Finding the Right Colour for Fiction

My characters look not only upon their world but they also look out at the larger world. In some cases, they must gaze unflinchingly into that foreign eye and report back.
— Sharon Millar, Author

From The Gayelle, by Sharon Millar:

The cistern in his grandfather’s house stretches as far as little Mannie can see. When Benita puts him in the hammock after lunch, Mannie sees the cistern at the end of the veranda, the violet water hyacinths come up like torches from the surface. The coconut trees beyond the water stand on the surface, and he is sure the calm un-punctured expanse is as solid as the blanket under him. Sometimes he sucks his thumb and hums, the vibration in his mouth moving to the top of his head and becoming part of the slide into unconsciousness. In the minutes before he drifts off to sleep, the green turns luminous, its calmness part of the suspended state between waking and sleeping.
Viridis Colour Scale

In the opening paragraph, the reader is provided several hues in which to roam visually, from violet to yellow. With each sentence, turning a dial to adjust the hue, brightness and humidity. The Gayelle is a story written within the spectrum of landscape—finding home eventually in the complexity of a warm greenish blue—definitive of Trinidad and Sharon Millar's writing.

We colonise books with our familiars; and we exile, repatriate the characters to lands we are more acquainted with.
— Peter Mendelsund, Book Designer

The experience of reading a book varies from reader to reader.

In relation to Sharon Millar's The Whale House and Other Stories, Trinidadian readers while turning pages, will find proof just out the window—in the Northern Range or the Oropouche River—or memories there of. A certain authentication between readers of the soil and author. 

The non-Trinidadian will fumble or substitute the landscape with their own past experiences—perhaps painting Mannie, from the excerpt above, in an incorrect turquoise setting with coconut trees beyond the water instead of a shade of Caroni. Sharon Millar writes:

To say a bit more about landscape: for me, landscape is vital for world building, and I am very precise in naming places, plants, trees, wildlife, landmarks, food. I am conscious of wanting to map the Trinidad landscape into the larger literary imagination: conscious of wanting to remove my characters from the umbrella of the “Caribbean” character.

This wanting to map the Trinidad landscape into the larger literary imagination, was the compass for the design of her author website

In Marshall McLuhan’s three-level ‘hierarchy of communication,’ color registers first with viewers; signs and symbols register second; and words register third.
— Alex White, Educator

The initial colour palette of the website took cues from the book cover, which was designed in house by her publisher Peepal Tree Press in the UK. It features an illustrated whale with wings suspended in a marine blue background, with the title and author set in Baskerville (see above).

For the website however, we drilled the colour palette down to something closer to Trinidad's shores and cultural psyche—a green which tangles sunlight into the seasons—both dry and rainy—to create a murky amphibious sun drenched blue-green algae palette, that is a more familiar and identifiable Trinidadian landscape. 

Critical to this was the photography by Nadia Huggins, whose work is featured throughout the website. My initial gut was to go with an illustration approach with the very talented Kwasi Shades, but found a perfect pitch in Nadia's lesser known underwater shots of Trinidad. It was Kwasi who best described The Gayelle as “a series of baptisms.” It is Nadia's outstanding photography that captures these baptisms and suspends them in a blue green Brownian motion. And Sharon's words. That incite and reveal Trinidad's blue green landscape, in the form of these baptisms, permeating the larger literary imagination with colours, symbols, and words.


Photograpy by:  Nadia Huggins

Photograpy by: Nadia Huggins

Benita is boiling a pot of zebapique, stripping and crushing the bitter leaves, when she hears the latch of the gate. A winnow of air brings the sound of ruptured water straight to her belly. It resonates as a vibration, a sense of something changing in the air of the house. When Benita runs to Mannie, he is lying on the bottom of the cistern, glowing like the inside of a shell. Wailing Benita breaks the surface with Mannie’s limp body and lays him under the green canopy of overhanging ferns. Her mother brings herbs while Benita breathes life into the limp lungs, pumping the baby chest and feeling the fingerling ribs under her palms. When Mannie begins coughing, Benita keens and keens over his wet head. Mannie’s father is deep in the forest fighting roosters. 
The Gayelle (The Whale House and Other Stories, Peepal Tree Press 2014)