Thursday, 1 December 2011

The white chickens, the red wheelbarrow

I’m a little obsessed with colour at the moment. 

It’s got something to do with my new interest in photography.  And the fact that it’s summer and hot and colours are vibrant and intense. 

I’ve been thinking about colour in writing.  And how some writers don’t use colour but let the words do the colouring in.  

I picked up J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and at random selected a passage: 

            Through a window he glimpses the Shaw’s backyard: an apple
tree dropping wormridden fruit, rampant weeds, an area
fenced in with galvanized-iron sheets, wooden pallets, old
tyres, where chickens scratch around…

No colours.  But we can picture it vividly. 

I spent the best part of half an hour going through some of the novels in my bookshelf searching for a passage I could contrast with J.M. Coetzee’s and…nothing. Niks –  to translate into J.M. Coetzee’s home language. To be honest, not quite nothing because I did find two novels where colour featured, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  But both of these writers use colour in these novels for a specific purpose, so they don’t really count.

I enjoy colour in writing.  William Carlos Williams’s poem The Red Wheelbarrow and e.e. cummings’s “leaping greenly spirits of trees” and “blue true dream of sky” in i thank You God for this most amazing, but of course these poems are about so much more than colour. 

I thought I was probably overly fond of using colour in my writing.  But I looked at some of my work, and I don’t use colour all that much.  Not as much as I thought I did.  Which was a surprise. I must have learned something.  

Then I looked at some of my early work, which was embarrassing.  My face grew red.  There’s a colour for you.  Here’s an example:

            Alison, in the passage, in the soft glow of hall light, was biting on
her lip. She was wearing Drew’s thick cable jumper – the white
one he’d bought in Edinburgh which was too small for him – over
faded blue jeans, and her shining dark hair was caught up behind
her head with something resembling a black chopstick.

Much much more embarrassing than the use of colour was the use of adverbs. Not in that particular passage, but elsewhere. Believe me.

Hooley dooley. 

But that’s a story for another day.

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