The rain it raineth ... Jo Carroll

All over the world the climate is changing. But this is not a post about the threat that is global climate change. Rather a whinge about the vagaries of the British summer.

There has, in recent years (2018 excluded) been a pattern of glorious weather while young people sit exams and then the heavens open as soon as the schools break up. Parents wrap must wrap little Susie into raincoats and wellies and try to look enthusiastic about trips to the park.

But this year ... well, the initial pattern was the same, with the inclusion of serious winds and storms that sent even the hardiest parent scurrying for cover. However, there has been one major difference: the weather forecast, in recent years increasingly trustworthy, has become so unreliable as to be almost useless. I know that low pressure has dominated, and with it comes prolonged periods of rain followed by sunshine and showers - and so timings can be a bit hit and miss. This year, with such a forecast, I set off with my fleece and umbrella, only to swelter in sunshine all day. I am promised a dry night and so leave my velox window wide open, only be be rained on at two in the morning.

In the scheme of things, this is little more than an inconvenience for most of us. But, as a writer, it got me thinking. We use weather to set a scene, to create tension, as a metaphor for feelings. Descriptions of storms and general pestilence are the backdrop to moments of grief or terror. We can't send our characters out dressed for the Arctic only to have the sun shine on them.

Our readers look to us for enough predictability to make sense of a narrative. We cannot signpost one thing - such a storm - and then turn it on its head and expect them to stay with us. Readers need enough coherence to believe that the story hangs together. Speaking as a reader, if the narrative dislocates too often I give up. There are so many cohesive books I want to read I don't have to struggle with something that has me scratching my head every few pages.

Whatever problems this meteorological office may be having at the moment, the lesson for writers must surely be that we provide enough predictability to keep our readers with us. Only then can we throw the unexpected at them.

The Planter's Daughter opens in Liverpool. The weather is predictably British. But when the setting moves to Western Australia I had to research local conditions - I needed to know which way the wind blew and which season saw the rains. The scenes set in New Zealand are in a town I know; I have paddled in that sea and know just how cold those Antarctic currents are. Finally, to Ireland during the potato famine, when climatic fluctuations had such a crucial impact on anyone's ability to survive. Does it all hold together? That's for you to tell me.

Comments

Griselda Heppel said…
Ha ha I never thought of this. So often in life we go out weighed down with waterproofs etc and wish we hadn't because the forecast was wrong. So if we want our fiction to imitate life, this should happen to our characters too - but as you say, the inconsistency would distract the reader and loom too large in the story, unless it has some vital part to play. It can't be just, well, what happens in real life. Which shows how artificial 'realistic' fiction is really.

But weather is crucial to building a believable world. A clever 8 year-old I knew once laughed about Enid Blyton weather: glorious blue sky and sunshine interspersed with violent thunderstorms. She was absolutely right and it didn't stop her enjoying Five on a Treasure Island or whatever, but she'd nicely skewered Blyton's blithe disregard of realistic weather conditions in service to the needs of her plot. You have clearly done the total opposite with The Planter's Daughter, which means it will hold together beautifully!
Umberto Tosi said…
I agree. The weather nearly always shows up as a character in my stories, as well as in a long list of literary masterpieces - on which I can't say my work belongs, but it's nice to share something in common.
Sandra Horn said…
At least they've stopped talking about 'a 30% chance of rain' whatever the pox that is meant to mean...imagine a story constructed like that - or rather, don't. It'll make your brain hurt.

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