1 ECOUMBERTO ECO interview up on Publishers Weekly. I have never laughed so much during an interview. He told jokes as we waited for the elevator, he let me touch his incunabula….I think I am in love. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/profiles/article/68465-the-parasitic-press-umberto-eco.html


2 ParksNice quotes from my TIM PARKS interview that I was unable to fit into my piece for Publishers Weekly: “Obviously I was aware of people like [Patricia] Highsmith. I admire her a lot but I always thought that the [Ripley] books could have been much funnier. You could see that she just didn’t do humor. And Italy always seems to invite humor. Either humor or desperation because you can go crazy in this country quite easily, particularly if you have to get something done.”

“Crime and Punishment was another book that I think could have been so much funnier. You feel you are morally superior to these people so why not.”


3THE POWER OF BOOKS: I was chatting with Antonio Cesari from Brigaldara (www.brigaldara.it) about fictional characters who inspire people to put them into a real context. Romeo and Juliet, Sherlock Holmes and…Mary Poppins. Antonio told me that when his brother went to London for the first time he walked around every single park in the city looking for Cherry Tree Lane, the location of the Banks’ residence.

A few days later, I happened to pick up The Collected Essays of Graham Greene. Here is a quote: “Perhaps it is only in childhood that books have any deep influence on our lives. In later life we admire, we are entertained, we may modify some views we already hold, but we are more likely to find in books merely a confirmation of what is in our minds already: as in a love affair it is our own features that we see reflected flatteringly back. But in childhood all books are books of divination, telling us about the future, and like the fortune-teller who sees a long journey in the cards or death by water they influence the future. I suppose that is why books excited us so much.”


4I have been asked to review books for Publishers Weekly. The editor asked me give him an idea about what I liked to read. This is what I wrote:


I read mysteries for publishers when I was in New York…and for Book of the Month club I read things that didn’t fit into easy categories (a book on Masai warriors) and artist’s biographies (I had studied art history at university) and, of course, mysteries.


However, a wander through the books on my shelves reveals that my favorite novelists are Nabokov (the first chapter of Lolita is pure poetry), John Updike, William Boyd (except for his James Bond pastiche), Louis de Bernieres (although sometimes the narrative in his books becomes untethered and floats away), Peter DeVries (he makes me laugh out loud). Of course most of these authors are dead. But they have styles I enjoy reading….they play with words and still deliver emotional punch. I will also confess to reading Allison Lurie and Anne Tyler, although they are not displayed on my shelves. They are secret “girly” reading.

I like showbiz biographies, I studied enology, viticulture and wine tasting and have written about wine for closing in on 30 years….so I can assess wine books.


I don’t like those big fat Japanese books – nor do I like those slim, slight Japanese books, where everyone is just soooo sensitive. I don’t like books that pump up their page count by hammering in slabs of Googled “history” and “science”. I am beginning to find the Mystery writers who pump out one big fat book after another, tiresome. I am sure they are nice people but I want to shake them and say firmly: Stop repeating the same story, do something else!

On my bedside table at the moment: Michael Caine’s Autobiography The Elephant to Hollywood, Le Carre’s The Tailor of Panama, Elmore Leonard’s Djibouti and The Name of the Rose. I will read anything if it is nicely written.


We go to Venice on the train to visit Michelle Lovric (www.michellelovric.com), who writes books about Venice.

2- Michelle takes us to the Campo dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo to visit the Scuola Grande di San Marco. In a large room, with an ornate Renaissance ceiling, humans can look at primitive surgical equipment, including saws for amputations and slim picks for poking in eyes. The word “butcher” surfaces and I am interested in the place for twenty seconds. The humans go inside, I am content to sit in the sun in the piazza and meet dog friends and listen to their Venetian owners natter away with She Who Must Be Obeyed.








Michelle asks if I would like to examine a dying bat crumpled against the wall of a narrow alley. I decline. I wait patiently while she takes a photo of it. Have you ever noticed how humans are attracted to every disgusting thing they find on the pavement?





Saturday we go to the fish market and buy plates of fried fish and glasses of wine. We take our vittles to the quayside and sit on the stone pavement to eat our lunch. Seagulls swoop overhead. One drops something into Michelle’s plate. Every molecule in Michelle’s body seems to draw tight and shimmer for a moment. She offers the remainder of her fried squid to me. I love al fresco dining.

