Take the Weather With You by Julie Heslington

Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. Never has a BBC adaptation caused so much controversy. Complaints of mumbling, bad accents, incoherent speech etc. were rife. The BBC claimed “technical sound difficulties” on night one. Can’t say I noticed any difference by night two. I found myself faced with two choices – give up or put the subtitles on. I settled for the subtitles. I usually put Film4 on while drying my daughter’s with subtitles on because I can’t hear over the noise of the hairdryer. Having them on without the hairdryer was definitely a first.

But the purpose of my post today is not to discuss poor sound quality. I want to be extremely British and talk about the weather. I promise you that there’s a point to the Jamaica Inn reference. You see, the other thing that slapped me across the chops whilst watching the three episodes was the weather. Darkness enveloped the bleak moors, wet mud caked the bottoms of dresses (except in the continuity error when Mary Yellan ran across the moors at one point and her dress was miraculously clean but let’s not go there), dark clouds flew across grey skies and rain lashed down. Then, at the very end, we saw our first glimpse of blue sky and fluffy clouds.

I haven’t read Jamaica Inn (sorry, such a pleb) but I wonder if the weather in the dramatization matches the book. As it’s described as a “dark, gothic novel”, I’m imagining it does. The dark skies, fog, rain and mud all helped absorb the viewer in the remoteness, desolation and desperation of the cast stuck in a bleak place where smuggling and murder had become a way of life.

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The use of weather in writing is a subject that’s particularly close to me at the moment as it was one of the things that was flagged up in my disappointing NWS report for book 2, Getting Over Gary.

I’m very conscious that my natural style of writing is dialogue-heavy/description-light so I specifically spent time during an edit of book 1 making sure I covered all five senses, described my settings, and captured the weather. I thought I’d done this well and my reader of book 1 clearly agreed: “you describe things in just the right amount of detail, so that there’s enough to give an idea of the place, but not so much that it’s noticeable. I was very impressed. The setting is easy to picture (and quite stunning in location)”. Yes it is (see above and below). I was delighted I’d been able to do justice to it.

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So how come book 2 got: “The North Yorkshire coast is beautiful, potentially forbidding and romantic all at the same time. A really excellent place to set this sort of story. So why not make more of it?” Oops! As soon as I read that, I smiled wryly to myself as I’d completely forgot to do my special edit to add in the stuff I know I leave out. Thankfully, it’s not tricky to do this and I know I did it well in book 1 so I can apply that same approach to book 2.

The use of weather in books is fascinating. There’s the obvious idea that it helps us capture the seasons and therefore move the book through the passage of time but it’s even more powerful in that it can really help set moods and emotions. In book 1, I have quite a traumatic opening scene for my protagonist and the emotion is heightened in this scene through a thunderstorm. Throughout the book, heavy rain or storms make an appearance at various other points of turmoil to the point that the protagonist actually fears storms because they create such a sense of foreboding for her. In book 2, the protagonist’s “challenges” are in the height of summer; not so many thunderstorms around. And I didn’t want to repeat myself with the same storm technique to create mood so, instead, the fun and laughter enjoyed by families during the summertime at the seaside act as a stark contrast to her sorrow.

ImageAs well as heightening emotion, weather can be the catalyst for something to happen. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that one of my favourite romcoms is 27 Dresses. In a key scene in this film, the two leads have a heated argument whilst she’s driving. Rain pelts the car (good mood-building weather) and then the car aquaplanes, leaves the road and gets stuck in the mud. This means the leads have no choice but to spend the night together and this is the catalyst for their relationship developing. The argument wouldn’t have been nearly so dramatic if there’d been sunshine and the accident wouldn’t have happened.

Another way of using weather is to trigger something e.g. flood-waters carry a dead body downstream which would have remained hidden otherwise or a ship is wrecked at sea in a storm and the survivors are washed up on a strange island. My imagination was particularly captured recently when I read an article in the Huffington Post. Two 17-year old girls went missing in 1971 in South Dakota. What happened to them had remained an absolute mystery until last autumn when high spring waters followed by a drought revealed the wheels of a car upside down at the bottom of a creek. It was the car they’d last been seen in and skeletons were found in the front seats. It would appear to have been a tragic accident rather than foul-play. Those poor girls in their watery grave and their poor parents not knowing if they were alive or dead for 42 years. I don’t write about murders or mysteries but still story massively triggered my “what if …” reaction. What if they’d never been found? What if they’d been found with bullet holes in them? What if the car had been found but the bodies inside weren’t theirs? What if one of them had been pregnant? What if other cars were found in the same creek? What if something sinister was found in the boot (sorry, trunk; this was in the USA)? And suddenly I had a load of plots for a different genre forming in my head which is not good because I already have book 3 in my trilogy and the outline of another 3-4 books of the same genre already in my head. Too many characters. Too much to think about. I feel a storm brewing in my head! And that brings us nicely back to the weather.

