May 25, 2011

An interview with Alfredo Colitto

Hersilia Press @ 9:19 am

I’ve been looking forward to meeting Alfredo Colitto in myhometown of Bologna so when he suggests going for lunch at a local historicaldeli-cum-eatery I am just delighted.
After a chat about Italy, books and crime fiction, withplates of cheese and excellent prosciuttoin front of us, I ask him about Inquisition (Cuore diFerro) which has just been published in the UK by Sphere. Its background is Bolognaand its university where the protagonist, Mondino de’ Liuzzi, was one of thefirst anatomists and surgeons in the early fourteenth century.
Mondino is an extremely interesting character, havingwritten what is considered the first anatomical treatise, and quiteshort-tempered. In the book, Mondino is brought, illegally, a corpse (the studyof anatomy was carried out on corpses of suicides or people who had beenexecuted) by the Templar Knight Gerardo daCastelbretone who feigned to be a medicine student. During autopsy, Mondinodiscovers that the corpse’s heart has been transformed into iron and decides tohelp Gerardo to hide the corpse, which belongs to another Templar Knight. Whenanother body is found with the same extraordinary transformation, Mondinorealises that in order to save himself from the grips of the Inquisition, hemust outwit both Inquisitors and Templars to find the real killer.
With such a fascinating historical background, I ask Alfredohow he carried out his research: firstly on Mondino’s own treatise which isstill extant and available (on the internet no less!), then on his biography bythe academic Piero P. Giorgi (http://www.pierogiorgi.org/)as well as on more general medieval studies.
Inquisition also mentions the well known complex of theSeven Churches in Bologna, which Alfredo refers to in the book because of itshistorical importance. Tradition has that it was built over an ancient Celticsacred oak, on which subsequently a temple to the Egyptian goddess Isis wasbuilt, and then, perhaps in the fifth century, was erected the Basilicadel Sepolcro. The whole complex was planned in imitation to the main places offaith in Jerusalem and was quite famous at the time.
With Cuore di Ferro finished,the editor was happy, the author had become passionate about the subject and athree-book deal was done (although readers keep demanding another book, Alfredodidn’t tell me whether it’s likely to happen or not!).
Alfredo’s next book will be another historical novel, butset in the seventeenth century: a family saga set between Naples and theforming United States.
I ask Alfredo more about his writing process, and he’s oneof the authors who think about the plot, have it almost completed in theirheads and then start writing – when writing a historical novel, this processallows one to focus the research, then work on specific ideas and more focusedinquiries.
Alfredo currently works as a translator for differentpublishers and has worked with authors like Joe Lansdale, Don Winslow, and HilaryClinton: his fluency with languages comes from his extensive travelling, whichhe says has been in few places but for a long time each, and I’m amazed by thelist of places he’s visited: apart from the UK and Germany, he has lived inMexico, India, and Nepal (where he drew the inspiration to write a fairytale, Bodhi Tree).
I am obviously curious to know what kind of books he readsand my inkling is confirmed: he claims to be an “omnivorous reader”, to read abit of everything although quite a lot of thrillers, but not excluding fantasyand historical (his favourites being Bernard Cornwell, CJ Sansom, RoryClements).
Finally, I have to come back to the modern world and I aminterested to hear his take on the e-book phenomenon, from the double point ofbeing Italian and an author: Alfredo thinks the e-book is a market, and not themarket for books. It is extremely handy, especially for research, since with atablet or ipad one can have everything in the same place. But the paper bookcertainly isn’t dead, it is just a different medium – you wouldn’t want to useyour ipad on the beach!
Since Alfredo also teaches on creative writing courses, Iask what advice he has for aspiring writers and it resounds with what I’veheard many a successful author: write what you like and enjoy, without thinkingabout the readership or publication: the market is unpredictable, and if thingsdon’t go well at least you’ve written what you liked and enjoyed the process!
Alfredo’s book Inquisition publishedon 5 May 2011 in the UK by Sphere.