So, I made the trip I’ve been putting off for ages – a trip across the pond to visit my brother in California, and to do a little research for what will become book two in the DI Mahler series.

First slight surprise came when I had to fill in my electronic visa form – and was asked for my Facebook and Twitter passwords. What the …? The form said it was optional, so of course I didn’t give them – and my application was flagged up as ‘pending’. It came through a day or so later, but, you know…can’t help wondering if they catch any putative security risks that way.

It wasn’t a direct flight, so I had to go through immigration in Seattle, where I experienced the legendary good humour and politeness of the staff at first hand. ‘You’re visiting your brother in San Diego? What’s he doing there?’

A look of disbelief when I explained he worked there. More disbelief when I said he’d been doing it for some time. Finally I was dismissed with a jerk of the head and the next applicant summoned … and I should point out that I’m a small, inoffensive-looking white woman. I can’t imagine what the experience would be like if your face/accent/name really pressed someone’s buttons …

By contrast, California was such a good experience. San Diego is a great place to visit – I went to UCSD, where my female lead in ‘Shadow Man’ is a professor of history, walked through Balboa Park and the Old Town and had brunch at various pleasant eateries as I soaked up the atmosphere (and shamelessly mined my brother’s life for background details and local colour).

All in all, a good trip. A few ideas gained for future Mahler novels, including a possible US visit – though I can’t see him holding his tongue at Immigration …

Here are a few snaps of my stay – and yes, even in April, it really was that warm!

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Sun God statue at the University of California, San Diego campus, by French sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle. The students hold an annual Sun God Festival with this as its mascot – impressive!

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Seal-watching at La Jolla. Ever so-slightly-pongy …

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In the Old Town – a little touristy, but still worth a visit!