Staying in with Mike Downey on ISTRIA GOLD Publication Day

I’ve a very exciting guest with me today as Mike Downey stays in with me to chat about his debut novel. My huge thanks to Jaime at Ink Editorial for putting us in touch with one another. Let’s find out more:

Staying in with Mike Downey

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Mike and thank you for staying in with me.

I dream of staying in!! So, to be able to do so in good company and with a decent book or two is a real pleasure. So much of my time is spent on the road with my various film productions and as chairman of the European Film Academy, that feet up, in front of the fire with a good book and a good glass of wine is just what the doctor ordered – so thank you very much for the invitation!

You’re most welcome! Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

My non-fiction stuff about how to produce movies seemed inappropriate – so this time I have chosen to bring along my debut novel:  ISTRIA GOLD – set in the former Italian province of Istria on the Croatian Adriatic – it takes the reader on an adventure through three time frames, moving from the world of contemporary eco-warriors to the gladiators in the Pula arena of the 1st Century AD and on to the fighters of the Partisan War of Liberation in 1943.

That’s quite some timescale. What is it about?

The main theme is greed.  A greed driven by the potent elixir of the fabled Istrian truffle.  It’s also the first part of a trilogy of books set in the Istrian peninsula which follow the theme of hate: ISTRIA BLACK and corruption: ISTRIA BLUE.  The ominously sounding themes aren’t as lugubrious as they might seem:  beneath the morality stories of human foibles and folly there is a real sense of human warmth, solidarity and continuity passed down through the ages.

Thank goodness for that. It seems to me the themes of the trilogy are hugely resonant in today’s society. What can we expect from an evening in with ISTRIA GOLD?

Aside from a good adventure romp across the centuries being led by the seductive and fragrant whiff of the White Princess and the Black Diamond (as the white and black truffle are known locally) you’ll get a gentle introduction to a region and a culture that is rich not only in culinary delight, but also art, architecture, viticulture and all manner of pleasures that are to be found when vertically and horizontally integrated into a new place via a new piece of original literature.  As the US novelist, Melanie Finn, author of The Hare and Shame said when she first read ISTRIA GOLD“Downey is a passionate tour guide as well as a nimble story-teller.” 

I love a book that transports me to another place Mike.

There are so many places and landscapes in Istria, as they are magical, excruciatingly lovely and pure and their transcendental beauty is just cries out to be seen – especially central Istria. My passion for the peninsula goes back a long way and and I was lured here by a number of things – cinema in the Vespasian arena especially – as well as the fact that this breathtakingly beautiful peninsula in the Adriatic Sea, lying mostly inside Croatia’s border, has the perfect climate for an Anglo- Irishman (four seasons in a day) – as well as the fact that the and Croatian, Slovenian and Italian cultures of the region are responsibly and perfectly preserved and celebrated.

It sounds wonderful and not an area I know so I shall have to read ISTRIA GOLD to find out more.

What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

Just so we get a real flavour of the book, and what it is like to stay in on a wet autumn night in Istria, I’ve brought two things along.  The first is a bottle of Grimalda red wine.  It’s named after the village I live in in Istria (and which plays a central role in the book) and is created by master vintner and all round great human being Ivica Matosevic – it is the culmination of all his experiences as one of the great wine makers of Istria.  I was there when the first vines were planted back in 2002 and now as the only inhabitant of Grimalda the village, I’m happy to still be here as the vines have reached their full potential in successfully transmitting the specific Istrian terroir signature in the bottle. Steven Spurrier is one of the most important wine critics in the world – he says of Grimalda red: “Matošević Grimalda Red 2018 takes its place among other world-renowned wines like Chateau Latour. This 60% Merlot, 30% Teran, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon is bursting with vineyard character, vibrant spice and black fruits, sour cherries with oak on the palate.”

That sounds delicious. Sadly wine makes me ill so you’ll just have to pour yourself another glass and I’ll simply enjoy the aromas.

It’s best served with a plate of locally made fresh pasta with added Tuber Melanosporumat this time of year.  That’s what I would call Fuži s tartufima – which is one of the most popular Istrian specialties – a delightful combination of traditional fuži pasta and the famous Istrian truffles. The black truffle is a respectable truffle variety. The pasta should be cooked in salted water until al dente, and it is then drained and combined with butter, (optionally) heavy cream, and truffles – white Istrian truffles, black winter truffles (not optional) , or a combination of both.

Consume the Grimalda wine with the truffles found in the damp dales beneath the Venetian Hill Village of Motovun and it will become clear to you that earthly paradise can be attained.

I’ll pass on the wine and pour myself a class of champagne (which doesn’t make me ill) and tuck in as that sounds very appetising indeed.

Lee Hall, the writer of Billy Elliot, Cooking With Elvis, Spoonface Steinberg and the recent Elton John biopic Rocketman wrote of ISTRIA GOLD:  “Mike Downey has a truffle dog’s nose for a good story.”

I have to agree and disagree.  I think I also have a damn good nose for a good truffle as well as a decent bottle of local wine!

Cheers!  And welcome to Istria!

Cheers! Thanks very much Mike and thank you for staying in with me to chat about ISTRIA GOLD. You get the drinks to accompany the pasta and I’ll tell Linda’s Book Bag Readers a little bit more about ISTRIA GOLD:


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 countryside.

ISTRIA GOLD is released on 6th October by MPress Media and Calm Productions and is available for purchase here.

About Mike Downey

Mike Downey is an Irish author, activist, and film producer.  He is also currently the Chairman of the European Film Academy and President of the Lux Award of the European Parliament.  His debut novel ISTRIA GOLD is an ambitious an atmospheric historical thriller, the first in a trilogy starring ex-cop Marco Mihailić. Set on Croatia’s Istrian peninsula, ISTRIA GOLD explores the turbulent region’s history, culture, and traditions, bringing it to life in the grand tradition of authors such as Martin Walker and his BrunoCourrèges series.

For further information, visit Mike’s website.

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