Writer of the moonlight

Sunny mornings, thundery afternoons. That’s been the weather pattern lately, meaning the days start bright, but become gray by afternoon, making it seem later than it really is.

This weather has me thinking about things like light and dark.

Recently someone said to me, “I can see you writing some dark stuff.” They didn’t mean it in a negative way, just a sense they got, and they were spot on.

For those of us who write things that are a bit darker, there are reasons why we prefer the thunder to the sun.

The stories I write aren’t dark in a gothic or horror sense – instead, they’re very much like John Atkinson Grimshaw paintings – they showcase different glimpses of what the world looks like in the dark. His is a literal dark – he’s a painter of moonlight.

A moonlit lane, John Atkinson Grimshaw

Sometimes he paints lanes in the moonlight with shadowy figures in them; this one is clearly a parent and child, but he has several other paintings of lanes with lovers sneaking a few moments alone. I love how the lane in front of them is lit up, while the trees on either side seem a bit dark and overbearing. The figures are walking toward the light, but I wonder what’s behind that dark gate to their right.

And then the little historical details – this is a dirt lane that’s been rained on. You can see footprints and ruts from carriage wheels. It takes you to an entirely different time and place.

November by John Atkinson Grimshaw

This is one of my favorites, mainly because of the clouds. How perfect is that sky? It feels cold and dismal, but in the background, there’s a house with one window lit up, letting a bit of light into the painting; a bit of hope. And again, you see the ruts left by carriage wheels, you see a gate that seems a bit enticing. I also love the reflections in the puddles.

Why is the figure walking in the mud on the road, and not on the sidewalk?

Canny Glasgow by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Grimshaw also does a lot of street scenes, including several near docks. The light in this painting is why I like it so much – to the left, the ghostly ship’s masts float in a dark harbor, while shadowy figures walk nearby. On the right, there are shop windows and streetlamps and people out for an evening stroll. There’s such a wonderful binary here; something about this piece is just so true to life.

I try to write like Grimshaw paints – by showing the darkness, but also the light. Sometimes the dark is eerie, sometimes it’s a good place to hide, sometimes it enhances the light. There are parts of his paintings that start to lean into menacing and frightening, and others you want to dive into because they seem so inviting. The balance between light sources and darkness isn’t always equal.

I suppose I’m not a dark writer so much as I’m a writer of the moonlight. There are shadows, and things which hide in the shadows. There are windows and lamps that light the way. And there’s a shining moon overhead, governing it all.

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