Monday, 30 December 2019

2019: Places

This year I've travelled to some delightful places in connection with my writing, both in Britain and much further afield. 2019 got off to a good start with the Essex Book Festival at Southend, which also gave me the chance to visit Mersea Island, associated with crime writers such as Margery Allingham and Andrew Garve.

An event at Middlesbrough Library fitted in with a research trip for Mortmain Hall, which took me to Flamborough Head and Ravenscar on the Yorkshire coast as well as the old fishing villages of Staithes and Robin Hood's Bay. Mortmain is a fictionalised reworking of Ravenscar, a place that's always fascinated me, and the Hall is an eccentric Gothic reimagining of the old Hall (above photo).

Next, the CWA conference at Bowness. We arranged a variety of library events in the run-up to the weekend and these took me to Ulverston and Ambleside. At Ulverston I was glad to make the acquaintance of fellow crime writer Zosia Wand, with whom I spent a delightful afternoon much later in the year when I was researching south Cumbria locations for the next Lake District Mystery. The Saturday AGM marked the end of my stint as Chair of the CWA. It's a demanding but rewarding role and I handed over the Creasey Bell to an admirable successor in Linda Stratmann. A week or so later I returned to the Lakes for more location research and also an event in Cockermouth with M.W. Craven, this year's Gold Dagger winner, and Paula Daly, two of whose books were adapted for television in the late summer.

In May, Murder Squad had a weekend of events at a superb venue, The Word in South Shields, and again there was the chance for some sightseeing in places like Tynemouth and the strangely named but interesting Seaton Sluice. An invitation to speak at a festival run by the National Trust to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their acquisition of Agatha Christie's home at Greenway in Devon was irresistible and spending the ovenight in Greenway was truly memorable. So were the steam train trip and river and ferry journeys around the river Dart. We stopped off there and back with friends in Wells, giving a chance to explore Glastonbury Abbey and Tor as well as various other places in Somerset and Devon, two gorgeous rural counties.

My interest in the work of E.C.R. Lorac took me to Lunesdale in north Lancashire a couple of times, where I enjoyed meeting a wonderful lady who actually knew Lorac when she was young, as well as her family; this was a very rewarding experience. So, in a different way, was the pleasure of guiding two groups of American whodunit fans around Oxford, when I found myself doing commentaries during river cruises, leading pub crawls and various other improbable things. And I fulfilled a long-held ambition by taking a trip on the famous Settle to Carlisle railway in gorgeous sunshine.

Literary festivals are becoming increasingly popular in Britain and those I attended this year were varied and excellent. At Slaughter in Southwold I spent time with Mick Herron and Kate Ellis before venturing on a tour of Suffolk - a lovely county that I want to revisit. A trip to Newark gave me the chance to look round the old castle there as to pop over to Lincoln and see a wonderful array of Crime Classics in the local Waterstones'. The Rye Arts Festival, where I spent a day with Simon Brett, Lynne Truss, and William Shaw was brilliant, and so was the opportunity to explore parts of Sussex and Kent that I was previously unfamiliar with. One stop in Kent at a fantastic location gave me the idea for a book that may well become the follow-up to Mortmain Hall (once I've written the Lake District book!) Similarly, my long-awaited return to the Isle of Wight introduced me to some memorable places, including an old priory that sparked my literary imagination. And even some more fleeting festival engagements, such as an event with Zoe Sharp in Rochdale proved highly enjoyable (once I'd recovered from the traffic gridlock around Greater Manchester).

Having received the Dagger in the Library, I was determined to take part in as many library events as possible to show my support for these wonderful places. And I include independent libraries, such as Gladstone's Library, where I hosted the Alibis in the Archives in wonderful June weather (along with such terrific writers as Aline Templeton, Michael Ridpath, and Peter Robinson) and the British Library, where I did an interview with Christine Poulson talking about Cyril Hare. In terms of public libraries, those I visited included Wigan and Droylsden in the north west, while I was thrilled to return to the Isle of Man and host a 1920s murder mystery; this enabled me to spend time in the very pleasant company of Douglas Stewart and the Douglas librarian Jan Macartney  I'm hoping to return to Douglas next year.

As far as overseas trips were concerned, I had holidays in Sweden and Italy and working trips to New York City, Scottsdale, Dallas, and Toronto, the latter to give a lecture about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. And then there was Shanghai, an unforgettable experience which I raved about quite recently.

So I've been very fortunate to see some marvellous parts of the world, and to remind myself of the wonders of Britain as well. And after all that travelling, it's no wonder I feel the need to crack on with Hannah Scarlett's latest cold case, set partly in Bowness, partly on the evocative south coast of Cumbria...


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