WITH the critically acclaimed Kneehigh theatre company currently wowing audiences in London with their Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, the artist Marc Chagall couldn’t be more cooler at the moment.

So some would say its perfect timing on the part of Colchester author, Michael Dean, for the release of his latest book The White Crucifixion.

“Art has been a lifelong passion for me,” Michael tells me, “and so right from the very first novels I wrote it’s a theme I have returned to time and time again.”

One of his earliest books, The Crooked Cross, dealt with Hitler and art, while more recently I, Hogarth, set out to unify Hogarth’s life with his art.

Michael adds: “The White Crucifixion intends to unify Marc Chagall’s life, painting and the Jewish experience in the 20th century. In some ways, I see it as a follow-up to my previous novel, I, Hogarth.

“The two novels are very different because the two artists painted very differently and I try to reflect that. Nevertheless, you could see this as a kind of Jewish I, Hogarth.

“The idea of doing a book on Marc Chagall just came to me one day and when I started researching it, I soon discovered how dramatic his life was.”

Born in Vitebsk in present day Belarus, through his lifetime he was caught up in Nazi Europe and Communist Russia.

“As I started writing the book,” Michael says, “it became clear I needed to widen it up to include the people Chagall painted. He said he wanted to keep the Jews safe but what he actually did was preserve their memory by putting them on canvas.”

Michael is now the author of more than 30 books.

Born in Chingford and raised in Walthamstow, Michael read history at Worcester College, Oxford, before taking an MSc in applied linguistics at Edinburgh University.

A fluent German speaker, it was Michael’s time spent in Germany during the Seventies that led to a career in writing text books for English Language Teaching.

Moving to Colchester in 1979, he has written more than 30 books for publishers such as Longman and Oxford University Press. He has even translated novels including Memoirs of a Geisha and 1984 into German for Penguin ELT.

He says: “That’s how I made my living, but after my daughter got through university, I could afford a lower income. So eventually I turned my hand to writing novels.

“My first book was Crooked Cross, and I followed that up with Hirschfeld’s Friends, which was about the Jewish resistance in Amsterdam, and Thorn, which focuses on the philosopher Spinoza.

“The priority for me is always to write a novel but at the same time stay true to real life.

“With Chagall I think the result is far more fictionalised than the Hogarth book but when I’ve departed from reality, because of all the research I’ve done, I’m doing it from a position of strength.”

The White Crucifixion, published by Holland Park Press, is out on February 22.