Author of Kill And Tell, Bea Davenport peers out the window to see if there is a storm brewing! "Like the news, weather is always more interesting when it’s bad than when it’s good."
It was a dark and stormy night. All right – this may have been used so often that it’s become something of a cliché. But there’s no denying that, for a weather report, it does a brilliant job of grabbing the reader’s attention. I’ve been aware for a while that I love using the weather in my work, because it’s such a useful signifier of atmosphere and mood.
Maybe it was all those long hours in the classroom reading the maestros (yes, I know, ‘maestri’ if you’re a bit of a stickler) like Charlotte and Emily Bronte or even the wonderful Mr Dickens. My English teachers would be delighted (and amazed) to know I was paying that much attention! The greatest writers are not even above starting off their works with the weather. The first line of Jane Eyre - “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day” – reminds us that the weather can be used to dictate the character’s actions. In
, the storm ensures that Mr Lockwood has to stay in the sinister old mansion and the wildness of the weather is a great metaphor for the overpowering forces of nature. The eerie, creeping fog at the start of A Christmas Carol is a wonderful way to set up the reader to expect a ghost story – but by Christmas morning, when Scrooge has undergone his character transformation, the fog has lifted for a bright, frosty (and perfect) winter’s day. Wuthering Heights
No, I am certainly not comparing myself to these exemplars. But no characters can work without some kind of a setting. And no setting can avoid some kind of weather. So it’s quite a joy to be able to work it into the writing to create a mood or do a little foreshadowing. The journalist in me is not averse to giving the reader a few shorthand clues to what’s about to follow - and it’s also fun to trick the reader by having something dreadful occur on a beautiful summer’s day.
Like the news, though, weather is always more interesting when it’s bad than when it’s good. When you’re writing about it, I mean. So with my children’s novel The Serpent House, which was set over the Christmas period, the snow and unrelenting cold added (I hope) to the atmosphere. In the sequel, The Witch’s House, the action takes place during early spring, but the persistent rain and mist is again intended to create a sense of menace. It’s been rather useful in that sense – although in no other sense at all! - that we’ve had such a wet and miserable few weeks, because it’s certainly much easier to write about weather while you’re actually experiencing it. Writing about winter when the sun is beating down certainly does take a lot more imagination – and discipline!
I use weather in my adult writing too, of course. A storm and flash flood was a very useful way of clearing the street for the dark deed at the centre of Kill and Tell. And given what most of us in the UK have gone through recently, no one can claim that it’s too much of a device or not likely to happen!
I hadn’t given it much thought, until Pauline suggested this as a possible blog post. But now that I look over my work, there’s no doubt about it. While I might spend my personal life craving more sunshine, it’s the rotten, miserable weather that usually forms the backdrop to my stories, whether for children or adults. Perhaps I’m just a typical product of the north-east of
– more disposed to shadow than to sunshine. England
You can learn more about Bea by visiting our Books & Author Pages