We go to Bacaro da Fiore, a crowded little osteria. I am fed meatballs and cooed over by the waiters. I lie down and they and their patrons are careful to step over me. People start telling She Who Must be Obeyed the names of their dogs: Franco, Dick, Zeus, Camilla. I fall asleep.


“Let’s get a picture of Stanley in front of Ca Dario, the most haunted house in Venice,” says Michelle. They hoist me up on the parapet of a tiny bridge and dance around trying to frame their shots. German tourists approach and I detect the enticing aroma of granola bars. She Who Must Be Obeyed loosens her grip on my hindquarters and I leap forward off the parapet and into the path of the tourists. “Dogs are very sensitive,” says Michelle. “He no doubt felt the ghostly vibrations.”


6aThey are cooing and coaxing and offering doggie treats to get me to pose with Michelle’s new book, The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters. I don’t like having my picture taken. I don’t like the sound the camera makes and I don’t like that bright light that sometimes stings my eyes. When I hear the camera’s opening tune my usually elegantly floppy ears press back against my head and my round eyes take on a haunted look. It is a very good book and I am sure I would enjoy it if I read books….but….this picture taking business…. She Who Must Be Obeyed pulls me into her lap and whispers sweet things into the back of my neck and massages my spine. I will not be so easily seduced into compliance.


I come upstairs after my nap. The humans are talking about Aldus Manutius (Aldo Manuzio), the re-inventor of the semi-colon. He married well and unfortunately passed away shortly before perfecting the hemi-demi-semi colon. I go to each person in the balcony room and let them know that treats would not go amiss but they keep on talking about punctuation. I curl up under the table and go to sleep. I dream of meatballs.


We go into an antiques shop on the Zattere. The owner, a man with long hair who is losing the battle with middle-age, gives me a dirty look. Michelle points at a small canon. “It would be perfect for the balcony,” she says. Is she joking? I can never tell with humans. I spend a millisecond worrying about the brides in their gondolas who glide by Michelle’s balcony on the Grand Canal, and the young men in dinner jackets who whiz past in motor boats. Dogs and cats are in no danger because she unabashedly likes them. Here are some pictures of fine floating dogs she took from The Balcony.









“Stanley is a real Venetian dog,” they all say.
“Stanley is a real Venetian dog,” they all say.
Stanley J. Seadog
Stanley J. Seadog














We go home to Verona on the train
We go home to Verona on the train

Interview with Andrea Camillieri


3Camilleri, for those who may not know, is Italy’s best loved author and the creator of the wry and observant Sicilian commissario, Salvo Montalbano. He reached international fame at the ripe age of 70 and is therefore a true inspiration for all aspiring writers.  I interviewed him for Publishers Weekly at his apartment in Rome.

Here are two rather nice quotes from Camilleri that I won’t put in my article:

“When I don’t have any ideas I might write a letter, for example, to a man I’ve just encountered at a kiosk. It’s a letter I know I’ll never send, but it serves as an exercise. Without that, you get stuck. What’s behind writing? It’s not that the artist writes when he gets inspiration — it’s the work of each day.”

“Two great masters for me are Hammett and Chandler. Perhaps Hammett above all because of his behavior during the Communist Witch Hunt in the 1950s. He ended up going to jail for his views. Now, this was a man who drank nearly a bottle of whisky a day. So going to jail for him was like having a double sentence. It took a great deal of courage.”

5Camilleri very kindly signed books for Stefania (who made her family take their last vacation to Sicily so that she could visit all the sites where the Montalbano TV series is filmed) and for Susanna (whose favorite book is Il birraio di Preston.)

Susanna was very pleased when I told her that that book was very significant in the development of Montalbano. In fact without it there might have never been a Montalbano. You see, Camilleri was stuck when writing Il birraio di Preston so he decided to set himself a “creative exercise”: writing a mystery novel. He wanted to see if he could write a linear plot – going from chapter one through to the end and linking each chapter logically. So there you have it, Montalbano started out as a remedy for writer’s block.

Before going to Rome for the interview my husband went to a small hand-made chocolate shop to buy a box of candy to take to Camilleri. (I had done my homework and discovered that he had not drunk wine since 1947 – yes, 1947.) The shop assistant asked my husband if the chocolates were for a woman and he told her they were for Andrea Camilleri.

Shop Assistant (in awe): He’s one of those people that you think don’t really exist.
Michael: You mean like a mythological creature?
Shop Assistant: Yes, exactly!