It is a lovely feeling, a clean sheet with so many possibilities. New story, new characters, new settings. It’s the time I can let myself dream as I begin weaving the story.
That is the point I am at now.
I have an idea for the book and the settings will be Regency London and mainly (probably) at my hero’s country house. And it is summer.
I first began thinking about this idea in September, when my current work in progress was coming to an end. Now I wonder if I chose a summer setting because the seasons were changing? Maybe I was hoping to hang on to those hot days and balmy summer nights. But I shall be writing the story throughout the winter: bare landscapes, long nights, icy days.
It shouldn’t be a problem, I am a writer, aren’t I?
I am used to Making Stuff Up. It’s what I do. However, sometimes it can be difficult to fire up the imagination and write settings of a hot summer’s day when I have a rug wrapped around my knees and I am wearing fingerless mittens to type!
(Yes, dear reader, I have been known to wear these little beauties on occasion. They were a thoughtful present from a fellow writer!)
So, how do you conjure up a different season?
If you are a reader, you can curl up with a good book indoors, or stretch out in the sun and be transported to a different world, a different season. I have friends who like to read Christmas books on the beach! Nothing wrong with that.
But what if you are the writer, trying to create that special time and place? Maybe you start writing your book in July, with the sun shining and a cool drink at your side. So far so good. But chances are you will still be writing those summer settings as the months slide by. At the present time, jetting off to the sun to finish your book just isn’t an option.
Sometimes, when the first daffodils are bursting into life I am conjuring pavements thick with crisp autumn leaves and the smell of a log fire.
Authors are not alone in this, of course. Magazine editors and advertising copywriters do it all the time, working months ahead. Just think of all adverts for cruises and summer holidays that appear before we have even digested the turkey.
Then there are the practical details
I keep a note of sunrise and sunset times for whatever location I am using. It is rarely necessary for me to be accurate to the minute, but it is good to know that in the height of and English summer candles might not be required until around 9 p.m., but it can be dark by around 4 p.m. in December.
Clothes, too. I look out of the window at snow and want to wrap my heroine in a fur-lined cloak. Until I remember that she is attending Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in July.
The book I have just finished is set in the Highlands around midsummer. Now that poses problems of its own. It never gets properly dark for a few weeks; this photo was taken in May this year, at around 10 p.m. There are shadows, yes, but one can still see to move around.
So what do I do?
What can I do when a particular scene requires the cover of complete darkness in mid June? Cloud cover is useful, or a shuttered room. Conversely, in the depths of winter, daylight is reduced to just a few hours and bad weather can make nights as black as pitch.
Pictures are a great way to remind oneself of a particular time: atmospheric photos and paintings or even family snaps can conjure up memories and experiences. Below is a snowy scene of Porlock, Devon, that inspired one of my own Christmas books!
One thing photos don’t show is just how cold a house can be. I remember listening to an old lady reminisce about her days living in a large country house in the first half of the 20th century. There were fires in the major rooms but not everywhere. She said one had to wrap up warmly just to get from the bedroom to the dining room. No wonder those Regency ladies loved their shawls!
Then there is food. Don’t get me started on local foods that are available at certain seasons. That, I think, is the subject for a whole new discussion!
So, sticking with books…
And readers, what books conjure up a particular season for you? For example, Winter’s Children by Leah Fleming does it for me, evoking a bleak north of England winter: it is chill, claustophobic, slightly sinister.
Maybe you could tell me which books carry you away…goodness knows we need it !