Magdalen Nabb - Exclusive Interview - Part Seven - Michael Dibdin -

Exclusive Interview with Magdalen Nabb

Florence, Italy
September 10, 2004

Part Seven - Michael Dibdin

Q: Do you know any writers who set their mysteries in Italy?

Nabb: Well I know Michael Dibdin. We have the same publisher in Italy. That’s a funny story--one of those strange things. We keep meeting, Michael Dibdin and I. Our most recent meeting was in Mantua at the 2003 Festivaletteratura. We presented our latest books together.

But I have known him for years. We wrote our first books at the same time, in the same place. His first book, A Rich Full Death was set in my house. He wrote it when I wrote Death of an Englishman. I was living in the Casa Guidi, the Browning house. Michael turned up to photograph it and look around. At the time, I was writing Death of an Englishman, also set in my house. It’s so weird. Anyway, those were our first books, written in the same year and they were set in the same house, which was my house.

Then I didn’t see him again until about 15 years ago. We were both sent by the British Consul to the University of Bologna where there was sort of a convention or something. And our books were the subject of whatever they were talking about. We turned up there and met each other again. We turned up at Bologna when he had just moved to Seattle. And he came up to me and told me that he had been reading one of my children’s books, The Enchanted Horse, to his little girl. Someone in the meantime had given me a copy of A Rich Full Death. And so he came up to me in Bologna and said, “Oh, I can see you don’t remember me.” Well of course millions of people came to see the Browning House--so I didn’t remember him. Why would I? I said, “Why didn’t you say who you were?” “Well you didn’t say who you were.” Then we said, “Well we weren’t anybody at all, were we?” So we hooked up again at Bologna and then he disappeared for another ten years or so and then we met again in Mantua. When we met in Bologna, he had been very agitated about his Italian translations, they were very bad. This does happen. For example I once saw a scene—not in Michael’s book—in which two men met up in a gay bar and in the translation it said a cheerful bar. I suggested he move to my Italian publisher, it was Rusconi at the time. They had an excellent translator. She’s so good she’s perfect. And so, she translated A Rich Full Death for Rusconi. Unfortunately, Rusconi was sold off before the book came out.

Anyway, I met him again in Mantua. At that point we were both being published by Passigli who had published the good translation of A Rich Full Death. In Mantua, Michael was very nervous. He had been on the road on a publicity tour and was already tired. He had been living in America for some years by then and didn’t feel up to speaking Italian at our presentation. Our new books were being presented to a wholly Italian public, a very big audience, by Corrado Augias—the guru of the Italian literary scene. It was very important so Michael asked for an interpreter. That’s always tedious as it slows things down and I felt Augias was paying too much attention to me and too little to Michael which made me uncomfortable. Then Augias interrupted and he said, “Just stop for a minute because there’s a latecomer coming in.” Somebody came in right at the back and came along to the front. It was Romano Prodi, President of the European Union. He came in grinning all over his face with a fleet of secret service people behind him. He had been at a political meeting nearby and he insisted on coming because books were his business. He worked a lot with Augias on the RAI television book programme, before going into politics. So he came marching in and all these secret service escorts were fussing about like wet hens--“You can’t sit here the tent is open at the side.” They said, “Five minutes, no more.” He sat down in the front and he started giggling. And Dibdin was so distracted by this that he forgot the interpreter and started speaking in Italian, adequately--perfectly adequately. After that we all enjoyed ourselves.

Q: Does Prodi know your books?

Nabb: Well he went away clutching the latest one, having interrupted the proceedings yet again on departure to come up to the stage and kiss my hand.

Q: Do you know any of the other people that write mysteries series set in Italy?

Nabb: Dibdin is just this huge coincidence that keeps popping up in my life. No, I generally don’t mix with them--I mix with policemen and the people I write about, rather than other writers.