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I thought I’d finish this blog post with some more of my husband’s fabulous photographs (all the earlier ones are his) which are potentially really evocative of mood. This first one is a picture I absolutely adore. It was taken at the Armed Forces Day in Scarborough in summer 2013. My 6-year-old (at the time) was dressed in patriotic colours and we’d taken a break from the crowds. She wandered away to look at the fairground and hubby captured this shot:

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If you were to write a story about this image, what would it be? When would it be set? Would the mood be one of a happy childhood or is there something a little spooky or sinister about this? It generated a lot of debate when hubby first posted it on Facebook. Whilst everyone loved it, the jury was out as to whether there were dark undertones. I personally think it’s just very atmospheric and don’t feel the need to label it happy or dark.

What about this one? Clearly it’s a very different time of year. This was taken round the corner from where we live in the winter of 2012/13. Excitement and anticipation of first-footing in the snow or something a little more eerie? I have this image of a dark shadow appearing under the lamppost …

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Here’s another completely different one. Same time of year but a very different feel. Is it a calm feeling or is it one of loneliness? Who is that man in the middle of the field and what’s he doing there? He was actually a dog-walker and you can see the dog in another shot but, without the dog, why is there a man stood in the middle of a field early one morning. Who’s he watching?

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Finally, I’ll leave you with three contrasting photos of the incredible power and beauty of the sea on the North Yorkshire Coast. You can create your own stories from these…

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Thanks for reading. Thanks for looking. And thanks to the very talented Mark Heslington for allowing me to use his photos. Right, I’m off to inject more weather and scenery into book 2. Feeling pretty inspired after looking at these. I can bring that beauty to life. Or at least I hope I can!

Julie xx

 

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26 thoughts on “Take the Weather With You by Julie Heslington

  1. Fabulous post Julie and Mark’s photographs are amazing, he is very talented. I love the one of the fair, for me surprise, surprise it conjures up the beginning of a ghost story which I may have to write now I’ve began to think about it.

    The weather plays a part in my novels as well in The Ghost House there is a thunder storm which sets the atmosphere very early on in the book as well as the nights drawing in. The Secrets of the Shadows is set in summer in the busy Lake District and hot sticky days are an integral part of the story.

    I can’t wait to read you’re novels and by the sound of it you have as many on the go as I do, good luck.

    Helen xx

    • Thanks Helen. Really excited that the fairground image has got your creative juices flowing. Mark posted it on a photography forum and the feedback from an expert was to cut the lettering off to the left of Ashleigh and make it more of a square picture. He did this and posted it on Facebook to garner opinion. Generally the feeling of eeriness (may have spelt that wrong) came from the letters being there as they are what gives the image a sense of abandonment and desolation. But that’s why I love the photo. Can’t wait to read what you produce.

      Julie xx

  2. They are superb photo’s Julie, very atmospheric. I love the way weather can add to mood in novels, Thomas Hardy uses it brilliantly, I read ‘Tess of the D’Urberville’s’ years ago but I can still picture her after her husband dumped her, she was raped, then her baby died, digging swedes in the freezing winter to earn a crust.

    At first it seemed to me that the weather should reflect the character’s emotional state in a book to make sense, but I can remember in my social work/counselling days a young very disturbed woman coming to see me in the office in summer always wearing a thick waxed jacket done up right to the top.

    She was totally locked into her own world, fighting all the powers that be in her life, so I guess it would make sense if made into a book.

    Great post Julie!! lynne x

    • Thanks Lynne. It sounds like I need to dig out some Thomas Hardy for a bit more inspiration. I think as a “learner writer” it’s so easy to forget the importance of something like the weather in novels yet it is ever-present in all good books I’ve ever read and films I’ve ever watched.

      Love the idea that someone would wear thick clothing in the height of summer following such trauma. Perhaps she saw it as defensive armour, poor woman.

      Julie xx

      • Thats a point Julie, I never thought of it as protective armour but it was exactly that. She was a 2nd generation holocaust survivor, both her parents had been in concentration camps and could never stop themselves grabbing their daughter and running to hide in a cupboard at the slightest unexplained loud noise. They lived the rest of their lives in terror and that transmitted to their daughter, who sadly struggled to look after herself and her child. She was a lovely person though.
        Lynne x

  3. Fab post Julie and some stunning photos! Like Lynne, I read Thomas Hardy’s novels whilst at school and we learnt about the pathetic fallacy in writing, including where the weather itself reflected the character’s mood – ‘the sky was filled with sullen clouds’. I look forward to reading how your story turns Mark’s evocative pictures into words. Great stuff. Jo xx

  4. Great post, Julie, and enjoyed Mark’s beautiful photos. I do agree that the weather can make a useful backdrop to a scene and can serve to counterbalance the mood, as long as it’s not too obviously done. I once read a ‘rule’ that said you should never begin a novel with the weather. I hate rules anyway, but it must depend how it’s done, surely. Having your character waking up to the sun filtering through the curtains and thinking it’s going to be a lovely day is an absolute no-no in anybody’s book (excuse the pun!) but an entrant in last year’s Mail on Sunday novel competition opened with this: ‘Snow had been falling steadily for a month. It blew into the small town on the breath of the north wind and turned the rooftops silver. It followed the men and women of the town through the narrow streets, threading their hair with stars and wreathing the beautiful dark bones of the trees with light. No-one in the town could recall a snowfall as prolonged’. I think that’s a terrific opening to a novel, and clearly the judges did too as the writer took first prize.
    Good luck with the writing, Julie.
    Deirdre

    • Thanks Deirdre and you’re absolutely right; what a crazy rule to have when somebody can use the weather so beautifully and evocatively like that. I think book 1 starts with weather. Actually, the very first line is speech but it’s then straight into a thunderstorm but that’s extremely relevant. May have to revisit it, though, because it’s definitely not as poetic as the Mail on Sunday winner’s words!!!

