trolley have come off, making the traditional delivery of afternoon tea to the staff precariously tricky.
Worse still, Smethwick, the general factotum, who can normally be relied upon to attend to such matters, has disappeared. It seems that the old order is collapsing faster than a duff soufflé and all is lost.
Enter Henry Benson, a jovial bachelor on whose shoulders rest the hopes of the magazine and the family’s future. No matter that he has never run a business successfully but has run plenty into the ground, or that he is profoundly dyslexic and a borderline alcoholic. He’s as keen as Colman’s mustard, he’s family and that’s what counts.
Some situations require a dashing knight on a galloping white charger; others need a gentle hand getting into the car and a short ride to the room that’s 'become available’ at the nursing home. But no one at Grace knows which service Henry is offering, least of all Henry.
At the offices of Grace the daily hubbub of magazine activity was well under way. The half a dozen ladies of the classified advertisement department on the ground floor were responsible for taking the small ads that appeared at the back of the publication for domestic staff, nannies, au pairs. They also dealt with the wide range of country cottages for holiday rentals in the more popular counties, so were all either on the phones or doing paperwork. Two were logging in the cheques received into the huge, leatherbound ledgers that recorded every single penny that entered the building whether by way of coin, note, cheque or by credit card.
The introduction of a credit card advertisement booking service was a somewhat recent innovation causing as much consternation and confusion among the loyal readership as it had with the staff. “Does this mean that you will be keeping all my financial details on your files? You see I have no wish to be cloned… Is that the correct term?” or “Will you be able to let me have ninety four pounds a week from my account like my son does so that I can buy Snuffy his treats, only he does get awfully cross if he doesn’t get his treats after walkies? Snuffy I mean, not my son. He buys his own treats and I don’t have to take him on walkies any more, he’s nearly fifty-five now, or is it fifty-seven?” were just two of the more confused telephone queries received by the ‘classifieds’ as they were known. In the beginning they had been as worried as the callers were, but slowly over the past few weeks they had got the hang of it and were able to offer calm-voiced, surprisingly confident reassurance and advice to all who called, some of which was as close to accurate as could be reasonably hoped for.
A mildly interesting thing has happened over the past few weeks.
From time to time over the years I've been moved to try my hand at writing short stories. Usually it starts with a 'what if?' idea that snags on my mind and won't go away. I then fret, trying to sense the direction and point of it. I wake up at odd times of night to pen a line that comes to mind. I slowly realise that the idea probably…
An extraordinary week last week at the second running of the Gibunco Gibraltar Literary Festival, held on the historic isthmus that is the southernmost point of the Iberian peninsular with stunning views across the strait to Africa.
The iconic limestone promontory, named Jabal Tariq (the Mountain of Tariq) by the Moors and from which its English name is derived- try saying it aloud - is one of…
About a year ago I penned a small original story inspired by the concept of Ourobos which I called "The Herpetologist" about a man and his pet snake. I posted it here in my shed as an exclusive 'tale" (forgive the pun) for you lovely folk who have backed Saving Grace.
About 5 minutes ago I found this 'news' item.
It is a very sad day indeed when a man is forced to realise that he is a bit of a wuss.
The scene was set. The audience had been admitted and seated in Christopher Wren’s wonderful Sheldonian theatre. Robert Streater’s ceiling fresco was resplendent in the afternoon sun that shone through the high windows. The atmosphere was crisp with tension.
I met Rachel Johnson (former editrice of…
Such a wonderful time at the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival this year with too many high spots to mention. But not least among them was Philip Pullman's brilliant off the cuff comment during our Musical Milestones event at the Sheldonian with John Lubbock's excellent Orchestra of St. John.
We had been talking about the inspiring, civilising effect of good music (as a prelude to a Shostakovich…
To welcome everyone back after the holiday period, to thank all who have kindly pledged support to Saving Grace and to encourage more support and word-spreading, I offer you this, a 1000 word, orginal horror story I penned early one morning this week.
Keep up the good work, my friends!
The Herpetologist – A Nightmare
He knew the moment that it started that he wouldn’t be able…
Earlier this year I was at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature chairing a whole slew of events. It was the fifth year of it and happily the fifth time that I'd been invited to attend, a welcome burst of sunshine and heat in February.
One of this years guests was Jeffrey Archer, a man about whom everyone seems to have an opinion, whether as an author or as an individual. It was a curious…
Good heavens to Murgatroyd!
I've just returned from the very excellent Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate - the only lit fest dedicated to crime fiction in the UK - and what do I see? New supporters of Saving Grace and that it is already 6% funded after just over a week of being with Unbound.
So my warmest thanks to all of you for taking the plunge and getting us off…
And so the story starts...
The fine folk at Unbound Central have been nothing short of lovely having accepted Saving Grace into the fold and as a result here you are; either a paid up member of the Saving Grace Supporters Society, or shortly about to become so. Or so I sincerely hope!
To get us started and by way of saying hello and thank you, I thought a photo of the hell that is my writing…
These people are helping to fund Saving Grace.