Saturday, 28 November 2015

A Book's Colouring

At the moment I'm working on three books at the same time. I've always worked on two or more books at once.

I've always been aware that each book develops its own atmosphere and colouring - and that as I move from one book to another, the mental 'weather' can change drastically. But, while being aware of it, it's never been something that I've thought about very clearly, or tried to pin down, until now.

The Sterkarms, for instance. The colouring of the Sterkarm books is red and black, like their badge - and the colouring came first, before I decided on the badge. When I think of the books, or the work I have to do on the third book, this is what pulls together all the disparate characters, plot-lines, scene-settings and so on - the glowering red and black colouring.

For me, the Sterkarm books are dark, low rooms, half filled with peat smoke. A glimmer of red firelight flickers on the underside of the grey smoke. Embers glower redly.

The Sterkarm books have many scenes which take place outside, but in my mind, in this overall impression, the days are overcast, the sky thick and grey with cloud. The greens of the hillsides are dark, the bracken russet - all the colours tilt towards their darker shades.

But then, if I move to the other book I'm working on, Follow The Dogs, there's a big, instant change. The book is set is Scotland, as are the Sterkarm books - it's about a boy following herd dogs across Scotland, from Fife in the East, to the Isle of Mull in the West. He
Follow The Dogs by Susan Price
describes sheltering from bad weather, and grey, wet days - yet in my head, this book is fresh and bright. The hills are a brighter green, the sky blue. A fresh, cool wind blows through it. For me, the book is full of air and space - the view from the hills above Oban, across the sea to the Hebrides, with the water blazing like polished silver.

And take a third book. I've been dressing up my Story Collector, which is a series of folk-tales, told in the 'frame' of an elderly gentleman in the 19th Century. Mr. Grimsby, a retired manufacturer, collects stories from his maidservant, her grandmother, an old soldier, and others.

When I think of this 'frame', I see polished brown leather, brass and firelight. I smell the gas-lights that burned in the house I was born in, and coal burning in a grate.

But if I think of the stories told within the frames, I 'see' something altogether lighter - in fact, something very like the silhouettes I've
Art work: Andrew Price
been creating (with a lot of help from my brother) for the title page of each story. They remind me, a little, of the blue and white tiles used to decorate stoves and fireplaces.

I'm not sure if I'm explaining it clearly, but the impressions I describe above are nothing to do with the descriptions of the scenes within each book. Instead, they are a sort of handle by which I can grab everything to do with a particular story and bring it together so I can enter it.

I mentioned it to my brother, and he immediately understood what I meant. He said it exists for paintings too. Before a painting exists, he said, while it's still only an idea in his mind, it has an atmosphere, a colouring, by which he can 'hold' it. Then, since he usually sketches first, before adding colour, he has to find the lines that form it. But even after he's found those lines, and what was once just an idea is firmly drawn - the picture still retains that mental colouring and atmosphere.

I'm curious to know if others recognise this. Do your books, your poems, your paintings each have their own unique colouring and atmosphere, which sum them up in your mind?


Anonymous said...

Dear Sue - Yes! I get the same thing - atmosphere, mood, setting and character, combine to evoke an array of colours. Also shapes and textures. Almost as though a story distils itself into a mental abstract painting.

Love this post!

Judith Key

Susan Price said...

Thanks Judith! Lovely to hear from you again. I suspect that it is true for most writers and artists. I'm at Folly Farm, on a retreat with the SAS, and a session this morning was talking about using music to 'fix' and evoke the mood of a book. It's similar - there is music attached to several of my books.

Nick Green said...

Books have a certain mood, and colours evoke certain moods, so I suppose it's natural that when you grope for the right mood, a particular colour should spring to mind. Of course, all my books are green.

Susan Price said...

It's more than colouring though, Nick, though I suppose I have stressed the colours in the post.
But the colours are a strong part of a complete image that forms around each book or idea - like the view to the Hebrides and the chilly breeze that come to me everytime I think about Follow The Dogs.