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Writing

Live online with Humphrey Hawksley January 20th

Delighted to say you can find me live online talking to my fellow author, the broadcaster and journalist Humphrey Hawksley, on Thursday January 20, for one hour starting at noon UK time. This is part of Goldster’s fascinating and growing library of interviews with contemporary authors. You can browse past ones here and see writers such as Joanne Harris talk about their work.

I’ll be speaking about The Garden of Angels, with some photos of Venice that show where the story came from. But we’ll also be covering earlier work such as The Killing series and the Costa books too, as well as chatting about the writing process as well. Really looking forward it.

You can book your free ticket to watch here — and take part during the chat while I’m online. Feel free to ask me about anything — except the garden pheasant.

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Writing

De engel van Venetië shortlisted for best thriller in the Netherlands

Very flattered that the top Dutch book site Thrillzone have placed the translation of The Garden of Angels on the shortlist for thriller of the year. Many thanks to everyone in the organisation and my wonderful team at Boekerij for their continued support for my work in Dutch.

The winner will be announced on December 24. You can read more and vote for the books you love here. You can read Thrillzone’s five-star review of the book here too.

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Writing

Newsletter 3 – some good travel news and a recipe for panforte

There’s a new newsletter up — you can read it and subscribe for free here.

In it I cover some welcome changes for travel to Italy if you’re flying from Heathrow with British Airways, offer a little travel and writing advice along with a recipe for Christmas panforte. Please excuse the typo which refers ‘Piazzale San Marco’. It should read ‘Piazzalle Roma’, of course.

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Writing

Newsletter 2 – and it’s mostly about travel

If you’d like to read this newsletter in full with all the pretty bits please go for the release version here. And do subscribe if you like and share — it will always be free. And the next one should be from Venice.

Yes, I know I said I’d have a standard format for these newsletters. But that was before I got into thinking what they’re really about. And that’s… random things that crop up. It makes no sense to be tied down to a format that stops you improvising.Right now I’m planning my second travel trip of the year. Back to Italy for work. I was last there in July to finish one project and had to quarantine for five days on the way in which was a pain you can read about on the blog.

Quarantine was lifted at the beginning of September for those of us coming from the UK. To be honest, given the way Covid has been allowed to let rip here over the last few months, I’ve been expecting it to return. But with any luck I will make it there first. However, travel is still a lot more complicated than it used to be so I thought I’d set down a few tricks I’ve picked up preparing for this trip.

Here, as far as I understand it, is how you need to prepare to go to Italy from the UK at the moment.As far as I can see we’re going to be performing Covid tests out and back for many journeys for a quite a while. You know the routine – get a test to prove you’re fit to fly 48 or 72 hours beforehand. But here’s the rub. What does 48 or 72 hours mean? Is that before you get on the plane? Or when you land?

Answer: it varies. So do check. When it comes to Italy it is, from the UK at the moment, 48 hours before you land. So if you rush in and get the test two days before the flight you might find you’re in trouble. What kind of test? An antigen, one of those quick ones, will do. You can buy them online, test yourself and send a picture of the result to the provider. You should then get a certificate declaring you fit to fly. Take it to the airport where they will inspect it at check-in and probably at immigration at the other end (they did in July for me). You will also need to fill in an EU Passenger Locator Form here.

If you’re double jabbed you will be expected to show proof of it. Your NHS app should have that stored on your phone. It will let you download a pdf of the certificate to print out. I really recommend doing this. That way you have an easy copy when you need it. That same certificate will count as a green pass in Italy. You’ll need it and photo ID to get into museums, restaurants, cafes, pretty much anywhere. From what I gather the whole Covid control and mask-wearing regime is much tougher in Italy than in the UK (it could hardly be less) and you will be expected to comply.If you can’t show proof of being double jabbed you will still have to have proof of a fit to fly certificate and be expected to quarantine for five days on arrival. I don’t recommend this.

Coming back, if you’re double jabbed, you can go to the airport without any previous test (which is better than last July). But you must have bought a Covid test to perform in the UK within two days of your arrival. This can be a cheapish antigen, around £25 to £30 like the departure test, carried out at home. But you have to be able to prove you’ve bought one by typing the reference number for it into the UK Passenger Locator Form you need to fill in on the way back. There’s no reason you can’t buy that kit before you leave and get your reference number then.

So… test before flying to Italy, proof of double jabbing and locator form on the way out; test booked prior to return, locator form and test on arrival when you get back. Budget for £50 a head or so.

I think that’s it.

The writing tip

Since I’m on the subject I ought to add a simple tip about using a foreign location. Some people write foreign scenes without ever going there, which is fine if that’s what you want – it worked for Jules Verne who’d barely set foot outside France before writing about travelling round the world in eighty days.

Others, like me, want to dive deep into real-life locations and get inspiration from there. Whichever way you set about it here’s one tip I’d try to stick to – if you want to use something factual do make sure it is factual, and not a common travel myth (there are many) or something scalped from an unreliable source on the web.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Years ago, I was involved in one of those round robin writing projects you tackle for fund-raising, in this case for an authors’ organisation. One writer pens a chapter which is then handed onto the next.

The writer before me had the story moving to Italy, for which I was grateful. But he also had the protagonist landing at something called Leonardo da Vinci airport in Rome.

For anyone who knows Rome this is a real giveaway. Yes, the web will tell you the official name of the main Rome airport is Leonardo da Vinci. But no one calls it that. It’s Fiumicino. It says that on most of the road signs, and the airport code is FCO. If uncertain, fake it. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing…

What’s in the kitchen

Venice is my destination, so I ought to give you one of my favourite local dishes there, one that’s especially welcome on a chilly winter day: Bigoli (or bigoi to use the Venetian) in salsa.

In essence it’s fat spaghetti – bigoli – with anchovies and onions. Which sounds disgusting but it’s not, honest. The onion and the anchovies are slowly cooked down till they’re a sweet and succulent sauce for the pasta, one which, if it’s cooked correctly, isn’t recognisable either as anchovy or onion. Luca Marchiori, whose recipe I link to below, recommends cooking the onions for as much as an hour. He knows more about Italian food than I ever will — his entire site is worth a look. But I never cook them quite that long. And ordinary spaghetti is fine if you can’t find bigoli itself.

Bigoli in salsa: Venetian pasta (recipe) – Luca’s Italy
Bigoli in salsa is the only really traditional Venetian pasta dish. Made with simple ingredients from the Venetian lagoon it’s packed with umami.lucasitaly.com

There was a fast food chain called Bigoi started in Venice a few years back, and very good it was too with pasta made on the premises and great salsa as well as duck ragu. Unfortunately it closed during the pandemic – hope it comes back.

That’s all for now. If you enjoy the newsletter do please share around – the more the merrier if it’s to be worthwhile. And I will have another missive coming from Venice shortly.