Since the release of ‘M’ in May of last year I’ve been meandering around the country giving talks about Maxwell Knight and some of his spies – above is the audience mid-talk at the Chalke Valley History Festival – and have now given the same M talk twenty-seven times. 27. Which should have been bone-crunchingly repetitive. But has actually been riveting.

There are all sorts of things that I hadn’t taken on board beforehand, e.g.

We have an amazingly rich culture in Britain of literary festivals and bookshops that put on events. This doesn’t happen on quite the same scale elsewhere.

No two events are the same.

The people who organise these events are hard-working, clever and enormously kind.

The Pullman Effect. Just as every festival I’ve spoken at offers to pay its speakers (I won’t speak at the others) I’m also struck by how many of the festival organisers I’ve spoken to mention Philip Pullman’s stance on this, and how rare it is nowadays to find a festival that refuses to pay its authors.

There are a lot of children of former MI5 officers dotted around the country. After almost every talk I’ve given somebody has come up to have their book signed, and while I’m mid-scrawl will mention quietly that one of their parents used to work for the Security Service.

[Above: Audience at a talk brilliantly organised by Emma and Tessa at Hungerford Bookshop]

I should always be ready to answer that question about Olga Gray. After each of the 27 talks a different version of the same question about Olga comes up (I won’t say what it is just in case you come to the talk and are desperate to ask that question but feel self-conscious about doing so after reading this..!).

We are a nation of liars – and lie-detectors. As anyone who’s come along to one of these talks will know, in the middle of it we play a game designed to work out who would make a good spy. It involves telling a lie, spotting when someone is lying to you (and then using your memory). As well as being hopeless at all of the above I am always a little taken aback at just how many people can tell a very convincing lie.

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Review round-up

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Books of the Year

Having never before had one of my books appear on a Book of the Year round-up, ever, not even close as far as I can tell, like the proverbial bus three have come along at once. I am stunned, happy and hugely grateful to say that M is one of the Books of the Year in The Times, The Sunday Times and the Daily Mail. Thanks to Robbie Millen, Helen Davies and John Preston for choosing it.

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M Book Tour!

Some talks I’ll be giving in the months ahead:

20 April – Edinburgh Spy Week

4 May – Camberley Natural History Society

6 May – Clapham Omnibus

8 May – M Book Launch

11 May – Borzoi Bookshop

12 May – Swindon Festival of Literature

24 May – Sohemian Society

25 May – Hungerford Bookshop

1 June – Heffers Bookshop

5 June – Village Books, Dulwich

12 June – The Society Club

13 June – Ealing Local History Centre

14 June – Surrey Heath Local History Club

20 June – Kibworth Bookshop

26 June – Reform Club

29 June – Chalke Valley History Festival

1 July – Felixstowe Literary Festival

2 July – Buckingham Literary Festival

11 July – British Library

24 July – Special Forces Club

9 August – Waterstones Gower Street

22 August – Evesham Festival of Books

13 September – Chiswick Book Festival

15 September – Gloucester History Festival

27 September – Royal United Services Institute

13 October – Frinton Literary Festival

15 October – Thame Arts & Literature Festival

17 October – Authors Club

6 November – Bridport Literary Festival  SOLD OUT

6 November – Richmond Literature Festival SOLD OUT

22 November – Folkestone Bookfest

14 February 2018 – Guildford Institute SOLD OUT

21 February 2018 – Dulwich & District U3A

1 March 2018 – Sevenoaks Bookshop

10 March 2018 – Essex Book Festival

18 March 2018 – Aye Write!

10 May 2018 – Chipping Campden Literature Festival

12 May 2018 – Clapham Book Fair

19 May 2018 – The Bath Festival

3 June 2018 – Stoke Newington Literary Festival

23 June 2018 – Portsmouth Festivities

July 2018 – Wimpole History Festival

16 October 2018 – Oxted & District History Society

More soon…

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Subversion on the BBC

This two-part series by Gordon Corera, on the history of political subversion by the Russians, and against the Russians, is fascinating.

Well worth a listen:


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