Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why write a book about color?

I started writing Elephant's Breath & London Smoke to fill in my own ignorance of colors, especially Victorian era color, but the more I researched, the more colors appeared that I had never heard of before. And in reading Victorian transcriptions of Elizabethan wills, I discovered colors I had never dreamed of. What was Gallant color? I could take a stab at Ratte color, but what was Sad color? Some colors, like Chesen, I could only guess at, but others, like Russet (which started out gray!) I could define with the help of dictionaries written in 1440 and 1530.

I read or skimmed thousands of books – my bibliography is 12 pages long of sources I used, and not everything I used (usually if I only pulled a single reference from it) is in there.

I own hundreds of Victorian magazines, and I started by going through them and writing down every color definition I could find. That did not satisfy my curiosity, so I began to look in Google books. Jackpot! Sort of – the Victorian era books in Google caused me to expand the scope of the project. At first I just read fashion magazines. Fun stuff, but short on definitions. That lead me to look for early books on color – which turned out to be books on fossils and mineralogy in general. Lots of definitions! I was beginning to see the light!

And then I stumbled on Victorian transcriptions of wills and inventories. I became addicted to pre-1600 wills. To my great frustration, most wills written before, oh, 1450, were written in Latin. But there is the occasional will in old English, or in a mix of Latin and English. While hunting for definitions of the colors found in the wills (what was New color?), I found transcriptions of a 1440 English-Latin dictionary and of a 1530 English-French dictionary. They weren’t always helpful, but they proved that certain colors were colors and not just fabric types.

My book is available from my publisher, at http://www.5rivers.org/ in Canada, or online from Barnes and Nobles, Amazon.com, and Books-a-Million.

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