Q&A with Anne-Laure Thiéblemont

With The Collector out in bookstores, we asked Anne-Laure Thiéblemont a few questions about herself and about her book.

Author and art specialist Anne-Laure Thiéblemont

You studied to be a gemologist. How did you end up writing novels?
My companion Michel and I were in Madagascar, traveling from mine to mine in search of gems. One day, we took a bus into the middle of nowhere, to a village, where we slept on the dirt floor in a hut. The next morning at dawn, I was sitting in a field with a long line of silent women standing in front of me waiting to show me the emeralds they held in their hands. I couldn’t get that image out of my head. I wanted to broker gems to experience similar scenes, but I wrote a book instead.

What made you become a novelist?
I was very young when I decided to tell stories. It was like inventing myself over and over again with every new character. I would absorb lives, knowledge and experiences like a sponge, making them mine. I would take anything that I thought would help me grow and change. That is how I became a reporter. But I wasn’t interested in finding a scoop. I’m too subjective for straight news reporting. I like to mix fact and fiction. What I really wanted was to be a messenger, a go-between.

Where does your inspiration come from?
After getting a degree in art history, I started my working in antiques. I met people who were obsessed by owning objects, people who accumulated works of all kinds. I also met others who would burn books and lithographs so that they would hold a one-of-a-kind artwork. I remember one fellow who mortgaged his house to buy a Chinese vase, and another who hired detectives to find an antique carousel lost after WWII. I met people who surrounded themselves with art as if to protect themselves, and those for whom the objects served as a bridge between themselves and the chaos of the world. I listened to stories from auctioneers, antique dealers, and gallery owners. They all had anecdotes about a treasure hunt, or a stolen object that reappeared, or fraud, or fences tossing masterpieces in the garbage so as not to be caught by the cops.

What sparked the story in The Collector?
Once I was doing a story at a manor in Basque country. The owner worked in the textile industry, and had a basement full of Impressionist paintings. I didn’t see a single one of them. They were all encased in wooden boxes, lined up on rails. It was a mausoleum. This was the starting point for The Collector.

Have you always been interested in pre-Columbian art?
My interest in pre-Columbian art stems from the time early in my life when I lived in Colombia and Peru for a few years. Later, I reported about grave robbing. Artworks that are illegally stolen from tombs become orphans, without a chronology, separated from other traces of the civilization they come from.  They are deprived of their social, economic and historical context. They cannot be explained. They are without roots.

In 1997 in France, the art world tried to clean up its act by signing the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Objects. However, sellers and clients often have a tacit agreement not to look too deeply into the background of objects that arrive in Europe. It is easy to work around the obligations of having an export certificate. Forged papers get presented to museums. Packaging is not sealed properly, and nobody notices. Genuine articles get replaced by fakes.

In a few words, what is the theme of The Collector?
The Collector
is a first attempt for me to capture a few topics that fascinate me: transgression, the forbidden, illusions, and lies. 

Writing Life: Meet an Author

Today, we have a few words from Anne-Laure Thiéblemont, author of an upcoming mystery set in Paris art circles: The Collector. Anne-Laure is an reporter and trained gem specialist, known for her investigations into stolen art and gem trafficking. She currently works as a magazine editor, and splits her time between Paris and Marseille. She shares her thoughts about the upcoming release.

Art reporter and gem specialist, author of The Collector, Anne-Laure Thiéblemont

Books have the quality and advantage of circulating independently of the author.  Now, The Collector will be coming out in English and it will be released in August. I love that month more than any other. It’s the month I always plan to be at the beach. I swim and I write. That is all I do. I don’t need anything more than a few square meters right next to the water. Then, writing can take me anywhere. Being a writer is a state of being on vacation without being on vacation.

I like the way thinking, meditating, imagining, and writing bring out other ways of being in the world. Then, as a writer, what I enjoy most is meeting readers. It’s not the reviews, the promotion, the prizes. No, it’s the possibility of meeting someone who enjoys the universe I created.

I worked as a reporter for a long time, but I needed to find a more personal mode of expression. I always wanted to write a novel and the character of Marion Spicer had been tapping on my shoulder for a long time. She kept saying, “Tell my story.” And the topic of the book was important enough to me to spend three years writing it. Sometimes you can get tired of a story. It can run its course quickly and putter out. But you know early on if you have a protagonist that has enough of a structure to lead you further, and even to dictate the course of the story.

This is what happened. It wasn’t easy for me to write a mystery. But Marion's story was a mystery, so that is what I wrote.