Coming Back to Life

I went for something that approximated a proper walk the other day. I was over on Giudecca buying fish – the first time I’d been on a vaporetto in about a month – and decided it would be good to stretch my legs for a bit on a warm Saturday morning.

When I’m teaching, I’m constantly on my feet and have no problems doing my 10,000 steps a day. But Saturday – after two months of going no further than the paper shop, a journey of perhaps 30 seconds – well, let’s just say I Felt the Burn…

Restrictions, as you’ll have heard, have been relaxed. Ever so slightly. Things are a long way from being normal however, and I suspect they will be for some time to come. But there is at least a certain sense of freedom in knowing that you can go further than 200m from your house.

Spring has come and almost gone without us noticing it. Now it’s jackets weather, not coats weather, and soon it’ll be too warm even for that. The much-heralded Phase 2 of lockdown, the joke has it, is the same as Phase 1 but in short sleeves. But there are some noticeable changes. I went to get a takeaway from a local restaurant last Thursday. It might not seem like much but it felt like just a little bit of normality had been restored.

In the midst of this, of course, Venetian Gothic came out. Now, it has to be said, this is not the time I would have chosen to have a book launched. But we are where we are. Again, I suppose I’m one of the lucky ones. It’s not as if it’s my debut – that, I think, would have been devastating. My publisher has been very supportive and reviews have been…well, they’ve been fantastic, and that’s very humbling.

Sales have held up as well as we could have hoped, given the circumstances, but there’s no denying they’ve taken a knock. But then everyone’s taking a financial hit from this and, as I wrote last time, I’m in a better situation than most in being able to work from home.

So this is to say a very, very big thank you to all who’ve bought a copy of Venetian Gothic, or taken the time to write, or left an Amazon review or recommended it to friends. It makes all the difference. If you live near a bricks and mortar bookshop, remember that many of them will deliver and – crucially – are going to need everybody’s support when things return to some degree of normality.

I hope that you’re all keeping well, wherever you are. Things are getting better in Italy. They’ll get better in the UK too. Stay safe, and all good wishes.

 

Don’t worry ’bout me

The next blog post, I hope, will be back to the usual nonsense.

Well, I think it’s fair to say that my last post has not aged well. Many thanks for all your messages congratulating me for being level-headed and not over-reacting to the circumstances we find ourselves in.

I was, of course, completely wrong.

I suspect I wasn’t alone in indulging in a certain amount of wishful thinking that Venice was still open for business, with the added attraction of overcrowded public spaces now being almost devoid of people. Hands up, I called this one wrong.

Plenty has been written about the current situation in Italy and so I’m not sure I’ve got much to say that hasn’t already been said. The articles below by Tobias Jones and Gregory Dowling both give as clear a picture of the current situation as one could wish, and are well worth taking the time to read.

Tobias Jones : How my beloved Italy is changed by Coronavirus

Gregory Dowling : Venice in the time of Coronavirus

As well as the good wishes, I’ve received a few questions along the lines of “when will it be safe to visit?” or “when can we travel again?”. To which I can only answer – I don’t know. Again, I’m just a bloke on the internet who writes crime novels.

Anyway, Caroline, Mimì and myself are all fine. All of a sudden we find ourselves with time to read, write, listen to music (I’m working my way through John Eliot Gardiner’s set of the Bach cantatas) and catch up on television. We have a well stocked fridge, and time to cook properly.

The thing is, of course, is that we’re the lucky ones. Yes, we’ve taken a slight financial hit on this – I’ve had to cancel a couple of paid events and both Caroline and I work part-time as freelance teachers and there’s no sign of the schools reopening any time soon. But I’m lucky enough to have a job that I can do from home. Most people don’t have that luxury and the current situation can only be described as devastating for them. Sometimes, looking out of the window, I think how nice it would be to just be able to go to the bar across the street and have a spritz. The owner, however, would think it even nicer to be able to sell me one.

Thanks for all your messages. Italy is taking a kicking at the moment and can take as many good wishes, thoughts or prayers that you can spare but, in the words of the great Joey Ramone Don’t worry ’bout me. Or, indeed, about us.fullsizeoutput_24d

Joey Ramone : Don’t worry ’bout me

Sincerest good wishes to all of you, wherever you may be, over the following weeks and months.

And the next blog post, I really do hope, will be back to the usual nonsense.

 

Visiting Venice

Hi everyone,

First of all, thanks for all the good wishes, which are very much appreciated. We are all absolutely fine and life is going on pretty much as normal.

