Review: Colouring In by Nigel Stewart (2019)


Colouring In is the story of James Clifton, a chronic underachiever who has failed to fulfil his potential and exists too easily in a world where he shouldn’t belong. 

As the 1980s draw to a close, James is lurching from drama to crisis to impasse. His present and future are inhibited by his reliance on a rose-tinted vision of his past. His talents as an Artist are submerged in a morass of indecision and poor self-esteem. He is holding too many last straws. 

But when it seems James has reached the very bottom of all that is wrong, a letter arrives that changes his life forever. An admirer, who James cannot place in his previous history, becomes the catalyst for transformation and evolution. He learns that not everything he holds dear is quite as he wants to remember it. 

He finds himself on a path that reveals a new future, based on a different past. 

Colouring In explores the ways in which inadequacy, perceived or real, can become a block to creativity and ambition. It is also a love story. 


Many thanks to the author for reaching out and for sending me a copy of Colouring In in exchange for an honest review. Apologies that it has taken me a long time to get around to reading – no reflection on the book, just my own teetering TBR pile!

Colouring In is a close study of a character whose flaws and weaknesses emerge through a pattern of repeated behaviour. We see James Clifton attending parties, drifting through work social events, hanging out with old friends, harking back to his Hereford adolescence with a kind of Peter Pan syndrome, refusing to let go of the past. At first, I found the cyclical nature of James’ habits a bit repetitive, but I gradually realised that the author is setting up the trap that the protagonist has found himself in so that he can be sprung from it, with the help of Laura.

Just as I was getting to the point where I really wanted something to HAPPEN, it DOES, and in the most dramatic fashion. At this stage the book really picked up for me, and the ways in which James breaks free of his imagined restraints and starts to forge a new path is psychologically complex and fascinating. This is a very philosophical book, both in its tight focus on one character’s emotional journey, and in the way the characters relate to each other. No conversation seems entirely casual – there is always an attempt to read each other, to analyse, to delve beneath the surface. This makes for a surprisingly intense read, even when the plot itself is backgrounded. The emphasis on James’ psyche occasionally felt claustrophobic, especially as I didn’t find him particularly sympathetic as a character, but again, I think this effect is necessary so that we can follow him on his transformation. The female characters really come into their own in the second half of the book, and I enjoyed the latter part of the novel a lot.

If you like intelligent, detailed character portraits with a psychological focus, you will find much to enjoy in Stewart’s novel. This ‘portrait of the artist as not such a young man’ is intriguing and thoughtful, and although it was a slow burner for me, I very much liked where it ended up.

Colouring In by Nigel Stewart is published by Purple Parrot Publishing, and is available to purchase here.


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