I’m delighted to be hosting Tony Flannagan in my hot seat chatting to us about Mozzarella Bella and the English Fella. Find out Tony’s inspiration, the scene he enjoyed writing the most and more!
We’re also delighted to be sharing Alice-Jane’s thoughts on this YA novel.
Take the following ingredients:
A penniless English student – who just happens to be a wonderful artist.
Add a beautiful girl who is ridiculed because of her disability.
Drop in a corrupt police chief and his two vicious nephews.
Introduce Mozzarella Bella, the feline scourge of Naples who has had to run away to the Eternal City to save at least one of her nine lives.
Then, sprinkle in a gang of wild street cats who actually talk to each other, and what have you got, signor?
Just another day in Rome!
Mozzarella Bella and the English Fella by Tony Flannagan is published by Vanguard Press (30th May 2019) and is available to purchase in paperback format.
Hi Tony, welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
Please summarise Mozzarella Bella and the English Fella.
The story is set over seven days in Rome. Seven incredible days that will change the lives of Charlie (the English fella), Maria and Bella forever, as they encounter, love, friendship and murder…
What was the idea/inspiration for your story?
It started with the title, although originally it was ‘Mortadella Bella’ (which isn’t anywhere near as catchy). My mother was Italian, and we holiday in Italy a lot. The idea of Roma è Amore – Rome is Love – fascinated me. In Latin Roma è Amor is a mirror image. The story holds up a mirror to both the beautiful and dark side of the Eternal City. It takes place over seven days – the same as Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Rome is built on seven hills. Seven is my lucky number.
Please tell us about your characters Tony.
Charlie is an English student seeking to sell his sketches to enter an end-of-course exhibition at the Accademia and the chance to win a fully funded year of study in Rome. Only the tourists in the Via della Verita, the street of truth, aren’t really interested in Charlie’s work and Police Chief Romano is making his life and that of everybody else in the street a misery.
Romano has been invoking an ancient by-law that forbids the bar and restaurant owners to feed the feral cats that populate the city of Rome. He has closed down nearly every business in the Via della Verita except La Margherita, a pizzeria run by the widower, Toni, and his disabled daughter, Maria. But Romano is biding his time.
Maria has to care for her father and run the family business, as well as complete her own studies at the Accademia. This has caused her to lose contact with all her friends leaving her feeling lost and alone.
Bella is a tortoiseshell cat. She had to leave her home town of Naples after she had killed another cat in a street fight. Bella earns her nickname – Mozzarella Bella – from Toni who feeds all the cats leftovers from his restaurant, a practice that earns him the wrath of Romano.
This is a story about three outsiders who find love and discover true friendship in the Eternal City: This is a story about three outsiders and the Eternal City, which holds up a mirror to the darkest of secrets: Roma e Amor. Rome is Love, and lies and murder… But the real truth is known only to the Gattara, the old cat woman, only she knows there is no such thing as just another day in Rome.
If you could choose to be one of your characters who would you be?
That’s a tough question. I suppose I would want to be Charlie because he gets to fall in love with a beautiful Italian girl. But I don’t know what my wife would have to say about that!
Was there anything about your protagonist that surprised you Tony?
I had to make a privileged, home-counties, privately-educated, teenager likeable… I would like to think I achieved this, and showed that Charlie is both brave and sensitive at the same time – very English qualities. He also sees beyond Maria’s disability, but what really surprised me was that she ends up taking the lead in their relationship and Charlie is the proverbial ‘smitten kitten’ and utterly incapable of making the ‘first move’ – having started off coming across as a bit cocky and too sure of himself. The relationship between Charlie and Maria is like the Charlie Brown not catching the ball scenario, which always makes for a compelling story.
What scene did you enjoy writing the most?
The end scene at the Colosseum brings all the protagonists together and resolves the both the main thread and the back story for the reader. It was enjoyable in that at last I could reveal the truth. The majority of the story is set in a fictional street: the Via della Verita – the street of truth. Truth is the theme that resonates throughout the book.
… and the hardest?
The hardest scene to write was the beginning. I wanted to introduce the characters and objects that would be key features of the story without giving anything away. They are all there in the opening scene in the Via della Verita and I would like to think that I keep the reader guessing throughout – even if they think they have already discovered the truth…
Does your story tackle a social barrier?
Maria suffers from ‘Amelia Syndrome’ and was born without a right hand. As a result, she is now ridiculed by her old friends. But the real reason she has lost touch is because, following the death of her mother, she’s having to balance both college studies and running her father’s restaurant in the Via della Verita. Charlie sees beyond Maria’s disability, and the reader will get to know and love a tough, no-nonsense, business-minded girl who shakes Charlie from his lethargy and forges the link between Mozzarella Bella and the English Fella. The story is about love, friendship and murder. I don’t want to give too much away, but I fell in love with a girl I just met called… Maria.
Do you have a theme for your book covers Tony? Who designs them?
