I was first introduced to Philip Gwynne Jones through our mutual friend, author Gregory Dowling, and now Philip is contributing to an upcoming book I’m putting together. He is a Welsh author living and working in Venice. He first came to Italy in 1994 when he spent some time working for the European Space Agency in Frascati, a job that proved to be less exciting than he had imagined. He spent twenty years in the IT industry before realising he was congenitally unsuited to it, and now works as a writer, teacher and translator. He lives in Venice with his wife Caroline. He enjoys cooking, art, classical music and opera; and can occasionally be seen and heard singing bass with Cantori Veneziani and the Ensemble Vocale di Venezia. He is the author of the bestselling The Venetian Game and a sequel, Vengeance in Venice. The Venetian Masquerade will follow in 2019. I’m hoping to meet him in person on my next trip to Venice!
How has Venice seduced you?
Strangely enough, it took a while. It wasn’t on our first trip to Venice, when we were completely absorbed in the Biennale. It was our second visit–we arrived at about two in the morning after a delayed flight from Naples. Fortunately, there was still somebody in our hotel on the Zattere to let us in. We popped the plastic cork on a little bottle of prosecco in the mini-bar and tumbled into bed. I’ll always remember opening the curtains the following morning, and looking out on the Giudecca canal in the early morning sunshine. It was magical. There really is no other word for it.
What do you never fail to do in Venice?
I’m fortunate enough to live in Venice (indeed, there’s no other place for me to call home) so, if I can misquote the Welsh writer Lloyd Robson, everything I do is a Venetian thing to do.
What is your Venice soundtrack?
At the moment, I’m completely immersed in Monteverdi (I’m listening to his Dixit Dominus as I write, and trying not to sing along)–inspiration for a future novel. And Pink Floyd are now, for me at least, indelibly linked with certain locations in Venice. Readers of The Venetian Game will understand!
Walk or take a boat?
Mainly the boat, for practical reasons. My day job takes me to a school about thirty minutes walk away, and I don’t usually feel like that at 7:15 on a rainy January morning. And it’s always a pleasure to get a seat outside on a late night boat, and just watch the city slide past.
Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.
Well, I ‘m very fond of St George’s, the Anglican church in Campo San Vio, a space that even many Venetians have never visited. But I do also like San Giorgio Maggiore: feeling part of Venice but also ever-so-slightly distant from it.
Which is your favorite Venetian festival and why?
I used to love the Festa di Liberazione, organised by the Communist Refoundation Party, in Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio. Every evening there’d be a talk by various politicians, activists or journalists; followed by a band. Drinks and snacks would be served at comradely prices, and there was some quirky merchandise–my Antonio Gramsci magnet is still proudly affixed to my fridge. And I have very, very happy memories of jumping around to a Jethro Tull tribute band a few years ago. Sadly, it hasn’t been on for a few years now.
Spritz or Bellini?
Definitely a spritz, and always with Campari. I’m afraid Bellinis don’t hit the spot for me, I find them a little too sweet.
What do you always tell friends to do when they visit the city?
Come for dinner, meet for drinks or–if we happen to be away–look after our cat.
If you could have dinner with any Venetian, living or dead, who would it be and why? What would dinner be?
I think the modernist composer Luigi Nono would be fascinating company, and he’d probably bring Carlo Scarpa along as well as a bonus. But I do worry that the conversation would be a little over my head. So I’ll say Giovanni Bellini, because I definitely owe him a couple of drinks! And, if I was doing the cooking, we’d start with some gamberoni wrapped in lardo, followed by a simple piece of grilled fish with a squeeze of lemon. With copious amounts of prosecco. I’d have to do the cooking at his place, however, as my oven doesn’t have a grill. I hope he likes fish…
Casanova: genius or cad?
In all honesty, I think the first word is a bit too strong, and the second one not strong enough.
What would you do with $30,000 U.S. to spend in Venice?
I’m not sure. I like to think I’d find somewhere that needed $30,000 of repairs and give it to them. St. George’s always needs a bit of money, I’d probably give it to them.
If money were no object, which palazzo would you buy?
Easy! The Palazzo Querini Stampalia. I wouldn’t change anything at all, but just make space for a three-bedroom apartment in there. The museum is lovely, the library is the perfect place to work, the gift shop solves all Christmas, birthday and anniversary problems, and the cafè downstairs is one of the best in the city. And then, in the evening, I could walk around Carlo Scarpa’s magnificent modernist remodelling of the ground floor, and have dinner in the garden. I’ve often said that if they had a place to sleep I’d happily live there.
Which gelato flavor are you?
Coffee. But pompelmo rosa gives me a nostalgia rush as it reminds me of our early visits to the Gelateria lo Squero, where the signora (who sadly died a few years ago) always seemed to give me an extra large scoop.
How can readers learn more about you and your creative pursuits?
Well, my two Nathan Sutherland novels The Venetian Game and Vengeance in Venice are widely available in bookshops and from Amazon. The Venetian Masquerade will follow next year. For those who wish to practice their Italian, Venetian Game is also available in translation as Il Ponte dei Delitti. Libreria Studium, near San Marco, usually has them in stock. Further information can be found at