I once took my then girlfriend camping in the desert in Libya. This was around 2006, before I was writing Blood of Kings. We had bought our Colonel Gaddafi watches in Tripoli, and walked in peace through the bazaar. Now we were going to swap the 5* luxury of the Corinthia Hotel for the open desert.

It was just me, her, a Libyan guide and Libyan driver heading hundreds of km into the Sahara. She was reluctant to go; “These people are dangerous!” she said.

“Nonsense,” I insisted. “Libya’s perfectly safe.”

A few years before that I’d been in Syria visiting Palmyra and an even more ancient city called Mari. I passed a place called Raqqa, and another called Deir-ez-Zour. Both are now IS strongholds. I was six km away from the Iraqi border sipping tea with some helpful locals the morning the second Gulf War broke out. But Syria seemed perfectly safe at the time, as long as you didn’t mind being followed by Mr Assad’s police.

I sometimes wonder whether the people I met on those and other trips are still alive? Or did they die in terrible circumstances in some torture chamber? There was an Alawite girl I knew in London called Rana. We spent a day at the British Museum. She returned to Syria years ago. Is she still there?

What a tragedy to see the Middle East descending ever deeper into war.

But the really strange thing – which prompted this blog – was the realisation a couple of days ago that if I’d accepted the offer to write a book about Peter the Great (see my earlier post) I’d now be living in ….. Eastern Ukraine! The book was going to be about Peter’s capture of the warm water port on the Sea of Azov. You’ve been reading about the Sea of Azov – which includes towns such as Mariupol and Donetsk – everyday in the news. Back in the New Year, when we were discussing the book, a war breaking out in the Ukraine was unthinkable, and I was excited at the prospect of living in a part of the world I had never yet visited. Now I’m extremely glad I didn’t go.

In the long term, I sometimes wonder whether anywhere is safe?

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