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Nathan and Me by Philip Gwynne Jones

Nathan and Me PGJ


How much of Nathan Sutherland is Philip Gwynne Jones?

I get asked this quite a lot.

It’s a fair question. The short answer would be Stephen King’s from On Writing (essential reading if you’re a writer or in any way interested in the craft) : namely that every character  is, in some way, a reflection of you.

But that’s not the whole story.

Firstly, I am not actually the Honorary Consul in Venice (and, yes, I have been asked this one as well). I started to write The Venetian Game over five years ago and, at that time, I didn’t feel that I could convincingly write an Italian protagonist, let alone a Venetian one. He’d have to be a Brit abroad. Having recently moved to Venice, I knew something about that. Nathan, I thought, would be a smarter, more streetwise and, in some ways, a slightly more rubbish version of me. But that left me with a problem – he couldn’t plausibly be a cop. Besides, writing a police procedural in Venice would lead to inevitable comparisons with Donna Leon’s long-running, hugely successful series about Commisario Brunetti, and I wasn’t sure I’d come out of those well.

A private detective then? Well, that was a possibility, but I couldn’t really swallow the idea of a private detective setting up an office in Venice. I briefly considered having him live on the mainland – darker, grittier, with proper crime – but then decided the world was not quite ready for a series of detective novels set in Mestre.

Then I remembered the Venetian businessman to whom I’d taught Business English, and who also worked as the Honorary Consul for Thailand. I’m not quite sure how much English he was ever able to learn from me, however, given that whenever I turned up for a lesson he was inevitably busy fielding queries from visitors who’d managed to get themselves into a spot of bother. And that, at a stroke, solved all my problems – if Nathan was the British Consul he’d have contacts throughout the city, with the police, with the prisons, with the churches, with the various strata of Venetian society. He wouldn’t have to go looking for trouble – trouble would come looking for him.

As it happens, there actually is a British Honorary Consulate in Venice. Nathan operates from his flat in the Street of the Assassins, but the real  consulate used to be at the rather more prestigious address of the Palazzo Querini, next to the Accademia galleries and overlooking the Grand Canal. It’s long since moved, however, and is now located in Mestre.

I did not know about any of this when I started writing about Nathan Sutherland, and only found out when I was introduced to the actual consul at a party. I think I babbled something like I’m terribly sorry, but I think I’ve written a novel about you by mistake. He was very nice about it and he’s since become a friend, but he wasn’t the inspiration for the character.

So, is Nathan me?

Well, like Nathan, I also do some translation work, although I’ve managed to avoid lawnmower manuals thus far. I do have a cat but whereas Gramsci is a spitting, clawing, furry ball of misanthropic fury, Mimi…is not.

Picture of Mimi the cat


But we do have a number of things in common. Donna Leon once told me that Brunetti had to be someone she liked, if she was going to be spending so much time with him. I thought that was a good point. I’m not sure if, like Brunetti, there’ll ever be 25+ Nathan Sutherland novels (although I’m perfectly happy to give it a go) but I decided that if he was going to be part of my life for the foreseeable future, the things he liked would be things that I like and, by extension, things I would enjoy writing about. So, Nathan likes to cook, as do I – and, let’s be honest, a novel set in Italy without mentioning the food would be like The Lord of the Rings without elves. Similarly, we both like old films – old horror films in particular. And then there’s the music…ah, the music! 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 wish I’d been that clever but I was, of course, being entirely serious…

Venetian Gothic is the fourth in the series, and begins on the cemetery island of San Michele, on Venice’s Day of the Dead, where a suitably gothic mystery unfolds for Nathan to investigate. This one’s a little bit darker but, never fear, Federica and Dario are back to help, Gramsci is, well, Gramsci and there might even be the occasional mention of Pink Floyd…

I hope you enjoy it!




All Venice books from Philip Gwynne Jones