If you’ve temporarily hit the buffers and need some inspiration – look to the spectrum. Cool blues, elegant greens and vibrant yellows – the range of colours is infinite and the themes, emotions and moods associated with them are limited only by your imagination.
For this exercise I’ve chosen red. It’s a vibrant colour that has many nuances and connotations. When it’s diluted with white it becomes the pretty, girly pink of Dolly Mixtures or the heavy chalkiness of indigestion remedies; mixed with blue it takes on the mysterious, regal or funereal properties of purple; with yellow it becomes altogether more vivacious, adding a touch of citrus to a description.
Red occurs naturally in nature – the colour of blood and of many fruits. But it also suggests heat, embarrassment, anger or danger; it can be evocative of suffering, of carnage and of speed; it even represents a political ideal. These various aspects can be explored very successfully in our writing.
Here are a few suggestions associated with the colour red. Afterwards, there’s a rather fanciful short story containing as many references and allusions (nouns, verbs and adjectives) to the colour that I could think of in half an hour.
- Poppies – World War 1 – Flanders
- Scarlet ribbons
- Anger – seeing red
- London Bus
- Sports cars
- Uniform – sash
- Fire Engine
- Rivers of blood
- Thin Red Line
- Scarlet Woman
It’s a Red, Red, Red, Red, Red, Red World
London, Winter: He’s driving along Knightsbridge in his bright red Ferrari Enzo, past a queue of stationary doubledecker Routemasters. They used to call it the radish line; nothing for ages then six come along in a bunch. He’s singing along to Billy Ocean ‘Red light spells danger’. Traffic lights ahead of him are just changing from amber. A flash of impotent rage when he has to pull in to the side to let a fire engine clang past.
A gang of revellers wearing Santa hats staggers along the pavement, all a bit the worse for wear after their Christmas party. In a festive shop window, a robin perches on a snow-covered holly branch which sports an improbable amount of berries. He weaves through the congestion, down to Horseguard’s Parade, with the lone uniformed sentinel standing in his box, then on past the Cenotaph, where the wreaths of ersatz poppies still limply adorn its steps.
There’s a flamboyant bouquet of deep red roses on the back seat of the Enzo, wrapped in crinkly cellophane and tied with a pink ribbon. They’re for his beautiful girlfriend, Scarlett. It’s her birthday today and he’s on his way to surprise her with the ruby that’s sitting in a little box on the passenger seat.
She’ll probably say that he spends too much money – she’s been toying with the idea of joining the Communist Party – but he knows she likes the trappings of wealth too much to commit to the ideology properly. She even has a red corner in her sitting room; she flirted with feng shui for a while, and red is the colour of financial prosperity.
Down Euston Road towards Kings Cross, turning left at the old-fashioned tobacco store with a redskin carved out of wood standing outside. A warning light starts flashing on the dashboard – bloody hell – just as he’s driving into the red light district. He always use this route as a short cut but today he regrets it, when, as he coasts to an undignified halt a woman emerges from a telephone box painted the colour of dried blood.
She’s dressed in claret-coloured velvet hot pants and basque and undulates sensuously across the pavement towards him. She puckers her cherry-glossed lips encouragingly and beckons him with a hand tipped with burgundy fingernails. He tries the ignition. There’s nothing but the whine of the engine and he feels his face flush with embarrassment. An angry red mist descends as he pumps the throttle frantically and tries the ignition again. He’s lucky he doesn’t flood the engine, but this time it catches and he speeds off as if the hounds of hell are on his tail.
He feels strangely energised after the encounter and he’s looking forward even more to seeing his girlfriend. The sun is going down as he drives down Burgundy Crescent. Scarlett’s named the house Tara and at the moment it’s bathed in a vibrant cerise light. But in no time at all the sunset sky has deepened to a shade the colour of blood oranges. He notices the Love Lies Bleeding in the front garden; it’s past its best now, the once-spectacular crimson tresses drooping forlornly in the cold.
Scarlett greets him warmly at the door, looking as slim and lovely as the woman in the Special K advert. He smiles and bends to kiss her – her chapstick tastes of strawberries. There’s a fire burning in the grate in the living room and the warmth of the glowing coals is reflected in her rosy cheeks.
Scarlett works for the Red Cross and is taking some well-earned leave over the Christmas period. She pours him his usual Campari and soda and a red wine for herself. They settle down to watch the carol service from St Paul’s – the young choristers look enchanting in their red cassocks and white surplices.
She’s made a red Thai curry for dinner with some sort of frozen raspberry dessert. He decides to present her with the ruby afterwards, when they’re in bed.
© NorfolkNovelist 2012