As an author, I know that words are never neutral. They all have their colours. I also know that when you name colours in a story, they stand out. So some characters can be identified by their hair colour or eye colour or a piece of coloured clothing whenever they appear.
Colours give a book energy. They have speed while words have mass. But working with them is similar. Both require attention to detail, careful placing, and may need thinning out or thickening in places.
So I use them and edit them and switch them around – and sometimes when I reread my work I feel that a passage or whole chapter is colour-coded.
Challenger in the Head: Hold on. What do you mean by that?
Author self: I mean a mood or tone that holds the scene together. A bit like a colour-field painting or pixels on a screen made up of words.
Challenger: I see. So does the same thing apply to the titles of your books?
Author: Absolutely. So each of my novels has a colour title – ‘Purple’, ‘Blue and ‘Violet’ – chosen by feel and intended to connect with the life stage they deal with. There is an anomaly, however. I only realised after naming them that the order of the titles (Purple, Blue, Violet) doesn’t match the sequence of the traditional Red/Yellow/Blue colour wheel.
Challenger: Does that matter? Couldn’t you just swop around titles?
Author: I don’t think so.
Author: Because the life stages dealt with– 1. Youth 2. Maturity 3. Old Age – correspond to the order of the books: 1. ‘Purple’ 2. ‘Blue’ 3..‘Violet’. Swopping around titles to fit the colour wheel would break those links.
Challenger: Links? Titles? Tell me more.
Author: Well, taking them in order of publication…
- PURPLE… Matthew Lavender, in his 60s coming-of-age story, enjoys Deep Purple, talks about ‘doing purple’. and would like to write purple prose.
- BLUE… Richard and Vanessa Lavender, in trying to escape from the blues of their jobs and domestic responsibilities, join a feminist collective and take secondary partners. But their blue-eyed thinking doesn’t work out.
- VIOLET… Violet is the colour of Beth and James’s spiritual experiences and passionate, late-life love.
Challenger: So, did these colours change as you wrote your books?
Author: Oh yes. In fact, I came to think of each book as a colour-mix.
- So the wildness of the first book fits Purple-red.
- In its sequel, Blue-skies-thinking changes into the green of jealousy.
- ‘Violet’ – the climax of the trilogy – combines elements of both ‘Purple’ and ‘Blue’.
Challenger: And what about Lavender? Where does that fit?
Author: It fits in two ways.
- The plant name invited excursions into ‘Lavender’s blue dilly dilly…’, sea lavender and the natural world.
- The family name Matthew/Richard/James Lavender combines all three colours. Each colour represents a different type of love.
Challenger: That so? Then show us how you write with colours – for real, an example.
Author: I’ll give you two. The first one, taken from ‘Violet’, comes from my protagonist Beth’s diary:
Of course morphine helps. At first I was afraid, but the doctors reassured me. And once I’d tried I understood its calm. Morphine is a lake; its deep blue spring spreads underground. It’s the blue of gentians and violets and Lawrence’s last poems. And that’s the blue, when I swim in it, that I feel when I pray.
The second is a dream-dialogue from earlier in ‘Violet’.
“What’s your favourite colour?” asked James. Beth was back in the Desert Island Dream. After three hours' sleep and a full day working in the café, she’d left early, intending to write. Her excitement had carried her until she reached the sofa but then she’d nodded off. In her dream she was warm. The studio was comfortable and softly-cushioned. Images rose up of flesh in water. She could have been floating in a fish tank. The show was live. Its theme was relationships, and how pleasure and survival were linked. They’d talked about interests shared and now, with James as the presenter, they were discussing likes. “What’s yours?” she said quietly, inviting his gaze. “Any colour?” “Your fave.” “Pink.” “Pink?” “The colour of your top.” “Any others?” “Red.” “Like my lipstick?” “Yes, mine as well.” “On your glass?” “…on my collar…” Beth’s face was glowing, “Mine’s blue-grey.” “Eyes?” “Sea, skies, as well.” “Anything else?” “Hopkins.” “Hopkins?” “Like Pied Beauty.” “Mixtures, combinations.” “Clashes as well.” “But what about blues?” Beth’s gaze softened, she was giving him the look. “Music, you mean?” “Oh yes…yes…yes.” “They’re sad.” “Very.” “You often feel sad?” “Sometimes, when I’m alone.” “So what do you do?" “Play music, or sing.” “You sing?” “Singalong, bathroom stuff.” “I think I’d like that.” “O Sole Mio, that sort of thing?” “If that’s what you sing.” “Or Straight from your heart, perhaps?” “Ah, I love those lyrics.” “Keep us so near while apart...” “Yes… I’m not alone in the night…” “Is that your favourite song?” Beth coloured as she shook her head, “Blue Moon.” James said a few words, wrapping up the programme. He switched off the microphone and let out a breath. Beth was watching him carefully, “So who do you sing to?” “The girl of my dreams.”
ABOUT LESLIE TATE’S BOOKS:
- Love’s Register tells the story of romantic love and climate change over four UK generations. Beginning with ‘climate children’ Joe, Mia and Cass and ending with Hereiti’s night sea journey across Oceania, the book’s voices take us through family conflicts in the 1920s, the pressures of the ‘free-love 60s’, open relationships in the feminist 80s/90s and a contemporary late-life love affair. Love’s Register is a family saga and a modern psychological novel that explores the way we live now.
- Heaven’s Rage is a memoir that explores addiction, cross-dressing, bullying and the hidden sides of families, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. “A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage” – William Blake. You can read more about/buy Heaven’s Rage here.
- The Dream Speaks Back, written by Sue Hampton, Cy Henty and Leslie Tate, is a joint autobiography exploring imagination and the adult search for the inner child. The book looks at gender difference, growing up in unusual families and mental health issues. It’s also a very funny portrait of working in the arts, full of crazy characters, their ups and downs, and their stories. You can buy a signed copy of The Dream Speaks Back here.