Are they human or are they ...? by Fran Brady

For novel writers, characters are very important, and so too are settings. In two of my four novels, I was very conscious, while writing, that the place itself was as much a character as the protagonist.

One is set in St Andrews in Scotland, home of golf and of the third oldest university in Britain, steeped in history and horror stories (e.g. Reformation martyrs burnt at the stake at the entrance to Quad.

The other is set in the Hebrides and revolves around a lighthouse family. 

The bleak but beautiful landscape, the wild and wilful sea: both are fully paid-up members of the dramatic personae. 

Weather too can be so central to the tale as to assume character status. Heavy skies, scudding clouds and sheeting rain can have as much effect on the action and atmosphere as a human character. 

Or stifling heat, gentle, warm breezes ... If they happen once, they are just details; but, if they are frequent and integral, they take on the status and role of characters.

Months have personalities. I remember reciting in primary school:

                                                 January brings the snow,
                                                 Makes our feet and fingers glow.

                                                 February brings the rain
                                                Thaws the frozen lake again.

                                                 March brings breezes sharp and shrill,
                                                 Shakes the dancing daffodil.

                                                April brings the primrose sweet,
                                                Scatters daisies at our feet.

                                                May brings flocks of pretty lambs,
                                                Skipping by their fleecy dams.

                                                June brings tulips, lillies, roses,
                                                Fills the children's hands with posies.

                                                Hot July brings cooling showers,
                                                Apricots and gillyflowers.

                                                August brings the sheaves of corn,
                                                Then the harvest home is borne.

                                                Warm September brings the fruit,
                                                Sportsmen then begin to shoot.

                                               Brown October brings the pheasant,
                                               Then to gather nuts is pleasant.

                                               Dull November brings the blast,
                                               Then the leaves go whirling past.

                                               Chill December brings the sleet,
                                               Blazing fire and Christmas treat. 

Each month of the year is pinned down by characteristics that, to my childish mind, seemed predictable and unchanging, set in stone. The weather, the outdoors and the indoors, our reactions to them: all are proscribed in the twelve-couplet jingle. Our feel-good / feel-bad temperatures are conditioned by it. January is not January unless the lake is frozen; July is not July without showers; November is not November without leaves whirling in the wind.

Remember Browning's '
Oh, to be in England Now that April's there'?* Presumably, wherever he was, there were no primroses or daisies. One of my daughters lived for a few years in  New Zealand. Photos of their pool party in glorious sunshine on Christmas Day seemed all wrong. Where was the sleet and the bitter cold that necessitates a blazing fire?

We cling to the concept of 'seasonal' and feel out of sorts when the weather is not. Warm, mild winters and cool, wet summers leave us feeling dissatisfied, cheated somehow. But even 'unseasonableness' can play a character in a novel. The very unsettledness it evokes in our human characters can supply a dynamic that changes their behaviour, mood and actions.

What other non-human characters are you aware of in novels you have read - or written? 

from Home Thoughts from Abroad

Fran Brady is a Scottish author with four published novels and a fifth underway. 

Her website has full details and links to buy; also, short stories, poems, memoir pieces, a children's serial and an erratic blog. 

Find her on


Bill Kirton said…
I'm with you, Fran. I was, however, taken aback when a review of one of my novels began 'What is it with British writers and the weather?' This sent me checking through the text for offending bits of meteorology, of which there were 2 - one, a hailstorm on an offshore rig to stress how hard life is on the platforms, and the second to provide some atmosphere for a typically dreich day, in which nasty things happened. Hardly overkill.
Anonymous said…
So agree on the importance of weather, often embodying your characters' difficulties, or making a poignant contrast. And that's the poem Flanders and Swann borrow for their hilarious song! Bill, that miserable reviewer of yours should hear this - extremely popular in our house with foreign guests baffled by the vagaries of British weather:

January brings the snow,
Makes your feet and fingers glow.

February's ice and sleet,
Freeze the toes right off your feet.

Welcome, March, with wint'ry wind,
Would thou wert not so unkind.

April brings the sweet spring showers,
On and on for hours and hours.

Farmers fear unkindly May,
Frost by night and hail by day.

June just rains and never stops,
Thirty days and spoils the crops.

In July the sun is hot,
Is it shining? No it's not!

August, cold and dank and wet,
Brings more rain than any yet.

Bleak September's mist and mud,
Is enough to chill the blood.

Then October adds a gale,
Wind and slush and rain and hail.

Dark November brings the fog,
Should not do it to a dog.

Freezing wet December, then...
Bloody January again!

Fran B said…
I hadn’t heard that parody. Brilliant! Thank you, that’s getting printed out and used. Maybe on a T shirt or dish towel ...
Enid Richemont said…
Encountered the original when very young, but never heard the parody until now. Brilliant!

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