The Quality of Light



The beautiful summer that we had is winding down. The topmost leaves in the mountain ash tree in my backyard are turning yellow. The wind is cooler, more often coming from the north or the east. I have loved the summer. I can feel its end drawing near, but I’m not sad. I’m grateful to this beautiful season for what it’s given me, but I am looking forward to autumn. Autumn is my favorite season of all.

I’m a very visual person. I think in pictures and scenes. I’m acutely interested in the insides of buildings and what rooms look like late in the afternoon when the day’s portion of sun is fading, being withdrawn and gathering reluctantly in the corners.  If someone walked into that room, what would they feel? What might they be thinking? Most importantly, at least to me, what would they be seeing?

The recreation of Vincent Van Gogh’s bedroom in Arles in the south of France, as it appears on Airbnb.

If someone were sitting at that table, there, looking out of that window, perhaps gazing upon a little town, or a village square with a well, or waving fields of grain awaiting harvest, what would they feel? I love to watch the clouds being chased across the sky by the insistent autumnal wind: forget summer. I’m here now. 

Certain colors gain strength and poignancy in autumn. A particular shade of blue looks different under bright summer sun than it does in soft September light. The brilliant shades of the trees is astonishing to me: how can these colors be? How can they exist? Well the short answer of course is the breakdown of chlorophyll, but my God, the red and orange and yellow! I can only just restrain myself from lying down in a pile of leaves and rolling around.

I have done this. I am not ashamed.

The quality of autumn light is different. The angle of the sun has shifted and the world is spinning away from warmth, into darkness. There’s a soft veil over everything. The sunshine is diffused. There are longer shadows in the garden. It’s so beautiful. Early in the morning in September, I often feel like I’m walking in a dream, where nothing is  real and your feet don’t quite touch the ground. Whereas summer inspires in me stories that are languid and sleepy and rather louche, autumn suggests wood-paneled rooms lined with books, a fireplace, windows closed against the weather.


The advent of autumn invites my creative self to turn inward. I find myself contemplating stories set in interior spaces – libraries, archives, antiquarian bookstores, antique shops, creepy old Gothic houses, with or without hidden passageways.  My reading tastes veer towards books like Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale or Daphne DuMaurier’s classic Rebecca. I wrote The Lovely Beast, a steampunk re-imagining of the Dracula/Van Helsing story, as fall was setting in.

Right now I am finishing up a novel that I started back in March. When I say ‘finishing up’ I mean tying up the end of the first draft. The book will almost certainly change between now and its final version. I haven’t decided what I’m going to work on next – there are several options floating around – and maybe I might decide to take a sabbatical, not do any writing. Either way, I have the glorious (I hope!) days of autumn to look forward to, that ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ that Keats spoke of.


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