January and February are months that I devote to writing and try to ensure that I have as few disturbances as possible. In theory. In practice, although this is a relatively quiet period, I have found that there have been several diversions, with more to come. Fortunately the business of finishing the next Isabel Dalhousie novel is going well, in spite of various other commitments.
The first of these was a trip to Sri Lanka to attend the second Galle Literary Festival. I have never been to Sri Lanka before, although I have been several times to India and have visited a number of other countries in the region. (Thailand and Singapore are both favourites of mine.) So the invitation to speak at the Galle Festival was one I was very keen to accept, even if it did fall in what should be a quiet period at home. I justified the whole thing to myself by saying that I would spend ten days writing there before the festival itself started, and that is, in fact, what I did. My wife and I established ourselves in a small, quiet hotel in the Old Fort at Galle (the Galle Fort Hotel) and every morning I wrote about Isabel Dalhousie while my wife read, swam, and saw the sights.
Sri Lanka is a gem of a country. We were in the southern part and did not visit the central area, which is hilly and where much of the tea is grown. That we shall do on our next visit – and I certainly intend to go back. Galle itself is a very old town that used to be a Portuguese and Dutch settlement before the British occupied it. These layers of history are all still in evidence, and one still comes across Portuguese and Dutch names in contemporary Sri Lankan families. The people, by the way, are particularly charming and make the visitor feel exceptionally welcome. It is a lovely place to visit, my only note of caution being this: you will not be able to visit the north and north-east until the tragic war which has simmered away there for so many years is finally brought to an end. The people I spoke to about this seemed to be universally distressed and despondent that the hostilities are proving so long-lived, and they all expressed anxiety about the ending of the ceasefire.