Welcome Alex, and thanks for accepting my interview. Tell us something about you. Who is Alex Connor? Strengths and weaknesses.
Thank you so much for interviewing me. It’s such a honour for my book about Caravaggio to be published in Italy.
So to answer your first question. My strengths? I’m a great lover of art and artists. I’m fascinated by the lives of these people, having genius and yet also having all the human frailties. I’d say I was determined to understand people and have an endless curiosity for why people do what they do.
My weaknesses are too much passion and stubbornness! If I believe in something, I don’t give up until I’ve achieved it.
Tell us something about your background, your studies, your childhood.
I was educated at public school and drove my parents mad dragging them to galleries in London! Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi have been heroes of mine since childhood.
You live in Brighton, tell us something about this town, its artistic beauty, its parks. Is Brighton a town full of lively ideas and cultural events and restaurants?
It’s a wonderful city by the sea, with grand white-painted Georgian townhouses looking over the Channel and glorious countryside only a mile inland. In Brighton there are numerous restaurants, theatres and many, many people involved in, or interested in, the media and the arts.
I’ve exhibited my paintings in Brighton (as well as many times in London) and there are always many cultural events going on – as well at the romantic, faintly ridiculous, but extraordinary Brighton Pavilion! If you want a city that has culture, a thriving club scene, fabulous architecture and all the fascinating shops in The Lanes, then this is place for you.
It’s a wondrous mixture of a Grand Duchess and Drag Queen!
You are an artist, a painter, when did you first know that you wanted to be also a writer?
My apprenticeship was unique. I was stalked and attacked in London and whilst recuperating from an operation I read a book and thought ‘I can do that’! So I wrote my first novel and sent it to a publisher.
It was dreadful, but luckily they could see something in my writing and commissioned me to write my first novel. Then the second, and the third…..
Painting is immediate; you can see the results of your labours on the canvas, but I love writing because it takes time to grow. With art, its like meeting someone at a party and making a friend. With writing, it is like a slow love affair that takes time to develop.
What are typical qualities of a good writer?
A thick skin! You need to be able to take criticism and to being able to criticise yourself. You need belief, discipline and motivation, because you have to be professional if you want to succeed. The days when writing is hard are the days you have to keep at it. The days when everything you write seems banal, are the days you have to persist and believe in yourself. This is what builds the courage and strength that nourish your work.
And above all, you have to entertain yourself. Because if you’re bored with what you write. the reader will be too. Write as though you are telling someone an incredible experience and you want them to hang on every word. Amuse them, and you’ve succeeded.
Do you read other contemporary writers? Who are some of your favourite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
I have a confession to make – I don’t read many contemporary writers (apart from Scott Turow and J. W. Hall) because I adore the older writers like Dickens, Balzac, Dante, Zola, Tolstoy – all the writers who delved deep into peoples characters. Long, involved novels which cover extended periods of time as they follow the lives of the protagonists are my favourites and these are the ones that have influenced me.
Although they are written in the past people don’t change – the human values of love, anger, rivalry and loss are the same now as they always were.
You start writing historic fiction, and non-fiction art books, then in 2011 The Rembrandt Secret, your first thriller, a great success. How do you opted for this particulary genre of thriller: art, consipracy, past and present closely related?
I wanted to write about the passions of my life – art, art history and thrillers. Because I’m an art historian it seemed natural to use my research and because I’m an artist I can relate to the painters and how they worked. In fact, for each book I copied paintings by the Old Master about whom I was writing. As I did for Caravaggio. (see attached photographs of David with the Head of Goliath and my painting of Luca Meriss standing in front of The Nativity.)
Now The Caravaggio Cospiracy, is released in Italy with the title Cospirazione Caravaggio, What was the starting point in the writing process? What kind of research was involved?
Caravaggio has been an obsession of mine since I was a child. He caught my imagination with his passion and his life story. I was intrigued that a man who was capable of murder could paint with such tenderness. His short life in was filled with violence, illicit pleasures, scandal, and mystery – the perfect historical person to base a modern day mystery/thriller on.
So where did I start the book? At the end of Caravaggio’s life, not at the beginning. At the final part, when we have a pity for this giant brought low.
Also – being a great fan of the cinema – Caravaggio’s works appeal to me because they are so filmatic and their lighting has a visual quality which surpasses that of any other painter. Chose any picture by Caravaggio and you have a whole story, a tale in paint.
