Everyone’s a Winner
Literary agent Ed Victor winds down in Italy and finds the film director’s memoirs an ideal holiday read

People often ask me whether, as a literary agent, I am influenced in my assessment of a manuscript by the mood I am in or by the circumstances in which I find myself while reading it.
I try not to be, but if I’m honest 1 would have to say that my level of enjoyment is enhanced by where I happen to be (and how I happen to feel) when I open the manuscript box and begin reading.
In the Eighties I represented the bestselling author Irving Wallace. When he announced he had completed a new novel, I would fly out to LA. After a night at the Bel Air Hotel, I would be installed in the beautiful tropical garden of Irving’s mansion, where a table had been set up with a perfectly typed manuscript and a fabulous lunch.
Sitting there, among the palm trees and tropical flowers, soaking up the California sunshine while London was in the middle of a grim winter, it would be hard not to love what I was reading!
Similarly, I remember reading (and loving) a new Iris Murdoch manuscript by the side of the swimming pool at the Cipriani Hotel in Venice. Many otherwise boring plane rides to and from New York or LA have been considerably enhanced (and shortened) by the experience of reading, en route, a wonderful new book by one of my clients… currently Freddie l’orsyth’s marvellous new thriller Avenger, his first for eight years.
There was always a risk that I was stacking the deck in Michael Winner’s favour when I decided to read the manuscript of his memoirs during a visit to a muchtouted new hotel in Italy the Masseria San Domenico. I had never been to Puglia the heel of the boot of Italy despite often being urged to visit the area by knowledgable friends (like my client Lord McAlpine and his wife Athena, who have just bought an old monastery there and opened it as a bed and breakfast).
Those in the know about Italy insist that, unlike Tuscany and Umbria, Puglia is uncrowded and unspoiled. But until now I had resisted. Until, that is, I found a hotel there that suited my sybaritic tastes.
The Masseria San Domenico is built around a stunning 14th Century fortified farmhouse. Stark white stone buildings, housing wonderfully comfortable rooms, are interconnected by a series of arched passageways and spacious, open piazzas. To the south is the Adriatic, viewed over a sea of ancient olive trees; to the north are scenic mountains.
The hotel opened in 1996 and, despite a major expansion three years ago to SO rooms, it still feels like a small, perfectly run family enterprise (the owner lives in the old farmhouse at the end of the grounds).

THROUGH immaculate tropical gardens is a vast salt water swimming pool. For those who prefer their salt water au naturel, a lovely walk down to the sea along an avenue of olive trees ends at a private beach for hotel guests, with comfortable chairs and cold drinks on tap.
I plumped for the side of said swimming pool, stretched out on an incredibly comfortable deckchair, armed myself with some iced tea and dipped into Mr Winner’s opus.
By the age of 14, he had talked himself into a job as the showbiz columnist for the Kensington Post in which role he managed to interview many of the major stars of the day. His career at Cambridge was another chapter of brilliant manoeuvres and then he began, at a very tender age, to direct major films.
The book is full of hilarious anecdotes about the stars and, for me, the funniest was his description of walking along the beach with John Cleese one Christmas Day in Barbados. The sunshine was sparkling on the waves, the scent of tropical flowers was in the air and the two of them had just had a fabulous Christmas lunch at the Sandy Lane Hotel with friends and family. ‘Surely,’ said Cleese, ‘there is more to life than this?’
Apart from very joyfully reading Winner’s manuscript by the pool, I also played golf on a brand new, well designed 18hole course built just for hotel guests. In addition, my wife and I made use of the spa each evening, she for thallasotherapy and I for massages.
And then there was, of course, the food. It was excellent. Best of all was the lunch, a cold buffet served on a shady patio, where you helped yourself to fabulous seafood salad, poached sea
bass with a delectable rosemary sauce, baby artichokes, roasted tomatoes and endless perfectly grilled vegetables, all drizzled with the local olive oil.
The only downside to the trip which I gather will be remedied in September is that there are no direct flights from London to Ban, which means you have to change planes in Rome.

OUR return flight to Rome was cancelled, but even this dark cloud had a silver lining: the fourhour wait gave us an opportunity to wander around the old town of Ban a strange, compelling warren of souklike streets and a 12th Century basilica. But once they sort out the flights, the Masseria San Domenico is a winner of a weekend break.
All in all, a perfect way to spend a guiltfree weekend away and still feel some work was done: a beautiful hotel, great food and service, golf, massage and an amusing (and commercially valuable) manuscript to read.
Like Michael Winner himself, it doesn’t take much to make me happy!

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