      Thanks for sharing
      Julie xx

  5. Hi Julie,
    Excellent post and I loved the photos. Yay for Yorkshire in all it’s glory! Mark is very talented and the one of the fairground is particularly atmospheric. I liked playing around with the weather in Beltane. Even though it’s set over just 6 days I managed to fit in a wide variety of English weather. I’m not quite sure why I decided it should be drizzling when Finn and Zoe met but I like the effect of them seeming very alone walking through the rain. I did discover that there are not nearly as many synonyms for thunder as I needed though so I think I’ll be leaving thunder storms alone in the new book. Good luck with the weather edit of Gary. I’m sure you’ll capture the glory of the Yorkshire coast as wonderfully as Mark’s photos do.
    Alex

    • Thanks Alex. The Yorkshire Coast is stunning isn’t it? It seems we’re all playing with the weather in our books, perhaps without realising. Clearly we are incredibly talented and gifted writers already 😉

  6. What an insightful post, Julie and I love the photos…the fairground one especially!
    I agree that the weather can really transport a reader to the time and place of the novel and can emphasise characters emotions too, and it’s the same in films. “The Holiday” used snow and sunshine to contrast the two very different worlds for each woman…although my illusions were a little shattered when I read that Kate Winslet’s cottage was made for the film and didn’t really exist, and the snow was fake to create more atmosphere!
    Helen R x

    • Thank you Helen. The Holiday is one of my absolute favourite films and you’re absolutely right about the great use of contrasting weather … although I had no idea that the cottage wasn’t real either. My illusions are now also in tatters!
      Julie xx

  7. Sorry Julie! I was gutted…in my dreams I move there – not sure where my husband or children would fit so maybe I’d have to go for the LA mansion instead 🙂
    Helen.

  8. Loved your post, Julie, and your husband’s photos are brilliant! I’m a sucker for symbolism in novels, and love it when the setting reflects the plot or the characters’ emotions. I’m just reading The Property of a Gentleman, by Catherine Gaskin, and she does this really well. The setting is the Lakes, which we all know can be dull, forbidding and gloomy at times! So it is at the start of the novel, but as the heroine falls in love with the hero, she also falls in love with the Lakes, and Gaskin’s descriptions turn into ones of beauty, for example the fells bathed in moonlight. Her descriptions change as the novel progresses, and it’s quite cleverly done. I love anything like this, and read and re-read authors for their symbolism alone! Great post!

    • Thanks so much for stopping by and for your lovely comments, Helena. I’m liking the sound of Gaskin’s descriptions. May have to dig that one out. I think you’re absolutely right that someone’s take on the place can be affected by the bad weather and, as their mood changes, their feelings about the weather can also change. Thanks again

  9. Fabulous photos, Julie. As for Jamaica Inn, there’s a tendency in historical screen dramas, especially British ones, to imply that in the life of the poor in the past the sky was never blue, grass was never green, and no flowers bloomed. Even gothic drama is enhanced by nature’s colours, IMO. Just takes a bit more work.

    • Thanks for visiting Jo. I think you raise a really valid point there. It does make for depressing viewing to imply that life was rubbish and therefore the skies were always grey because neither of those things is true.
      Julie

  10. First up, what gorgeous photos, especially the last three of the sea. But then I live in the Australian inland and ANY water is good. 🙂 A river, a lake. You get the picture.
    Regarding the fairground and girl image, the first thought that came to mind was of a child pensively contemplating the scene but perhaps in a sad way. Rich girl having been taken there by nanny or personal body guard but having to go home to a lonely or unloving mansion.
    The dark, snow, lamppost and To Let sign triggered a woman driving past to check out the house and why she would be there looking and wanting it. What is she running away or escaping or hiding from?
    Wonderfully pictorial and interesting post for authors. 🙂

    • Hi Noelene, your comments about yearning for water have really made me smile. I think it’s something we take for granted in the UK that we’re never really that far from water no matter where we live.

      I’m loving the stories that the photos have conjured up for you. The wonderful thing about photos is that they’re a snapshot in time and everyone will interpret them differently. I once went on a creative writing workshop with about 30 others and we were given a pencil drawing of two women. We had to write the backstory of the one in the foreground and I knew they’d be different but I was amazed at how incredibly different everyone’s interpretation was of the expression on one pencil drawing. Therefore a full photo is going to evoke so much more. Love your interpretations. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, for your compliments and for joining us on the site 🙂

      Julie

    • Thank you Linda. Funnily enough, we keep saying we’ll get the fairground one enlarged and put on the wall so I’ll give him a little push on that one thanks to all these wonderful comments. Thanks for dropping by
      Julie

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