We read in black and white: black text on a white page, be it a paper one or a virtual ‘e-page’ on a screen. But the stories themselves are not black and white, not metaphorically and not – please, never! – descriptively.
Any student of literature knows that description is one of the basic tenants of writing. How can a reader imagine the story world without knowing how it looks, sounds, smells? Adjectives are among the first words of a child – big, small, good, bad – and of course colours: red, blue, green. So when we start to write, we instinctively start to use basic colour terms to literally colour the writing.
Imagine a book without colour! I don’t believe such a book – pure black and white, not a hint of colour – has ever been written, for what point would there be in it? Families were so keen to acquire the newly developed colour televisions in the 1960s and 1970s; none preferred black and white! We are drawn to colour – it is moving, warming, inspiring, life itself. We are all colorists at heart, keen to bring colour to the bland and the shadowy.
I love colour. When I think of my childhood, in Alexandria, Egypt, I think of the green borders in my garden, the azure of the Mediterranean, the dark pink render of the walls, the yellow of the lemons the fruit and vegetable man would bring to the door.When I am summering in France, I am drawn to the riot of colours in the garden; when wintering in Kent, the shades of the flames dancing in the open fire catch my eye.
I have written before on this blog of the relationship between the arts, and especially of the close affinity between the artist and the writer. The artist must be so attentive to colour, but I believe that the writer must be also. That is why I endeavor to infuse all of my description with colour, so that my readers are transported from a stuffy commuter train or a grey, drizzly afternoon at home to bright, exotic, memorable locations.
In The Echoes of Love, I wanted to take readers to the Italy I hold in my mind; to paint a literal picture of Venice, Tuscany and Sicily. Sometimes that means adding just a touch of colour:
burnt-sugar creatures, covered with ice-green lichens… a sunglow-yellow strapless lace mini-dress… the rosy shadows from the lighting, which had just turned crimson… a slash of cobalt-coloured ocean through tall hedges… the view of the indigo sea that stretched to infinity beyond the window… the Tuscan Islands of the Tyrrhenian Sea started to shine and blaze with hot ochre light… Clouds of pearly smoke billowed out from under the trees on the Piazza, turning from ruby to rose, from yellow to opalescent green…
Sometimes, I pull together myriad coloursto light a beautiful and romantic setting:
She looked up to her left, gazing at the crimson sun that was declining drowsily on the horizon, its burning light making golden patches on the sea, smooth as a lake at this sunset hour. To her right, the distant countryside lying beyond the trees seemed bluer with those powdery white branches of apple blossom, and as the shadows lengthened, it deepened to a celestial Italian blue. The old brick of the outbuildings was enpurpled, shining with an intense, yet soft, glow. The luminous light was magnificent; the fiery orange, bright pink and patches of serene blue giving way to the swift advance of dusk.
Often in my writing, I think in terms of pictures – my scene as a photograph, a film or a painting. And I consider the ultimate artist of nature, the ‘divine artist’:
She stood leaning against the stone balustrade, her back to the countryside, looking towards the sea. There was no horizon, nothing yet but the soft dusk everywhere so that she couldn’t tell for a while where the sky began. Then, oddly, the sea became darker before the first streaks of colour lit the sky. Venetia wondered what created the unearthly greens and blues and mauves in the sky before the first bars of gold heralded the sun.
Gradually, moment by moment, as Venetia watched entranced, the pale translucent green grew more lovely till at last it seemed as though all tender colours – shiny rose, wisteria, pale blue, the transparent purity of emerald – played on the shimmering fields of the sea, and touched the liquid curves which stretched away and away. Those softly changing colours altered dreamily, as if a divine artist were entertaining kindred spirits with a magnificent show before allowing the sun to bathe the world in molten gold. The array reached up to the horizon and overflowed, spreading over the sea, blotting out the entire colour with sheer light. Colour and light and space … never could one drink enough of such beauty, Venetia thought, as she bathed in that golden glow with her hair rippling gently across her shoulders in the early morning breeze.
What do you think? Does colour call to you, move you? Do you appreciate colourful description in a book? I would love to hear your thoughts.
In celebration of colour, this week I’m tweeting colour quotes with the hashtag #ForTheLoveOfColour. Do retweet if you like and/or jump aboard, and make black and white altogether more vibrant, more spectacular, more alive…