Now, a number of you have contacted me to ask if you should still visit. This is, of course, very flattering and I’m happy to help as best I can. However, I am not a virologist or epidemiologist – I am a bloke on the internet who writes crime novels and just happens to live in Venice. So any advice I give should be taken with that in mind.

This is the situation as it currently is, to the best of my knowledge :-

There have been two cases of the COVID-19 virus in Venice. Both were recorded ten days ago (at the time of writing) and there have been no further cases in the city since then.

The city is not in quarantine or in ‘lockdown’. However, schools are closed and are scheduled to remain so until 8th March. Theatres and cinemas, likewise.

Most museums have reopened. Churches are open to visit but not for Mass. St Marks’s Basilica has, at the time of writing, reopened as well.

People are calm, getting on with life and I have seen no evidence of panic buying. Public transport is working as normal. Bars, restaurants, hotels, shops and markets are all open and would, frankly, be very grateful for your business.

The city is as quiet as I can remember. Here, for example, is a photograph of St Marks’s Square at 10.00 on a Monday morning.

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The risk, in my opinion, is minimal. But that is not, of course, the same as absolutely risk free.

Should you still come? Well, that’s up to you. If you genuinely have concerns about your health, or if the thought of it is worrying you, then I would say not. There is, after all, no point in visiting if you’re not going to be happy. I have also heard – first-hand – of visitors effectively being quarantined at home by their employers after visiting Northern Italy. So it would seem best to check your personal situation before visiting.

If you do visit, however – and I hope you feel able to – you really will have a unique opportunity to see the city at its most beautiful. And people will be delighted to see you.

All good wishes, whatever you decide, and thanks again for all your messages. The next blog post, I hope, will be back to the usual nonsense.

 

2020

Happy New Year all!

Christmas is not quite over (I’m a strict 12 Days man myself, and we’ve still got Epiphany to come) but 2019 is definitely behind us. A year in which Nathan made his third appearance in The Venetian Masquerade, and To Venice With Love became my first trade-format paperback. I was lucky enough to do a number of events, signings and interviews, reviews were universally positive and we met up with lots of old friends and made new ones. Yes, it was a good year.

So here’s a quick rundown of what’s happening in the early part of 2020.

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It all starts on 18th February, with the release of Das Venezianische Spiel, the German edition of The Venetian Game. I’m very excited about this, of course, and looking forward to doing a couple of events in Germany in March – in Leipzig and Marburg – with my friend and translator Birgit Salzmann. My German is more than a little rusty but I’m doing everything I can to rectify that. I’m sure it’ll be all right on the night…

 

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March 5th sees the release of the standard-format paperback edition of To Venice With Love. Everyone’s been pleased with the sales of the large-format edition – the new format is the same content but easier to fit into a pocket and, not unimportantly, lighter on the pocket as well.

 

 

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And then, on April 2nd, we have the release of this year’s Nathan Sutherland novel Venetian Gothic, in paperback, e-book and audio format. I hope there’ll be a few events to tie in with this, in both Italy and the UK. More info on these as soon as I know more.

 

 
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As I said, Christmas isn’t quite over yet, so – if you’ve missed it – there’s still time to catch up on a seasonal Nathan Sutherland short story, The Ghosts of Christmas Past at Hachette’s “The Crime Vault” site.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Incredibly, it’s just five years since I finished the first draft of “The Venetian Game”, and fewer than three since it appeared in the shops. I feel immensely fortunate to be where I am after such a short period of time. From the bottom of my heart, a very, very big thank you – none of this would be happening without you all.

All good wishes, then, for 2020 and my warmest regards and thanks, 

Philip

Cooking with Nathan : Grey Prawns

Okay, I understand that the title of this post may not sound all that enticing. There is a reason, after all, why we do not judge how tasty food is according to its degree of greyness. But stay with me…

The city is getting back on its feet after the exceptional acqua alta (whilst bracing itself for another round this coming weekend). I’m at the fishmonger at Palanca, on Giudecca. I miss Rialto Mercato a bit, but Palanca is just two stops away on the vaporetto, so that’s where I usually go for fish these days.

And they have – grey prawns. Or gamberi grigi if you prefer.

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They do not look particularly lovely, and at 30 euros a kilo they are not particularly cheap either. Nevertheless, I think they need to be tried.

The biggest ones are, perhaps, half the length of my little finger. I have no idea how to cook them. The fishmonger tells me to boil them in salted water for two minutes. So here are my first experiments with grey crustaceans…

Gamberi Grigi for two

Ingredients

100g of grey prawns

One courgette

One lemon

Some olive oil

Some salt and pepper

Method

I cooked this to the new Hawkwind album “All Aboard the Skylark”. Which is fantastic, and you should definitely listen to it. It doesn’t actually take all that long to cook, but I was preparing a main course as well, and also experimenting a little along the way. Which is why it took fifty minutes instead of five minutes.

