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25 October 2013

Judy Nunn: Just South of Rome

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Charming and amusing short story
This is a charming short story which showcases Judy Nunn's writing skills with an experience that probably goes back to her time as a soapy TV star.

Janie is a soapy star taking a trip to England to star in a winter pantomime, hopeful of getting a break into the West End afterwards. Before going to England she plans to see a bit of Europe, especially Italy, and Roland, an older very good friend, suggests that "You must go to my friend's restaurant. It's just south of Rome."

Janie does visit the restaurant but can't contact the friend. Most of the hotels nearby are full and she finds the only room available is at the Hotel Visconti, an apparently expensive hotel in a grand eighteenth-century villa that is really outside her budget. There she meets the owner of the hotel, Umberto Visconti, who insists in showing her around the hotel. What follows is right out of Fawlty Towers (the classic UK TV comedy series about a dysfunctional hotel). All that is missing is Manuel, the Spanish waiter constantly abused by Basil Fawlty.

When Janie gets to the restaurant the chef has just walked out and she has to share tasteless pasta which has been overcooked for a group of loud-mouthed American tourists. There is no wine list and Umberto serves her a bottle of what purports to be expensive Burgundy, There is no cork and the wine tastes like "Château Cardboard".

The hotel is staffed by a group of similarly strange but kind people who are almost totally under Visconti's influence. The only saving grace is Stefano, the Americans' tour guide who provides an unexpected romantic interlude. Stefano unfolds the background to Umberto and how he runs Hotel (which is so parallel to Basil Fawlty that it made me laugh at the comparisons).

Judy Nunn has written this short story in e-book format as a promotion for her forthcoming new book "Elianne" and the first couple of chapters of that book are at the end of the Kindle version of this short story. I much prefer this kind of promotion (at a cost of a couple of dollars) to the "Read the first few chapters for free" one because you do get to see something more about the author's skills.

I have been privileged to be able to read the full version of "Elianne" ahead of it publication at the beginning of November 2013. It is an enjoyable a family saga based on the history the early days of the Queensland sugar industry.

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