Nathan and I

I was very pleased to give a talk and reading from “The Venetian Game” at the Circolo Italo-Britannico in Venice recently. And even more pleased to receive this rather lovely paperweight as a gift.IMG_2247

I hope one day to have a desk that does it justice. Actually, I hope one day to just have any sort of desk at all. I write on the sofa. But I aspire, one day, to a desk.

Anyway, I took a few questions from the audience, including this one : How much of Nathan Sutherland is Philip Gwynne Jones?

It’s a good question. One answer would be Stephen King’s from On Writing (and if you’re a writer or in any way interested in the craft of writing, do go out and buy this – it’s essential)  : namely, that every character  is, in some way, a reflection of you. But I think it’s worth adding a few things.

Firstly, my domestic situation is rather (by which I mean much) happier than Nathan’s. My wife lives in the same country and, indeed, same apartment as me. There are not, nor have there ever been, any art restorers in my life except for Stefano to whom I briefly taught English five years ago. Very nice chap, but not my type.

I do some translation work but, so far at least, have managed to avoid lawnmower P1010530manuals. We do have a cat but whereas  Gramsci is a spitting, clawing furry ball of misanthropic fury, Mimi…is not.

But there are, of course, some things in common. I once heard Donna Leon say that Brunetti had to be someone she liked, if she was going to be spending so much time with him. It’s a good point. I’m not sure if there’ll ever be 25+ Nathan Sutherland novels (although I’m perfectly happy to give it a go) but I do think that, yes, he kind of needs to be someone you want to cheer on. One review described him as being “slightly rumpled”. I think that’s a very good description.

His musical tastes are, of course, mine. One review suggested that I was very cleverly poking fun at the predilection of Italian men of a certain age for old British progressive rock bands. I was, of course, being totally sincere. Hawkwind, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd are the soundtrack to my life. If anyone goes out and listens to them as a result of reading “The Venetian Game”, I would absolutely delighted.

The big difference between us is that Nathan is – in his own quiet, rumpled way – quite brave. And I’m not. Not at all. I think I’d just have taken the package from Mr Montgomery and gone straight to the police.

The character I’d like to be, I think, is Federica. The one that I enjoyed writing the most is, of course, Arcangelo. But that’s another story for another time…

 

 

 

 

 

Corriere del Veneto Review

There have been a number of very positive reviews of the Italian edition, some of which I’ve added to the “Reviews” section.

Here’s the interview from today’s Corriere. And many thanks to Roger Branson for the photo.

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And here’s a translation :-

“The location is the shadowy, fascinating Venice we all know for its characteristic, unique views, the ferry boats and swarms of tourist, the high waters and humidity, its treasure chest of artworks, the opera and the amazing food. The main character is a funny, typical anti-hero who gets accidentally thrown into the action. At his side, a horrible cat named Gramsci, a couple of shady giudecchini, a friend with a Pink Floyd obsession and a fascinating restorer. Philip Gwynne Jones’s Il Ponte dei Delitti (Newton Compton Editori, 2017) is a noir you’ll read in one breathless sitting – the Welsh author has been living in Venice for five years, and brings together English humour and a good knowledge of the lagoon city and our country. The protagonist of this contemporary crime-thriller is Nathan Sutherland, translator by profession and English Consul by vocation, with the mandate of solving his countrymen’s small issues when visiting the Serenissima. It’s a tedious and monotonous job; or so it was, up until the enigmatic Mr Montgomery shows up in Sutherland’s office, asking him to look after a small package for a large sum. Smelling trouble, the Consul decides to decline the strange offer (even though all that money could have been useful), but he gets tricked and ends up receiving the package anyways. He opens it and finds out it’s a prayer book illustrated by Renaissance Master Giovanni Bellini. Or is it? “And so Nathan”, the author tells us, “decides to investigate and gets sucked into a dangerous game (as per the English title of the book, The Venetian Game). But all ends well. The inspiration for the character came to me while teaching English to a foreign consul here in Venice”. The novel is full of twists and turns, it drags you into history, and it’s full of love for Venice – it’s the author’s “thank you” to the city. The next Nathan Sutherland book, Vengeance in Venice, is out in the UK in April and will take place during the Biennale.”

Interview

The phone call came midway through cooking dinner. A phone interview with the Corriere del Veneto. A proper, major Italian newspaper.

A pan of bechamel sauce was simmering gently on the hob. Michael Moorcock was declaiming, somewhat less gently, on the stereo as Hawkwind’s space-rock classic “Warrior on the Edge of Time” played in the background.

I’d like to say that the interview was down to my literary brilliance, but the credit actually lies with my lovely friend Barbara who set it all up for me. I’d been hoping for days that someone would call and when they did…

…well, let’s just say it went about as well as might be expected. I scurried around, phone tucked under my chin, babbling away in imperfect Italian as I stirred my sauce with one hand and tried to switch the music off with the other.