I wasn’t completely sure about the best way to prepare these. Boiled prawns sounded, well, as exciting as boiled seafood always sounds. Which is to say, not very. So I experimented with cooking them two ways, (1) boiling for two minutes and (2) frying for two minutes.

The fried ones went the traditional pink colour, whereas the boiled ones remained resolutely grey. I couldn’t quite decide between the two. The fried ones were crispy and could be eaten whole, whereas the boiled ones had, perhaps, a greater delicacy of flavour. In the end I passed the decision over to Caroline who said that the boiled version – having no flavour of olive oil – was the most pure, and so I went with that.

The method is incredibly simple :–

1) Slice the courgette into rounds, toss in olive oil and griddle until just a little charred on both sides. Dress with lemon zest, lemon juice and as much olive oil as you think it needs. Set aside. You do not actually need courgettes, but you will feel virtuous for having added some vegetables.IMG_5041

2) Rinse the prawns. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Throw the prawns in for two minutes, then drain and add to the courgettes.

3) Eat, ideally with fingers. Sucking of heads is to be encouraged.

I thought these were delicious, and fun to eat and to prepare. 100g was a good amount for a starter, and came in at a modest three euros.

Happy eating!

Acqua Alta

Hi everyone,

Well, as you know, I prefer this site to be about books, music, food, Venice and all sorts of light-hearted nonsense. However, I think it would be wrong of me not to write about what happened to Venice during this past week.

Firstly, a very big thank you to all those who got in touch to ask how we were. The reality, as some of you will know, is that we were actually on holiday during the event itself. We returned on the Friday, just after the second wave of extreme acqua alta and before the third wave on Sunday (which, although extremely severe, was thankfully less than the 160cm predicted).

We’re fine. We live on the second floor, so the apartment was unaffected, and Mimì was being looked after by our Brilliant Scottish Friends (who chose one hell of a couple of weeks to come and cat-sit).

So, as I said, we’re fine. Many, however, are not. We personally know a number of people whose properties and businesses have been utterly, completely trashed. I’ve frequently been annoyed in the past by the UK press reporting the slightest sign of acqua alta in Piazza San Marco in hushed, apocalyptic tones. But there is no exaggerating what happened last week. It was, by any reasonably definition, a disaster.  The city has taken a beating. It’s going to take some time to assess exactly what the damage is, and even longer for the city to get back to normal (whatever ‘normal’ means in Venice).

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Yet, in the midst of all this, there’s been some genuinely wonderful stuff happening. I’ll mention the ‘mud angels’ who’ve volunteered to clear up, many of whom are young people of school age and many of whom, I am sure, I have taught. I am very, very proud of them.

I think that’s about as much as I can, or should, say. There are plenty of other accounts out there written by people who were actually here during the event, and they’ve described what happened better than I could. Too many to mention really, but you could start by looking at the Twitter accounts of Luisella Romeo, Monica Cesarato and Gregory Dowling as a a starting point for articles and personal reflections. (And if I’ve missed anyone, I do apologise).

I would like to say a huge thank you to those of you who have got in touch asking how they can help. Well, if you really are able to help directly, you could perhaps look at a couple of Facebook groups such as :-

– AIUTI CONCRETI AI VENEZIANI (https://www.facebook.com/groups/398803031002099/?ref=share)

– Venice Calls (https://www.facebook.com/VeniceCalls2018/)

If you wish to donate, there are any number of appeals running out there. I will just mention one, for the Querini Stampalia – it’s one of my very favourite buildings in Venice, and close to my heart as I wrote most of “The Venetian Masquerade” there. If you’re able to help them in any way at all I’d be enormously grateful :-

http://www.querinistampalia.org/ita/sostienici/acqua_alta_12_novembre_2019.php

And if you can’t manage either of those, well – if you happen to be visiting – just tread lightly. The city needs a bit of love right now. If you’re spending money in the shops, bars and restaurants – that will help. My favourite bar, “Corner Pub”, has been battered. When they’re open again, they’re going to need people to visit and buy Negronis. That sounds flippant, but it’s not meant to be.

I’ll finish by repeating my thanks to all those of you who’ve been in touch. It’s greatly appreciated.

The next posting, I sincerely hope, will be light-hearted nonsense again.

Abbracci!

Philip

 

Walking with Nathan : Three Shadows

“Then I turned into the Street of the Assassins, where four shadows waited for me.”

