While there’s always a sense of excitement at the start of a new year, at the same time, there’s a tendency towards nostalgia for the year that’s just passed. I decided that in my first blog of 2020, I’d indulge my nostalgia and look back at the some of the events in which I participated towards the end of 2019.

I hope you enjoy these snapshots of my life last autumn, among which you may well feature!

IN SEPTEMBER. I finally made it to a York Tea, and a really enjoyable, if grossly fattening, occasion it was, too, with champagne, scones, jam and cream, sandwiches, cakes and goodies galore. In addition to the tea, the Joan Hessayon Award was announced during the afternoon.

We didn’t go home hungry!


John Jackson, organiser of the York Tea, welcomes everyone.

Lorna Cook wins the Joan Hessayon Award with The Forgotten Village.



Alison May announces the candidates for the Joan Hessayon Award, and then the winner.


Janet Gover sat on my other side.

Imogen Howson and Katrina Power listen to John Jackson’s welcome.

I enjoyed talking to Evie Dunmore and her mother, who sat on one side of me.


Ever the opportunist, on the way home from my visit to the North, I took advantage of being on the M40 to the north of Banbury, and went to the superb British Motor Museum, which is at Junction 12 of the M40. It’s well worth a visit, and is a must if you’re setting a novel in the 1920s and 1930s.


A 1923 Austin Seven Chummy. This was Britain’s cheapest ‘real’ car until 1927, when the Triumph Seven came along.

The 1923 AEC S-type bus could carry 54 passengers, making it the largest bus running in London.











Also, running around the museum walls is a pictorial history of everything related to motoring, again in decades.

Highlights of the history of the period, a decade at a time, are depicted around the walls.












IN OCTOBER. October began, as my every month begins, with the RNA Oxford Chapter’s lunch, known as the Ox lunch. For the past  15 years, I’ve been the organiser of the Oxford Chapter. On the first Tuesday of every month, we meet – RNA members, and friends who are interested in writing – in The Victoria Arms, Old Marston, for a writerly chat over lunch, and very pleasant it is, too.


The Victoria Arms, Old Marston, the monthly haunt of the Oxford Chapter.


Not long after October’s Oxford lunch, I headed for Greece, south of Kalamata. This was later in the year than I usually go there, but I’d been invited to take part in the Mani Literary Festival, which was to be held at the beginning of October. It proved to be a wonderful event – a lively, exciting atmosphere, with input from many different writers, representing many different genres. I took part in five events, and enjoyed every single one of them. Congratulations to Theresa Stoker and Melanie Wicks for their excellent organisation of the festival.


With Carol McGrath, on the pre-festival visit to Patrick Leigh Fermor’s lovely house.

An unusual table in the house. While I loved the pattern, I wouldn’t want to live with something so busy.

Pictures of snakes, which had been moved from the bathroom, the walls of which they’d filled when he was alive. Apparently, he was fascinated by snakes.


Getting ready for Pedalo Peril, our balloon debate, superbly organised by Stephanie Rouse. You’ll have spotted instantly, I’m sure, that I’m dressed as Portia from The Merchant of Venice.


I delivered a workshop on Pacing at the Mani Lit Fest, and a week later, back in England, I delivered a workshop on Plotting at the Thame Art & Literary Festival, known as TAL. Both lasted two hours, and both were great fun to do.

Thame Art & Literary Festival programme, advertising my workshop on Plotting.

Part of the varied programme of events offered in the Mani Lit Fest.














Before leaving Greece, we spent several hours in the amazing ruins of the ancient city of Messini, which are located on a picturesque hillside.

A small section of the extensive Messini ruins.

A wonderful expanse of ruin

A Corinthian pillar, one of many to be seen.


No matter how busy I was, there was always time for a meal. Out of the many meals with friends that I enjoyed last autumn, I’ve singled out the lunch with my very good friends, Charlotte Betts, Barbara Alderton and Carol McGrath. We’ve found a place that all of us can reach with ease – The Deddington Arms – and we try to get together for lunch there every few months.



IN NOVEMBER. I love Umbria, and I’ve already set two novels there, Evie Undercover and The Art of Deception. Having been there several times this year, on the last occasion to do some olive-picking, the desire to set a third novel there is stirring within me. Picking olives was hard work, but tremendous fun. A net is spread on the ground and you pull the olives from the branches with your hands, or you shake the branches, using with a long pole with four electric prongs at the end.


Millie, the cat, most ably supervised every stage of the olive-picking process.


A large net is spread on the ground. It’s slit to the centre on one side, so that it can fit snugly around the base of the olive tree.

Crates of olives are driven up the slopes, where they’re loaded on to the van, ready to be taken to the frantoia, the olive press.












The frantoia, where the olives are pressed.


The crates of olives are weighed before the olives are pressed. These came to 145kg.

Two hours later, the finished product.















After that brief break in my writing-related life, I returned to London to attend a Social Media Course run by the superb Anita Chapman. The aim was to improve one’s interraction on the social media, and the course certainly achieved this in a friendly, most enjoyable way, and with excellent food.


Delicious food to keep us going.

Gathering in the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, London.

My little corner.


What could be better than a drink at the end of a day of learning?

The RNA Winter Party is always one of the year’s highlights, and this year’s party, in the new venue, the Leonardo Royal Hotel in London City, was no disappointment. It was superb.


In the lounge before the party, with Charlotte Betts and Carol McGrath.

With Charlotte Betts, Carol McGrath and Talli Roland.


In the bar before the party, with blogger extraordinaire, Anne Williams, of ‘Being Anne’.


With Carol McGrath

With Clare Flynn







With Sarah Bennett

The hall starts to empty.











The London SE Chapter Christmas lunch is another autumn event to which I always look forward, and this year’s surpassed all expectations. We met in The Green Man, next door to Great Portland Street Station, which is the venue now used by the chapter. The lunch was superbly organised by the super-efficient Lucinda Lee, aided by Juliet Archer, who provided the excellent comic entertainment that has become a feature of the Christmas lunch, and a fabulous time was had by all. Many thanks to the chapter organiser, Lucinda Lee, for her hard work throughout the year and her unfailing good humour.


With Jean Fullerton and Catriona Robb.

Looking above Talli Roland’s head to the upper part of the room.

Lucinda Lee


With Henriette Gyland

Sitting opposite me, Janet Gover and Talli Roland.

Juliet Archer entertains us.


In the Lebanese coffee shop with Henriette Gyland, Janet Gover and Anita Chapman.

With Christina Pishiris.

The lovely ceiling, entwined with plants, in the Lebanese coffee shop at which we stopped after the lunch.


IN DECEMBER. The Reading Chapter Christmas lunch – yes, more food! – took place in Cote, as it’s now done for several years,organised by the very able chapter leader, Julie Roberts. By swapping to a different seat after the main course, we got to chat to almost everyone there.

The Reading Chapter.

Since 2012, when my first novel, The Road Back, was published, I’ve got into the habit of signing and selling my novels in Wallingford Market, which is held in St. Mary’s Church. I do this on the last two Saturdays before Christmas. Happily, each year, I’ve had more novels to sell. One of the advantages of going there every year is that I’ve come to know many of the regulars, both those who go to sell and those who go to buy. A considerable number of them have now bought all of my novels, and stop for a chat when they buy the latest novel, which is really pleasant.


In the process of getting my table ready.

Cat’s Singers are on hand, singing Christmas carols during the morning.












FINALLY, to finish the year with a sunset – a sunset in Umbria. I wish you all a very HAPPY NEW YEAR, and all the best for 2020!