In the end a decision had to be made, and I chose to save dinner. I’ve yet to hear the final interview but I fear my best efforts to explain the inspiration for the novel will be interrupted by the sounds of Michael Moorcock shrieking “WE ARE THE LAST! WE ARE THE LOST! WE ARE THE BETRAYED!!!”

I’ll let you know…

Tour Guides and Hon Cons…

I was back at Laguna Libre last Saturday for a presentation of Il Ponte dei Delitti along with fellow Venice-based author Gregory Dowling, presenting his second novel in the Alvise Marangon series The Four Horsemen. The advertisement referred to two capolavori – “masterpieces” – which might have been over-egging it a bit given that that puts us in competition with The Aspern Papers, but neither of us were going to complain.

Gregory and I found very different solutions to the problem of “how do you write a detective story in Venice without making the protagonist a detective?” I made Nathan Sutherland the Honorary Consul. Gregory made Alvise Marangon a cicerone, or tour guide to the great(ish) and the good(ish) on the grand tour of the 18th century which is, frankly, a brilliant idea.

His exposition of the Venice of the period is skilfully and subtly done, as Alvise draws you into his world. He’s an engaging protagonist : an accidental hero, slightly down-at-heel, living by his wits and possessed of a dry humour without ever falling into the cliche of the “cheeky chappy”. I think he’d get on well with Nathan. A shame it could never happen. Unless, of course, I manage to sell that Doctor Who script I’ve been working on…

Until this happens, I highly recommend both The Four Horsemen and its prequel Ascension to you. And if you really want to know what we look like, well, here are some photographs…

 

Cooking with Nathan : gamberi al lardo

I was cooking for friends recently, and this was the starter. It’s a hard dish to get wrong really, as long as you can get the parts. It’s also really quick to cook, which gives you more time to sparkle…

Ingredients

Large prawns. The larger the better. I got 30 enormous ones from Rialto and they served six people.

Lardo : very finely sliced strips of pig fat. Yes, I know. Stay with me on this. If you can’t get it, very thinly sliced bacon – the fattier the cut the better – will do. The important thing is to get your butcher or supermarket to slice it as thinly as possible with a bacon slicer. No matter how good your knives are, you won’t be able to do it yourself.

Rocket / Leaves : yeah, we probably have to have a salad on the side. Some leaves, a bit of dressing. But let’s be honest, it’s not the main event and we’re not really that excited about it are we? Put some leaves in a bowl with a bit of oil, salt and pepper. That’ll do.

Method

  1. Choose your music. Shelling and wrapping of prawns is quite a satisfying job, but a little bit time consuming and fiddly. You don’t want to be playing an album where you suddenly want to skip tracks. I had Mozart’s Die Entfuehrung aus dem Serail on which is (a) far more gorgeous than I ever remembered and (b) was long enough for me to prepare a main course and bake a cake as well.
  2. Shell the prawns, and remove the intestinal tract (just give them a pinch in the middle and pull the red veiny thing out. The bigger the prawn, the easier this is). To be honest, you don’t really need to do this, but it looks nicer and makes you feel properly cheffy.
  3. Wrap your prawns. Take a strip of lardo and wrap your prawn up in it. Easy. If your lardo is super-thin you will be able to feel it melting away in your hands. Try not to think about this.
  4. When all your prawns are wrapped, you will have a plate that looks something like  this :-
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Do not panic..

I know this may not look lovely. Don’t worry. Put them in the fridge to chill a bit

5. Meet your guests. Make spritzes. Do your best to sparkle.

6. Heat a frying pan to a medium-high heat. Do not add any oil. Your prawns are wrapped in pig fat, you are not going to need anything else

7. Fry your prawns for a couple of minutes each side. And this is the really clever bit…the fat will almost completely disappear, but will keep the prawns moist and impart a little saltiness, a little bit of flavour of bacon, and whatever else the lardo was cured with (in this case, black pepper and rosemary). If you had to use bacon, don’t worry…you’ll end up with a slightly crispier and more bacony shell but this is by no means the worst thing in the world.

8. Arrange on plate. Serve with some rocket, if you really have to. It probably needs a glass of white on the side, but – given the salty/savoury quality – a red would do as well.

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Some prawns. On a plate. But what great  prawns!

 

(Not) Lost in the Supermarket

Caroline rings me from the “Panorama” supermarket in Marghera.

“You’ll never guess what I’ve just seen!”

I’m a bit lost at this and so my response is an underwhelming “No, I can’t.”

“Go on. What would be the most amazing thing you could see here?”

I’m still a bit stuck. My mind races through the possibilities. The complete print of “The Wicker Man”, thought lost for decades? A steak and kidney pie? A new Hawkwind album?

All of these go through my head. And then I suddenly think, “The book?”

“Yes. They’ve got about a dozen copies. How many shall I buy?”

I fight the urge to say “All of them.” It would, after all, be unfair to the good folk of Marghera. Just a couple, I suggest.

