Finalist in 2011-12 People’s Book Prize for Non-Fiction
This Life of Grace is a biography and a history. It tells the story of Grace Jarrold, the youngest of eight children, who lived for almost ninety years in the village of Plympton in Devon. It also tells the story of the village over the last century, beginning with the Great War of 1914-1918, school life at that time as revealed in original documents, the building of ‘homes fit for heroes’ in the 1920s, and the General Strike of 1926. It describes the dwindling of the old ‘upstairs-downstairs’ life, the approach of the Second World War and the Blitz of Plymouth. After the tranquil period of fifteen years that followed the War, things changed at great speed. The influence of farming declined, leading to the closure of Plympton Market in 2002. The village grew to ten times its size at the time of Grace’s birth and it was absorbed into the City of Plymouth. All the events are recorded as they affected local people.
Grace is at the heart of the story, much of it told in her words, related remarkably to the author in frank conversations as she relived her life when it was drawing to its close, during almost three years in a hospital bed. The life of her husband, Major William John Symons, of the Indian Army, and his death to Huntington’s Disease is told by the same author in Stranger on the Shore, published in 2009.
In a pre-publication review, Peter Smith of Crane Books, writes, ‘I liked This Life of Grace even more than Stranger, which I had found engrossing and very moving. This Life of Grace is written with such warmth and deep affection and understanding, bringing the characters vividly to life. Grace was a person of dignity and humility, an unusual combination, to which I felt a sense of eloquence, wit and humour should be added. She was very much a Grace.’
John Symons spent the first two years of his life in India and the next sixteen in Cornwall and Devonshire. He was educated at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and London. Fluent in Russian, he has made a study of the life, work and legacy of Lenin, and is currently working on a book about the collapse of the Soviet Union. After Cambridge, he worked in the Treasury and other government departments for 25 years; since then he has been an executive and life coach and an adjudicator in disputes between staff and management.
‘The quiet courage of a family in dire adversity could not be better demonstrated. John Symons describes the tragedies that struck at the heart of a poor but devoted Cornish family. Humanity and the valour of the human spirit shine from every page.’
‘This Life of Grace is the sort of book we should all be encouraged to write if we are in the fortunate enough position to be in a situation where we have contact with a member of the generation or two that came before us, especially if they’re not in a position to make notes or do it themselves. As the saying goes, ‘the man who has no past, has no future.’
The Plymouth Herald
‘There is humour here, but only the extremely hard-hearted will fail to come close to tears as well as laughter when reading John Symons’s moving, soul-searching account of the lives and deaths of his mum and dad … [he] tells of what happened when his mother met his father, Jack, on leave from the Indian Army, and married him twelve days later. A lady blessed with a considerable memory, wisely allows her son to tell much of it in her own words. From her early days in a small draper’s shop to her grieving for her husband and her struggle to make a new life, her son John not only gives us a striking portrait of his mother but at the same time paints a fascinating picture of life and times in what was then the village of Plympton where she lived for almost 90 years.’