The Write Stuff: Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation by James Runcie

WELCOME to our regular feature showcasing the talents of the nation's best writers. This week, an extract from Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation by James Runcie
Author James Runcie. Picture: Neil HannaAuthor James Runcie. Picture: Neil Hanna
Author James Runcie. Picture: Neil Hanna

Although it was Valentine’s Day, and also his birthday, Sidney Chambers was not in a happy frame of mind. This was due to persistent toothache, his imminent renunciation of alcohol for Lent and the fact that the recent television series All Gas and Gaiters had made fun at the expense of his beloved Church of England, concentrating, quite specifically, on a hapless and drunken archdeacon. This had resulted in much unnecessary teasing from his wife about the similarities between fact and fiction.

Could the writers have had anyone specific in mind when they had created such a clueless character? What did Sidney think?

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‘Not much,’ had been his reply and, as a result of his grumpiness, Hildegard had asked her husband to spend the morning of his birthday cheering up in his study. In order to do so, he put one of his favourite records on the turntable, Sidney Bechet’s ‘Si tu vois ma mère’, only to discover that, in the words of the great Christian poet George Herbert, ‘music helps not the toothache’.

His family was coming to lunch: his mother and father (who still treated him as a child even though he was forty-six years old), his brother Matt, his sister Jennifer and her husband Johnny Johnson. Further guests included Inspector Geordie Keating and his wife Cathy, Amanda and Henry Richmond, and Sidney’s former curate Leonard Graham. Together with Hildegard, and their four-year-old daughter Anna, this made them a very crowded thirteen at table.

Geordie was amused. ‘You’ll have to be Jesus, Sidney.’

‘Then I wonder who the Judas is.’

Hildegard put down the chicken casserole. ‘Now then, mein Lieber. You promised to be in a better mood.’

‘I am always cheerful . . .’

‘I’m not so sure about that,’ Geordie interrupted.

‘Only, it’s this bloody toothache.’

Anna poked him in the arm. ‘Don’t swear, Daddy. It’s rude.’

‘I’m sorry, everyone. The truth is, I haven’t been myself lately.’

‘Perhaps you haven’t got enough to do?’ Amanda asked.

Sidney was just about to answer that a clergyman’s life was actually far busier and more serious than anyone ever gave him credit for when the doorbell rang. He stood up and left the room. ‘What fresh hell is this?’ he muttered as he walked out into the long central hall that ran down the length of the ground floor. He opened the door to find a startlingly attractive middleaged woman dressed in a mink coat. This was Barbara Wilkinson, a divorcee from Grantchester whom Hildegard had always disliked.

‘I hope I’m not interrupting anything?’ she said. ‘You do remember I was coming . . .’

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‘Not to lunch,’ Sidney blustered. He had completely forgotten about her and compounded the offence by being unintentionally bad-mannered.

‘You said midday. I’m afraid I’m a little late.’

‘No, that’s quite all right. It’s only that we are about to eat. Would you like to join us?’

‘I wouldn’t want to intrude.’

‘It would be no trouble.’

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‘I can tell by the way you are looking at me that’s not true, Mr Archdeacon.’

There was an awkward pause. Sidney knew that he should try and get rid of the woman but couldn’t do so without being even ruder than he had been already.

• The first of James Runcie’s Grantchester Mysteries was published in 2012, and in 2014 ITV launched its Grantchester series. Sidney Chambers and the Dangers of Temptation is published by Blomsbury, £14.99. Runcie lives in Edinburgh.