I had just turned 50 when the advertising agency that employed me as a creative director decided I should transfer to our agency in Korea. I didn’t wait to hear whether it was North or South. Time to leave.

I didn’t have a wife to go home and break the news to, so I told the bloke next door. He took it well. We went out for dinner to celebrate.

It was time to face up to reality and plan my second career. I sought inspiration.

I went to Tuscany for a month in autumn and wandered country lanes watching farmers pick olives. I had hoped to receive a vision of my future during this time: voices in a deserted chapel, the shock of a renaissance painting, a deep feeling for the Italian way of life, a youngish older widow, a backward glance, a violin through an open window, the opening sentence of a novel scribbled on the back of a railway timetable.

Clear skies and cold nights. During the day we tramped the steep lanes as the smoke from burning vine cuttings rose in the crisp air. Down in the valleys in the mornings, the mists swirled about making fantasy islands of hilltop villages and distant chapels. Later in the day, the muddy valley floors echoed to the barks, shouts and shot gun fire of hunters in tailored camouflage suits with expensive pedigreed dogs chasing after, mostly imaginary, wild boar. It even snowed one day leaving the towers of San Gimignano stark against the white background.

I drank coffee and grappa in bars at neighbouring villages and persuaded myself I could recognise the difference between the freshly pressed green olive oil from our village and the next.

Darkness came [...]