Naples is a funny old place. It sits on one of the most beautiful bays in the world and has a history going back to Roman times, and beyond to the Greeks. Tourists pour into one side of the city to visit Pompeii, Sorrento and the Amalfi coast. But very few venture the other side, even though historically this was where the Romans loved to come and play.
Italian food is always astonishing and Verona, if I’m honest, has some of the best you’ll find. Over five days we never ate a bad meal, something that’s very easy to do in Venice, and even in Rome if you pick badly.
So just for the record (and when I next go back) let me set down a few food and drink tips that may be useful.
First… a rediscovery. The wonderful red onion of Tropea. This is an onion, but not as you know it. Grown exclusively in the Calabrian seaside town of Tropea it’s so sweet they make jam out of it. I bought some seeds and tried growing it in England. It turned out onions but they weren’t the same. Oh well…
The pizza at the top features slowly stewed Tropea red onions and a local Verona cheese. It was simply stunning. Nine euros if I recall correctly and you can find it in a church now converted to a very handsome restaurant, Santa Felicita, near the Ponte Pietra. The pizzas were excellent but there’s a wide menu available too.
There are frescoes on the walls from its church days and seats in the gallery which give you a great view of everything including the kitchen. The place used to be a carpentry shop; its days as a church were numbered when Napoleon marched into Verona and closed the place down, along with lots of other churches he didn’t like.
If you mention the word ‘carnival’ in the Veneto people will immediately think you’re talking about Venice. I’ve done Venice carnival. I had to when I was writing Carnival for the Dead. Much as I love Venice I won’t be doing carnival again.
All the locals I know avoid the thing if they can. It’s certainly spectacular but it’s primarily an event for tourists, many of them dressed to the nines.
Sir Gerald Kaufman, the Labour MP who died a few days ago aged 86, the oldest MP in Parliament, I met twice. Once was when I was the arts correspondent of The Times and he interrogated me in the rudest way possible about the arcane details of the government arts budget of the time, knowing I’d never be able to answer the questions.
The second was years later when he’d obviously forgotten the first and instead had been enjoying a gig writing reviews of crime fiction for one of the Scottish papers. My then editor and then publicist decided they wanted him to review my latest Nic Costa novel and so a lunch was organised at an incredibly expensive Italian restaurant not far from Westminster.
He was a voluble chap very fond of offering advice unasked for, and began by congratulating me on always sticking to what he believed to be the cardinal rule of crime writing: always introduce the eventual villain in the first thirty (I think) pages of the book. This was a rule I was unaware of and if I have stuck to it that’s entirely accidental.
After this the wine flowed and the priciest dishes on the menu were dispatched to the Kaufman plate. He regaled us with entertaining stories of his political life and how, as a Manchester MP, he managed to walk the fine line between supporters of United and City over the decades. Then, when the fanciest dessert I’ve ever seen in an Italian restaurant appeared before him and the team from my publishers was beginning to think in fearful terms of the bill, the crux of the issue was broached. Was there any possibility Kaufman might think of including me in his latest crime write-up for the Scots?
His eyes opened wide with surprise.
‘Oh, no. I can’t possibly do that.’
‘They fired me a while back. I don’t do crime reviews any more.’
And with that he returned to his meal.
Last October, when we were finalising the release of Romeo & Juliet: A Novel, I was lucky enough to spend the best part of a day at the Audible HQ in Newark, New Jersey, alongside my formidable narrator/performer Richard Armitage. We recorded a long interview about the project, writing and performing.
You can now see it all and read a transcript here on Audible Range. I hope you find it enlightening about some of the many enjoyable challenges authors and actors face in projects like this. Unfortunately this happened the day after I flew out to New York and a sleepless night spent in the noisiest hotel in Murray Hill (last time you see me in the Shelburne that’s for sure). So I’m sure I am pretty inarticulate.
Richard, clean shaven for his role in Love, Love, Love, in which he managed to age from nineteen to his sixties, was as on the ball as ever. This is the last piece of supporting material we have to offer you from this unique project. Thanks for all the interest you’ve shown over the last few months — and particular thanks to Richard for lending his extraordinary talents to the finished version.
I’ll be on stage at Deal Noir in Kent on Saturday, March 25. This will be for a panel about British writers who use foreign settings. The panel will be moderated by Andy Lawrence and I’ll be joined by fellow authors Barbara Nadel, Quentin Bates, and Daniel Pembrey.
With any luck we’ll have advance copies of the next Pieter Vos book, Sleep Baby Sleep, available at the event though it’s not due for release until June 1. If you can make it to the lovely seaside town of Deal hope to see you there.
Romeo and Juliet: A Novel is the third project I’ve been involved with for Audible that was written specifically to be narrated or performed, not as a book.
Lots of people ask about the differences between writing for the page and writing for the ear. There are quite a few and I think they’re important. I also believe that writing for audio provides lots of lessons for the novelist too.
Audible kindly let me loose on their Range magazine today to talk about some of these issues. I hope this answers some of your questions… and thanks for all the kind feedback and great reviews for R&J since its launch three weeks ago.