The Venetian Game

It’s always a pleasure to get messages from readers who’ve been to Venice and have checked out some of the locations in the books. “Church Pub” / “Corner Pub” has been doing well recently, but most visits, of course, are to the Magical Brazilians and the Calle dei Assassini. And, occasionally, I’ve been asked questions along the lines of “where’s the architectural feature that casts the three (or four) shadows on the ground in The Venetian Game?” 

Indeed, a friend of mine told me he spent ages walking back and forth looking at the street from all angles, in order to try and work out where it could be. So to save other people the trouble, I have to point out – it doesn’t exist. Or rather it does, but it’s not on the Street of the Assassins.

Let’s flash back seven years : I’ve only been in Venice for six months, and I’m walking back from practice with the coro. I walk over the Accademia Bridge, down into Campo San Vidal and then, as I often do, I try and find a random route home, enjoying the feeling of getting lost in the dark streets..

I walk past the church of San Vidal where Vivaldi, as ever, is being played. I turn left into the Calle del Frutariol and cross the bridge over the Rio de San Vidal. Then I turn right into the Ramo del Teatro. It’s quieter now. There’s no Vivaldi, and nothing to be heard except the sound of my own footsteps. There is no-one to be seen.

I turn left into Calle del Stampador, and stop dead in my tracks. Because three shadows are waiting for me. And then I laugh, feeling immensely silly but also immensely relieved.

Light shining from the open window behind has cast three human-looking shadows upon the ground.

I walk on. I’m not even thinking about writing a book at this moment. But the street with three – or is it four? – shadows waiting is not going to be so easily forgotten,

Photos

So, it was a busy couple of weeks in Scotland and Wales. Mimì didn’t want us to go and worked out a cunning plan – sitting on our clothes – which was guaranteed to stop us leaving.

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Unfortunately, it didn’t work. This was her response :-

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Here’s a few photos from along the way. We met lots of old friends – including a couple who we literally have not seen in almost twenty years – and we made a lot of new ones as well.  Here’s hoping we can do something similar next year.

We were lucky with the weather. Glorious sunshine almost everywhere we went although, during our final drive back, it was evident that large parts of South Wales were under water. We just about got away with it.

At the moment, I’m working on final edits to “Venetian Gothic”. Some other fun things are happening – I’m hoping to be able to do a few events in Germany when Das Venezianische Spiel comes out; and then there’ll be a few things back in the UK upon the release of Gothic.

Many thanks to Bloody Scotland, the Crickhowell Literary Festival, Waterstones and the Edinburgh Bookshop. Not forgetting Kate and Mungo, Michael and Carol, Jane and David and, of course, Mum and Dad, for both putting us up and putting up with us.

Oh, and, if you’re wondering, Mimì has just about forgiven us…

Venetian Gothic

Well, the title’s been on Amazon for months and many of you knew it anyway, but here 51Ac8gPIozL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_we are : Nathan Sutherland returns in “Venetian Gothic” next April, and here is a preview of the cover.

As to what it’s about…well, it’s a Nathan Sutherland novel, of course, so you kind of know what to expect by now, but it’s also my attempt at trying to integrate themes from the original concept of the Gothic novel into a contemporary crime story. You can judge if I succeeded or not next April!

There’s more information on the “Venetian Gothic” tag above – do be warned that, as ever, there are some mild spoilers! (I always think back-cover blurbs tend to give too much plot away, so I’ve edited it down so that it doesn’t reveal too much).

I have really enjoyed writing this one – I hope you all enjoy reading it.

 

Scottish/Welsh Tour 2019

It’s two countries and four dates so I’m calling it a tour! Back to the Land of My Fathers, and the Land Where I Spent Quite A Long Time.

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22nd September, 16.00 – 17.00. Bloody Scotland, Stirling, “Europe – Still here, still game” (with Toni Hill and Johana Gustawsson)

23rd September, 18.00. Waterstones, St Andrew’s

24th September, 18.00, The Edinburgh Bookshop (note that the listing isn’t up yet)
28th September, 12.00 – 13.30 : Crickhowell Literary Festival, “Welsh Crime International” (with Chris Lloyd and Cal Smith). There’s a bit of a Crime Cymru theme to the whole day, so if you want to meet the very best in Welsh crime writing (or me) then you know where to be.
If you’re anywhere in the vicinity, come along and say hello. And if you don’t want to say hello to me, well come along anyway to buy books, or to say hello to Toni, Johana, Chris or Cal.
The green jacket will not be making an appearance, and there are, I’m afraid, still no tour T-shirts. I’m working on this…