Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Sunday, 2 September 2012

WELL, I'M BRITISH SO.....

...I'm going to talk about the weather.
Do we write about it enough in our fiction given it governs what we do most of the time? This summer I've had to have Plan B, then Plan C as the weather has scuppered the first two plans.
In womag fiction summer is summer.....sunshine and beaches and splashing in the pool and sandcastles and balmy nights sipping cocktails. It takes us out of ourselves even if we haven't been able to experience any of those things for ourselves for whatever reason.
Autumn is falling leaves and bonfires.
Winter is ice and snow and mulled wine and Christmas.
Spring is new lambs and primroses and the promise of better things..
As a womag fiction writer myself I would stick to those rules. And, in fairness to womag fiction - which often gets a bad press from the literati - there isn't much space in a 1000 word or a 2000 word story to expand on the weather.
But what of novels? I've been reading quite a few recently - some of it in my Plan C - and I've noticed a distinct lack of mention of weather. Or even seasons to be honest, and I've been reading all sorts.
When I began to think about this blog post I looked through the book I'm currently reading - not going to name it as that wouldn't be kind to the very-excellent-in-every-other-way-except-the-lack-of-mention-of -weather.prose. And there wasn't a single clue about which season it might be even. There was no mention of scarves around necks, or strappy T-shirts being worn, or having to put a cardigan on the baby because it was getting a bit nippy in the mornings, no zipping up raincoats or hunting for brollies.
And yet the weather can change things for us just as it is so changeable in itself. Our heroine could step out, bandbox fresh, into a clear sky yet be soaked before she got to the stationb/the interview/the wedding at which she is a guest - and the whole story could change.

When I was wrote my debut novel, TO TURN FULL CIRCLE, I had my heroine, Emma, thinking back over a conversation she'd had with the hero, Seth, when they both began to realise their true feelings for one another. It went something like this:-.
'We talked of nothing much, save how noisy the oystercatchers were, and wasn't the thrift beautiful on the cliffs, and was it going to be as good a summer as it was last year. And yet something changed between us.....'
And then my edits came back. 'Was it a good summer in 1908? Evidence.'
Blimey!

I think, because I am profoundly deaf, I probably notice things more. I'm always the first in my house to notice rainspots on the balcony and the patterns they make. I'm usually the first to spot a rainbow  - now, do they get a mention in fiction very often? Unless it is the theme of a story, I mean. And I cloud watch. I don't know my nimbus from my cumulus but my late mother-in-law taught me that flat-bottomed clouds that look as though they've been sliced by a cheese-slicer mean it isn't going to rain even if those clouds are grey. Those wispy clouds that look like straggly vapour trails are fair-weather clouds and tomorrow will be sunny, too.

So...the weather.....it affects us all. And can thrill us all. I recently took my five year old grandson to London. He wanted to see the dinosaurs in the Museum of Natural History. And ride in a London taxi. And see Big Ben for himself instead of only on the TV. He did all of those things and more.
But what was the highlight of the trip for him?
The cracking thunderstorm that hit as we walked out of the Museum of Natural History. The clap of thunder was deafening, the lightning like a firework display, and the rain bounced off the pavement and halfway up our legs. And far from being terrifying it was rather thrilling....well, for Alex it was.







12 comments:

  1. I am with you on this, Linda! Weather is so important and can anchor a reader in a scene so efficiently. As a reader I love to know what the weather/seasons are in a book and it can help to move the story on too. For example if it starts in winter and then moves to spring I feel like I'm moving through the journey with the main character.

    And even though we don't always realise it we are animals after all and I for one feel part of nature around us. The smell of the air after a storm has passed is so evocative. One of my novels is actually called Severe Weather Warning!

    Also it just occurred to me that you could have used this for a Choc Lit Wednesday W!

    Thanks for sharing, such an important and interesting post, Linda x

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  2. Thanks so much for this, Mandy......reading your bit about the smell of the air after a storm reminded me of the smell of rain on a hot, dusty pavement - not that I've smelled it much this summer!!
    Will look out for Severe Weather Warning...:)

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  3. I love watching old movies - both English and American - and you can guarantee that if there's something sinister going on there'll be a thunderstorm complete with monsoon-like rain and eerie shadows on the wall. I agree with you, Linda, we need the weather to set the scene and it's such an effective method of moving the plot on. So I'll just go and pour myself a Pimm's with ice and wander outside to sit under the willow tree...

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  4. Yes, i agree Linda. Weather is sooo important in writing. I hate it when I'm reading something and I don't know the season. Today it was sunny in Scotland. Wah-hey!

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  5. I know the problem with researching the weather if we mention certain years Linda and it is not always easy to get it right because it varies so much even in our small country. Local newspapers are useful. I was fascinated to read that curlers were out on our river Nith around 1900 and a farmer walked his cattle across the frozen Esk from England into Scotland. All so different now.
    I always look for the sky in landscape paintings too and I love cloud formations. Thank you for the reminder.

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  6. Interesting post, Linda, and you are so right in what you say about the need to know when the events in a novel are taking place.
    I smiled at your anecdote about the editorial query on whether 1908 had been a good summer. I can see a disgruntled reader writing a letter to say her mother often talked about the miserable summer of 1908 when it rained most days...

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  7. I quite like the idea of the weather NOT reflecting what happens in the story. A bad storm accompanied by something sinister has become a cliche. I like to turn it around and have blue skies and sunshine as a contrst to the heroine's broken heart and vice versa.

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  8. What a great post, also for your information the Italians are just as obsessed with the weather as the Brits.

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  9. I'm really surprised you haven't come across descriptions or even hints about weather in recent reading, Linda. It's such an important part of the general setting, isn't it? In my current novel, I sketched out the synopsis then added in the seasons, partly to guide me about how much time has passed (it's over a year) and partly because I wanted to note what might be happening in the greater world - what's growing in the garden, the fields etc. In literature, 'humanising' nature is called the 'pathetic fallacy'. Charlotte Bronte write, in Jane Eyre, "Nature must be gladsome when I was so happy". Not sure I'd write quite like that now, but it's still a useful device.

    Smell is very evocative - roses in the garden, grass after being cut, even the smell of autumn in the air.

    Now there's a thought ... hmm. Back to work!

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  10. Thank you one and all for your comments....some really good points there.
    And while on the subject of weather....I am hoping for some sunshine for my trip to Brittany - off tomorrow, back on the 20th. Au revoir. And happy writing, everyone.

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  12. Lovely. I think weather is very important in fiction, as well as a sense of the seasons (and what's flowering) as Jenny said. Unless there's a reason why they don't impact on the story - a gritty urban setting maybe?
    Of course weather can be used like a blunt tool. The lovers break up - it's raining. When they realise their mistake and run into each others' arms - the sun comes out, but.... Done with subtlety a sense of the weather can be a powerful extra tool in your box of paints.

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