Could you tell us a little about your main protagonists?
The main protagonists are the dealers – I cant give away too much or it will spoil the novel for the readers! – but The Caravaggio Conspiracy is a study of how greed and rivalry make villains out of these men. Caught up in the maelstrom is Luca Meriss, a misguided innocent and supposed descendant of Caravaggio.
As the book continues the reader enters plot and counter plot as each character has something to hide – or gain – in the search for the missing paintings. Only Gil Eckhart – the hero – keeps to his moral code out of loyalty to an old friend. But it will cost him dearly.
The book moves from Caravaggio and his lifetime, into the present contemporary art market of the 21st Century, in countries around the globe. And everywhere are murders, or the memory of death, all committed for the sake of art.
Two paintings, Natività con i santi Lorenzo e Francesco d’Assisi e il Ritratto di Fillide Melandroni, are important during the story. Two loss paintings. Tell us their story.
The hero, Gil Eckhart, races to solve a horrific double homicide, a pair of past homicides, and the mysteries of Caravaggio’s two missing masterpieces – one stolen in the 1960s and the other having disappeared in Nazi Germany during WWII.
The former, The Nativity of St Lorenzo and St Francis, was a remarkable work which hung above the altar in the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily, for over three hundred and fifty years. But one night in 1969 it was cut out of its framed and stolen. No one knows for certain what became of it – was is stolen to order? What is destroyed? Was it – as one rumour has it – stored, and later destroyed, by pigs?
Or does it still exist? If so, Gil Eckhart has to find it. Just as he has to find the Portrait of Fillide Melandroni – the most beautiful and amoral whore in Rome.
As The Caravaggio Conspiracy moves around the globe – from London, to New York, to Berlin and New Delhi – the search for the paintings continues. And as the trail leads closer to their being found, the ruthless dealings and murders accelerate.
How long did the process of writing The Caravaggio Cospiracy take?
Usually the books take nine months, three for research and planning, six for writing, But because I already knew a great deal about Caravaggio this novel was completed in seven months.
Is the artistic world, wih gallery, antiquarians, collectors, really so? It’s really scary.
There are villains everywhere! Of course most art dealers are respectable and leading admirable lives, but where there is money – a great deal of money – and many reputations to protect, there is sometimes crime. Up to $3 billion in art and artifacts are stolen each year worlwide. Some paintings are stolen to order, by unscrupulous collectors, others faked and passed off as authentic. There is a saying: ‘Corot painted 400 pictures. 1000 of which are in America.’
Of course what I write is fiction, so some of the characters exhibit the worst side of human nature. But there is always a hero to balance it out!
Do you ever use any of your personal fears or experiences in your stories?
No. I want to explore the unknown, not the known.
What did you most enjoy about writing the book?
An excuse to write about Caravaggio! To hopefully pass on some of my admiration and enthusiasm to the reader. There have been many brilliant biographies written about him, but I like to think that he would have enjoyed being brought back to life in a thriller!
Any movie projects from your book?
What are you reading at the moment? Could you name any interesting and brillant british debut thrillers?
At the moment I’m doing research on my new book and that’s keeping me busy, so unfortunately I have yet to catch up on the latest debut thrillers! But I would recommend British writer Nicci French, and also a book called ‘Alex: Book Two of the Brigade Criminelle Trilogy’ by Pierre Lemaitre and Frank Wynne
What is your relationship like with your readers? How can readers get in touch with you?
My readers are a joy and I welcome every connection. Writers work in solitude. We write, we finish out book, and it goes ouit into the world. We’re not actors who can see an audience applaud or yawn! So feedback so important to us.
Anyone is welcome to reach me on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/alexconnorwriter. Or my websites – http://www.alexandra-connor.com or http://www.alexconnorthrillers.com. Or they can follow me on Twitter – @alexconnorwrite. I genuinely love my readers to connect with me.
I’ll keep writing as long as they keep reading.
Finally, the inevitable question: what are you working on now?
I’m working on a book about the French painter, Gericault. And – I am so very excited about this – a novel about Artemisia Gentileschi and the circle into which she was born. Her father was the famous Orazio Gentileschi and his closest friend? Caravaggio.
You see, all roads lead back to the king of painters.