Please welcome this week’s guest, who has a unique way of choosing his titles. I recently had the pleasure of reading and reviewing his novel, The Amber Maze; a link to my review can be found at the end of the post.
Over to you, Christopher.
I write novels with colours in the titles. Six so far, the most recent being The Amber Maze, published last September.
They are all what I call literary mysteries, by which I mean literary fiction that develops and explores the plot and themes through mysteries in the form of problems to be solved or things or people to be traced. What or who these are varies from book to book. But they all involve detection and deduction on the part of the main protagonists. There are no detectives in the conventional sense, no policemen or private eyes. And there are no criminals to be caught, which is not to say that no crimes take place. That’s part of the mystery.
It started 15 years or so ago. Just the idea of someone finding something hidden inside a second-hand book that would set the finder on a trail with an unexpected outcome. That was the germ of The Blue Book, in which Hugh Mullion finds a cryptic note slipped in a copy of a book that has a name, Dorothy Russell, on the flyleaf. It is dated 1944. A long time ago. She couldn’t still be alive, could she? The book is the second of a two-volume edition of The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James; the search on which Hugh embarks completes the portrait of another lady too, uncovering along the way secrets hidden for sixty years and shattering his views of the certainty of the past.
Why colours? The first one was called The Blue Book simply because I liked the title and the book in question did indeed have a blue cover. But I realised that colours had wider title possibilities so I have developed that approach, with each colour related to objects or places or themes in the novels themselves. For example, the second, The Yellow Room, features a room of that name in a country house and explores various meanings of yellow. The Red House, number three, completed the primary colours. No connection with the William Morris Red House at Bexleyheath but a fictitious building on the East Coast, in which a troupe of actors perform plays that have no audience. Not always willingly.
On to the secondary colours. The Green Door is named for the cottage with a green door in which an errant fortune teller goes to ground after stealing a Victorian mourning locket. In The Purple Shadow, the shadow itself appears in a long-lost painting discovered in Paris. It is the shadow of someone or something that cannot be seen. Perhaps the picture was once larger.
Which brings us to the latest novel, The Amber Maze. To complete the secondaries, it should be orange but I found that tricky to work with and it has other associations. So I settled on amber. Quite an orangey amber, for reasons pursued in the book.
The books are free-standing but there are some common characters, themes and places. They involve searches triggered by items found or lost unexpectedly, the influence of the past on the present, the potential for chance occurrences to change people’s lives and thus the future too. An unexplained death in 1887, another in the mid-1940s, events at a country house and abroad in the 1950s: all forgotten or suppressed or explained away but resurfacing years later with consequences for those picking up the pieces. And how far we are in control of events: the quests or searches on which characters embark, are they doing it of their own volition or are they being drawn or manipulated in some way?
Paintings have featured in all the books in one way or another. In The Purple Shadow, a painting is centre stage. Art and artists pop up again in The Amber Maze too but in a rather different way, with the focus on the life of an unknown artist and the influence his troubled life had upon his art. Ultimately, the book is about the creative process and could be read as applying as much to writing as to painting.
Apparently, I’m allowed to say that the books have attracted a few plaudits over the years, including some kind remarks from Andrew Marr, Julian Fellowes, Sir Derek Jacobi, and Shena Mackay. Not to mention Richard Dee, who rashly said (of The Amber Maze): “It’s engrossing and clever…The prose is delightful…very enjoyable.” So it must be true!
The books have also led to comparisons with other authors as varied as Robert Goddard, Michael Frayn, Barbara Pym, and Antoine Laurain (he of The President’s Hat and The Red Notebook, among others). Make of that what you will. As far as I know, they have been no influence on my writing at all.
And the Amber maze at
My review of The Amber Maze is here
My thanks to this weeks guest for a great post. I hope you all enjoyed it.
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Have a good week,