I’m going to give a BIG mention to Dominic Campbell who has supplied the artwork for both of my books. I specifically asked for Dominic to do the second book cover (Mozzarella Bella and the English Fella) as I wanted that continuity. The cover conveys a really important part of the story and introduces you to Charlie, Maria and Bella. The cover is original and invites comment – I love it. It’s like ‘Never Mind the B**locks’ here’s Mozzarella Bella!
You can catch up with more of Dominic’s music and art on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/domogorille/?hl=en
Do you have a favourite book?
My favourite book is The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. It is a short novel but one that I have read over and over. Each time I read it I discover something new. The theme of love and materialism is timeless. It could have been written today and be equally as relevant. 125 pages of pure magic.
Are there any tips you could share with new writers?
I would encourage new writers to get hold of a copy of a book on writing. There are loads on https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/store/writinghandbooks and this will help transform that little acorn of an idea into a might oak of a finished book. I had always struggled to finish the first page, and then I bought a copy of The Weekend Novelist by Robert Ray & Bret Norris. I followed all the exercises and this helped me write complete my first book: The Most Curious Case of the Runaway Spoon. I used it as reference material for Mozzarella Bella too.
Finally, what has been the best part of your writing journey so far?
Most writers would probably say it was seeing their work in print for the first time. But I was a freelance contributor to a horse racing magazine for a number of years and self-published three books on the sport of kings. Now that I have two books published I am really hitting the social media sites. I feel that having two books gives a writer a bit more credibility – although Harper Lee clearly didn’t think so! But as I venture out on Twitter and LinkedIn I’m finding that there are loads of really interesting and supportive people, who are as obsessed about books as me. And that’s how I came by Jera’s Jamboree and it is a privilege to be able to share my thoughts and talk about my new book.
It’s a pleasure to host you Tony. Wishing you success with all your writing projects.
Mozzarella Bella and the English Fella is mostly told by the street cats maintaining their ‘business’ to keep the restaurants of the city squares free from vermin. Their livelihood is threatened by Rome’s infamous corrupt policeman whose desire is a direct vengeance on Maria’s family restaurant.
The combination of Charlie, an English student enamoured with Rome (and Maria) and the effort of the gatto di strada, all come together to become ‘Just another day in Rome.’
A charming, easy to read story, set in the beautiful city of love- Rome!
My first children’s novel The Most Curious Case of the Runaway Spoon was published in May 2017 by Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie.
I had previously written freelance for Racing Ahead a horse magazine. Writing under the pseudonym ‘Larkspur’ I contributed articles on most aspects of the sport of kings. The discipline of writing to a monthly deadline was informative and the catalyst for me to self-publish three books on horse racing. Then, in 2014, The Larkspur Method was published by Raceform. They had originally rejected the book, but decided to take it on and it’s still available from the Racing Post shop. Sales aren’t going to cause JK Rowling many sleepless nights, but it’s still out there! I really got up close and personal with a sport I love and it was a great experience.
Like most people, I always knew I wanted to write a novel and messed about with the concept of a book about my daughter and her love of make-believe for a number of years. The problem was that I always got stuck after the first chapter. It was when I purchased a copy of The Weekend Novelist by Robert J Ray & Bret Norris that things changed enormously. The easy-to-follow guide transformed the way I went about my writing and enabled me to finish a full draft manuscript.
That’s where the information contained in Writing Magazine is so essential to writers – both new and established. You never stop learning, you never stop wanting to write that perfect novel. I am a great admirer of the magazine and always read the hints and tips on offer.
When I signed with Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie I ticked that big box at the top of my bucket list. At the time, I did not know anything about partnership publishing; I had never heard of the invidious phrase ‘vanity publishing’ and even if I had it wouldn’t have put me off. I wasn’t desperate to get into print, I’d had a go at self-publication and was lucky enough to have a niche market amongst the subscribers to Racing Ahead, but I had no insight or connections into the world of book publishing and knew that I had to build a market. I think it is very much a case of what is best for the writer. Having entered into a partnership contract I am driven to make the books a success, primarily in order to earn back the money that I have invested. It is an investment in me as a writer. Will it turn out to be profitable? Will people be interested in any of my books? I don’t know, but having written a second book I feel that I have a little more credibility on the bookshelf and you’ve got to be in it to win it, as they say.
Mozzarella Bella and the English Fella is my second children’s novel. The story is set over seven days in the Eternal City. Seven incredible days that will change the lives of Charlie, Maria and Mozzarella Bella forever. Think of it as the Aristocats meet the Godfather, with a bent cop thrown in for good measure!
I’ve currently got ideas for three more books: a follow up to Runaway Spoon, tentatively titled: Fursairyland II; a book about a small horse racing stable with the London Tube Bombings, a teenaged boy with Social Anxiety, and sibling rivalry as the central themes / characters; and there is also a trilogy of Italian Crime Noir novellas, again set in Rome. I need to focus on one but deciding which is tricky. I suppose I ought to stick to the children’s book genre for now but would love to branch out into crime fiction at some stage.
Connect with Tony Flannagan