Istria Gold by Mike Downey was published with MPress October 6th and is described as a novel that is ‘connected through the centuries by the almost mythical Istrian truffle…the three narratives of Lucia, Nino and Marco weave a tale of obsession, greed and bloodshed. Blending a complex plot and richly drawn characters, Istria Gold brings to life the fight to possess the region’s most precious commodity and with it: power, wealth… and freedom.‘
I am delighted to welcome Mike Downey here today with a piece he has written entitled ‘Not Too Old at Sixty Three? Literary Late Bloomers‘, so I do hope you enjoy.
“I have always known that my journey from storytelling in the theatre to narratives in publishing to plot lines in screenplays and cinema would always lead me back to the great literary starting point that is the novel.”
– Mike Downey
[ About the Book ]
LONDON, 2019: After undercover cop Marco Mihailić is drummed out of the Metropolitan
Police he seeks refuge with his family in Croatian Istria. He finds a world utterly changed from
his childhood, and one in which his beloved grandfather Nino’s truffle-dealing escapades have
got him into the kind of trouble that he can no longer handle.
ROMAN ISTRIA: AD 81: 18-year-old Lucia desperately needs to escape the gladiatorial
games, and her beloved English mastiffs are her way out. Although trained to kill in the arena,
her loyal companions Brutus and Britannica have a secret ability that is the key to Lucia’s
freedom: their ability to smell out beds of truffles. They will help make her fortune and take
Lucia and her family away from the violence and horror of the games.
ISTRIA, 1943: Brothers Pino and Nino Mihailić have seen waves of invaders beat, kill and
imprison their innocent neighbours in war-torn Istria. Driven by fear and revenge, they join
Tito’s Partisans. Within a year Pino’s star is riding high after a series of guerrilla victories, but
Nino sees another way out of this war: his dog and the lucrative truffles they find in the
[ Guest Post – Not Too Old at Sixty Three? Literary Late Bloomers ]
The world of novel writing is littered with writers who come late to the profession, which, as film producer-turned-author Mike Downey is only too well aware of having completed and published his fiction debut ISTRIA GOLD, fast-moving adventure mystery set in the Adriatic province of Istria, at the ripe young age of sixty three.
Dafoe was 59 when he began in fiction following the well-trodden path from journalism; Chandler (55) was a failed oil executive; Bukowski was the same age when he hung up his postbag; Lee Child was fired at 40 and famous by 50 and Mary Wesley famously kicked off at 71. Without making any rash comparisons it’s clearly not unusual in this business for people to take up the pen in advanced years. The reasons are as many as there are senior starters but in my case it really was a question of one thing leading to another.
I’ve always been culturally curious and interested in pursuing a wide range of activities in the arts. In fact, that’s what I have spent my whole life doing. Having studied theatre and modern languages at Warwick University, the Sorbonne and Nanterre University in Paris, I naturally stepped into working in the theatre in the UK, the former Yugoslavia and Germany as a director. Having reached an impasse in directing for the theatre – at a certain point my plays had become so minimalist I longed to work in parallel on multiple projects across various countries, and so decided to turn my hand to film production. In order to do that I really owed it to myself and the directors I would eventually produce to learn something about the profession — contrary to popular belief it’s quite a specific and highly skilled activity. In doing so I started to write and publish about cinema and got lost for ten years in the publishing business. When I finally got around to producing my first movie, I was 40 years old. Now 100 plus movies and 20-odd years later ISTRIA GOLD has to come together as a literary reality, and I realise that this was where I was always heading. The writing of the novel has felt like coming home in more ways than one. It took quite a while. It’s great to be away from the noise of all the other things I’ve done until now. In fact, it feels like it’s a journey back to myself.
Part of the reason I was a later starter/bloomer with ISTRIA GOLD was that the thing was long time gestating. I have always known that my journey from storytelling in the theatre to narratives in publishing to plot lines in screenplays and cinema would always lead me back to the great literary starting point that is the novel. But I wasn’t quite sure when that would happen. I had various ideas for a novel, none of which I found compelling enough, or indeed ambitious enough. As I was headed towards the age of the big six-oh (yes, it took that long) – I figured that if I was starting my novelistic and literary career so late – I should start at least with an idea which had scope scale and ambition. In the end I pooled the three ideas I had for three novels and worked them into a single narrative with a maguffin – as we say in the cinema – which threaded all three stories together. But that wasn’t enough. I then decided that if my first novel was, in fact, going to be a trilogy – then why not do a trilogy of trilogies three books all set in Istria, with the same contemporary characters and differing but linked historical periods. And that was the birth of Istria Gold, Istria Black and Istria Blue – each one with an overriding theme – the first Greed, the second Hate and the third Corruption. It sounds very moralistic and Old testament. It isn’t. They are all actually great fun and I am half way through writing the second volume so we should see that in 2023 and the final instalment in 2024.
Whether this delayed start in novel writing and the wide range of experiences gained over the decades engaged in other creative activities gives one any advantage with the writing process, is very hard to say. But I think if there is an upside, it’s probably an innate fearlessness that one builds up over the years working in the arts, and also a sense that there is nothing to lose by challenging oneself and ones literary output as far as possible.
Youth is a wonderful thing but it doesn’t hold the key to everything. Relevance doesn’t necessarily recede with age, indeed life itself can be fine fodder for the creative mill and though it’s a little hackneyed to say it the slings and arrows of the journey: the joys as well as the disappointments, setbacks and tragedies are indeed part of the literary advantages of a longer existence on the planet. The complete and utter lack of peer pressure can also be considered an advantage. So can being relatively unversed in the culture of TikTok, Dubsmash and Chingari.
So, rather than having a sense of the world closing in as one heads to ‘retirement age’ whole new vistas seem to be opening up creatively and commercially with a publishing deal in place for all three books and international deals coming together in an orderly fashion. Whether this new literary life was something I was always heading towards, or the arrival in this place is entirely serendipitous – what it does bear out in more ways than one is that creativity doesn’t have an expiration date. And indeed, there is no such a thing as “too late” when it comes to creativity.
Purchase Link ~ Istria Gold
[ Bio ]
Mike Downey is an author, film maker, and activist. As a non-fiction writer, Mike has published on a wide range of subjects and has garnered a vast archive of collected writings in publications from Vogue to Variety, from Screen to Stills to Cineaste, having co-founded the Moving Pictures media publishing group in the nineties.
As a film maker he has worked with writers like James Ellroy, Gunter Grass, Colm Toibin, Lee Hall, David Grossmann, and Vice founder Shane Smith, as well as eclectic range of directors including Agnieszka Holland, Volker Schloendorff, Peter Greenaway, Oliver Hirschbiegel, and Mohsen Makhmalbaf. As Chairman of the European Film Academy, he is the co-founder of the International Coalition for Film Makers at Risk and for a decade was a Trustee of the White Ribbon Alliance.
Former Thomas Ewing Visiting Professor of Film at Ohio University, in 2021 he became the Honorary President of the LUX Film Award, presented by the European Parliament, and in the same year he was he was awarded an O.B.E. in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his services to British Cinema. In 2022 the University of Warwick presented Mike with a Doctor of Literature degree, honoris causa (D.Litt.), for his contribution to World Cinema.
ISTRIA GOLD marks his debut as a novelist.