I put the phone down. I have work to do, but, quite obviously, none is going to be done now. I grab a very sleepy Mimi the cat and hold her in front of me. Haven’t you got a brilliant owner? Her legs scrabble through the air, so I put her down. I throw lots of balls for her in order to make up for all this unexpected activity.

I meet Caroline, laden with two heavy trolleys, at Piazzale Roma. It is chucking it down with rain, but I don’t care. All I want to do is get back home.

It looks beautiful. And more than that, it reads really well. The translation is excellent, and the “voice” feels like mine – or, more importantly, Nathan’s. Complimenti Marco Bisanti, we’ve never met, or even spoken, but you’ve done a wonderful job here.

Il Ponte dei Delitti is available from Thursday 21st September. Or right now from Panorama in Marghera. Ten copies remained at the time of writing.

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Cooking with Nathan

Nathan likes to cook – unless, of course, the alternative is a night in with a pizza, cheap red wine, and Pink Floyd on the stereo. It’s an attitude that I can understand, but I do appreciate that the pizza is not a food group.

I went to the fish stall on the Cannaregio canal this morning and picked up two splendid tuna steaks. Caroline had a salad Nicoise in mind. Now, as much as I appreciate a decent Nicoise, a good one can take a bit of preparation and so I need some protein at the end of it as a reward. So my version goes a little bit off-piste.

The basic recipe comes from the redoubtable Felicity Cloake :-

Felicity Cloake’s Salade Nicoise

– and the addition is, simply, some fresh tuna. I know some people might be horrified at this but, dammit, after an evening in the kitchen I need something more than just a salad. I think the trick is not to flake it and toss it in with the salad, neither is it to put a great thick slab of tuna steak on top of the salad (which will just steam it and make it unpleasantly soggy).

Method

  1. Choose your music. I went with early to mid-period Beatles here, but – if you prefer –  Pink Floyd will work equally well.
  2. Follow Felicity’s recipe above, and assemble the salad on the plate (I put the eggs directly into boiling water and cook for seven minutes, which gives a nice sticky yolk. I also like to layer the anchovies over the eggs, just to look a little bit more cheffy).
  3. When you’re done, take your tuna steaks. Pat them dry, and just wipe them over with a little olive oil. Give them a good grinding of salt and pepper.
  4. Stick a decent, heavy pan on a medium-high heat. You don’t want it to be smoking away at a terrifying temperature, but just enough for your steaks to sizzle. Then just sear each edge of the steaks, no more than ten seconds a side.
  5. My steaks were just under an inch thick and so ninety seconds a side is fine. Then slice them into strips about the width of your little finger and add them to the plate.

With a bit of luck it will all look something like this. If it doesn’t, well, I’m sure it will still be nice. And if it isn’t, do what Nathan would do and head out for a pizza…

Nicoise

Il Ponte dei Delitti

Here’s a look at the cover of the Italian edition of “The Venetian Game” which, I’m hoping, will be out in September.

The publisher, Newton Compton, always seem to have very striking covers and I’m extremely pleased with this. Now, some of you may have noticed that the Ponte dei Sospiri (a location which, shall we say, is not prominent in the book) takes pride of place on the cover. No, I don’t know why either! No matter, I still think it’s a lovely piece of work.

 

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Radio Wales

My interview with Phil Rickman can be found here (for the next 28 days)…my bit is about ten minutes before the end.

Radio Wales interview

There’s also been a nice review on The Crime Warp (good title!) website at :-

The Crime Warp

I’m off on holidays for a couple of weeks, although I don’t think I’ll be leaving Nathan completely behind. I don’t think I’ll do any actual writing (Caroline really will stop me!) but I think there’ll be plenty of frenzied scribbling for book 3…

Phil the Shelf

Some of you may know Phil Rickman as the author of a series of novels about Elizabeth I’s court magician Dr John Dee. You might also know him as author of the successful “Merrily Watkins” series (recently dramatised on ITV). Merrily is a Church of England vicar in the border country between England and Wales. She is also a “Deliverance Minister”. Or, as we used to say, an exorcist. Oh yes, they still exist, and every diocese has one.

Now, as an idea, Merrily is such a brilliant one as to turn one mad with rage and jealousy. Fortunately Phil is a very nice bloke, and I was very pleased to be asked to appear on his “Phil the Shelf” programme on Radio Wales. We had a good old natter about “The Venetian Game” for about 25 minutes, and Phil asked some very perceptive questions. : for example,  yes, Arcangelo is, basically, Count Dracula…I wrote all his dialogue with Christopher Lee’s voice in my head. I’m fifty years old and I can write my own Hammer film if I want to!

I also spent part of the interview beneath a towel. No, really. Apparently it helps with the acoustics if you’re speaking from a place with hard surfaces. I started to asphyxiate after five minutes and threw the damn thing off. If you notice a sudden difference when you listen, do let me know…

The interview, I believe, is on BBC Radio Wales at 13.30 this Saturday, repeated on Sunday at 18.00. It’ll then be available on iPlayer for a month. At any rate, I’ll post a link when I have one.