Friday, November 20, 2009

Safe and Sound

Just a quick post to thank everyone for their concerned queries during this weather event in Cumbria. I am safe and sound, on high ground, with enough provisions to see me through to the middle of next week, so I have no need to venture out at all.

This is the road to Hawkshead, my nearest village about a mile away, which is only passable if you have a Land Rover (and then, it comes up over the bonnet!). Technically, I am stranded. All roads are blocked. Cumbria has seen 18 inches (about 45cm) of rain since the beginning of November, of which 16 inches (40cm) have fallen since this Tuesday. Locally, the Met office are calling this a 'one in a thousand years' event.

Where I'm staying is above Esthwaite Water (the lake that has flooded the Hawkshead Road above) however, the volume of rain has flooded the cellar here at the property, which has knocked the heating out. Thankfully, it isn't cold though. I still have electricity too!

And even if I lose that, I have a head torch with batteries that last 140 hours, and because I'm working on the novel, I'm using a red pen to highlight the words I want to delete on the manuscript, so I shall still be able to work!

My thoughts though are with the family of the missing Policeman and all those other people who have been flooded out in Cockermouth, Keswick, Coniston, Ambleside, Windermere, Kendal and Ulverston.

Stay safe.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Batten Down The Hatches!

Well, greetings from week 2 in the Lake District. The picture is of my 'office'. How's the weather with you? I only ask because on Monday night I was talking at Carlisle Writers group and it took me nearly two hours to do the 60 miles through wind, rain and hail. It was worth it though because they were a friendly bunch and we had a good laugh.

On Tuesday and Wednesday the Met Office have said that 2.5 inches of rain fell in Cumbria and today they are forecasting another 4 to 8 inches of rain within the next 24 hours! Who knows, by Saturday the Lake District may just have one very large lake - I'll call it Lake Cumbria.

Of course, as far as I'm concerned, this isn't a problem. The family have all gone home now, leaving me on my own to do what I planned to do whilst I was up here - deleting all those words from my novel. I'm stocked up with food, and more importantly, teabags, so I'm set for the next few days. Which is probably just as well because Kendal is no longer accessible by road from the north.

But all this talk of bad weather has got me thinking. Do you mention 'weather' in your writing? Whilst fiction writers should avoid the classic cliche, "It was a dark and stormy night", this does show how weather can set the mood of a scene. It can be a great tool in our "show, don't tell" toolbox.

Reading through the last six of the stories I've written, I've noticed that I've only mentioned the weather once - when a character had to shield their eyes from the sun. This simple action conveys much to the reader. This is not a weak, washed-out sun trying to burn its way through autumnal mist and fog, this is a strong 'glaring' sun, the type that makes you sneeze if you don't take avoiding action. This is the type of sun that appears on days with clear blue skies.

So don't tell your readers that it was raining, show the weather in other ways. Have a character getting drenched by the cheap umbrella which inverted itself in the slightest breeze. That tells the reader that it's raining, is windy, and that the character is too mean to buy a decent umbrella!

Of course, the weather is a useful tool to the non-fiction writer too. Many travel magazines like to see blue sky images accompanying the articles because it inspires readers to go to those places. (They'll have trouble this week in Cumbria, that's for certain!) But it is still possible to write a travel feature using bad weather as the catalyst.

I once spent a week in Wales on holiday, where it rained everyday. (Wales has a lot in common with Cumbria, it seems!) Yet, I still managed to produce a travel article from this. How? I simply wrote about roofs! By the end of the week, I realised that I'd gone to tourist attractions with a roof - well you would if it was raining, wouldn't you? So, I simply created a travel feature entitled, "Roofs of Wales". I produced a tourist drive linking the straw roofs of the Iron Age huts found at Castell Henllys Iron Age settlement, with the striking and ornate roof of St David's Cathedral, and the new 21st Century roof of the glasshouse of the National Botanical Gardens of Wales near Carmarthen. Naturally I had pictures to accompany the piece!

When I moved from Surrey to Shropshire, neighbours said, "ooh, you'll get a lot of weather up there!" Actually, in Shropshire, I get just as much weather as anywhere else in the country, it just happens to be more varied!

So whilst most of the Irish Sea and half of the Atlantic Ocean appears to be hammering at my windows panes, why don't you ask yourselves this ... is there enough weather in your writing?

Before I go, I thought I'd share one more anecdote with you. It isn't one of mine, it's one of Beatrix Potter's, which seems most appropriate seeing as I'm in Beatrix Potter country. (in fact the country house I'm staying in is adjacent to land once owned by Beatrix.) I'm reading a book entitled "The Wrong Kind of Snow" - it's a daily companion of the British Weather, so I read each entry for the relevant day. In light of all the rain we had yesterday (and will get today), I thought yesterday's entry with a quote from Beatrix Potter was quite appropriate.

"After heavy rain the hill sides are slippery, and I saw a neighbour's cow tobogganing as if she had been shot out of a gun - she flew down hill sitting on her tail. If she had not kept all her legs in front of her, she would have broken her neck, but she finished on a flat piece of grass, sitting down like a cat, just before she reached the river."

Beatrix Potter, Lake District, 18th November 1927

Good luck. (And don't forget to put your waterproofs on!)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Will Your Reader Reach The Summit?

Just a quick post this week because I'm preparing to do a talk at Kendal Writers' Group tonight. Here's a picture taken on Monday in the Lake District (the weather was like this on Wednesday too!)

Standing at the top of Wetherlam (2,502 feet above sea level) I could see far and wide. I had a complete overview of my surrounding area - the northern Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, Morecombe Bay and in the very distance, Scotland. Height helps us put things into perspective.

I'm currently re-reading my novel and because I haven't looked at it for about a year, it's like standing at the summit of Wetherlam. Suddenly, I'm rediscovering the journey to the summit and getting a 'feel' for my surroundings. Already I've deleted passages that take readers along the wrong path and hinder them from their journey. Our writing should always push the reader forward (whether it is fiction or non-fiction). If we're giving the reader information they don't need to know, we're merely sending them in the wrong direction, which not only wastes time, but it can be so infuriating it causes the reader to abandon the journey altogether. Not what we want!

So, when you have a few spare moments, have a rummage in your notebooks or on your computer and dig out something you wrote a long time ago. Re-read it. Does it still achieve what you wanted it to when you wrote it originally? If it doesn't, cut out the dead-end paths and make the journey more direct for your reader. You'll find your work will be tighter, easier to read, informative and more authoritative.

Good Luck (with your writing ... and the weather!)