History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

02 March 2009

Got Snow?

It is snowing in Southern Maryland. Woooee. After waiting all winter and beginning to think about spring, a storm roared up the coast and we are in for eight to ten inches. To the right is the 8 AM view off our front porch.

It’s not a friendly storm. The wind is fiendish. All night, snow clots fell on the roof, blown down from the trees. It sounded like a violent snowball fight, but we prefer it to trees laden with ice and snow. Everyone here still talks about the ice storm in the 90’s when they were without power for ten days.

Listening to the thumps last night, I thought about the role weather and climate plays in my books. In the early regencies (written for Kensington) I virtually ignore the fact that it rains so much in England. In thinking back over the five novels I wrote under the Zebra imprint, the weather was not a factor in any of the stories. As a matter of fact in my last book for Kensington, THE CAPTAIN’S MERMAID, my Jamaican born and raised heroine loved to swim in the lake that separated her brother’s estate from the hero’s.

That was my ‘aha’ moment. Even putting my heroine’s home in the warmest spot in England, it is likely that only the most eccentric woman would swim regularly even in the summer. As the title shows, her love of swimming was an essential part of the story so it stayed and not one reader or reviewer complained.

Now, before I dive too deep into writing a book, I research significant weather events. I've learned about the Frost Fair of 1814 and the Year Without a Summer, 1816. That’s Mt. Pinatubo below. Following a massive eruption the ash from Pinatubo spread worldwide and is thought to have caused the colder than usual summer in 1816. That’s a subject I covered in another blog post.

I thought about books and movies set in England during the Regency and considered whether climate or weather played a significant part in the story. More movies came to mind than books, probably because of the visual element in movies.

In the London scenes of the movie AMAZING GRACE it rains. It more than rains. Rain floods out of the sky. London is wet and miserable all the time. The rain dose not so much advance the plot as it creates a mood. IN MASTER AND COMMANDER sun, rain and wind are such a fundamental part of life at sea that weather is like a character.

In the Greer Garson/Laurence Olivier PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, I do not recall rain in any scene except the one where Jane is going to Mr. Bingley’s. In the Keira Knightley P&P rain is used as a cliched plot device.

Tell me, how’s your weather been this winter? How aware are you of the importance of weather or climate in your books? Are they a significant background element or used to further the story? I will check back frequently today but a neighbor just called to say they lost power so if you don’t hear from me, you know why.


Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Mary, we're part of that snow storm on the Eastern seaboard. NYC is covered in snow today and even the private schools are closed, something that rarely happened when I went to school. I used to envy the public school kids who never seemed to go to school in winter. I try as much as possible to use weather in my books. My current WIP is set in upstate New York in 1895, so weather is an important factor. So far it's rained and snowed in the manuscript.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

It's raining, it's pouring, the mastiffs are snoring . . . Out here in CA we're FINALLY getting some rain. Unfortunately it all seems to arrive on my days off when I'd like to be walking my two giant puppies!

I've used weather in all my books. I used the frost faire of the winter of 1788/1789 on the Thames in LORD SIN (and there were at least two rain storms featured). In LORD SCANDAL it always seems to be raining, LOL! Rain ruins a hunt and traps my protagonists along. Rain slows my heroine's attempt to flee to Scotland.

Rain features quite a bit in the books of Austen and the Bronte sisters. People are always getting wet and often getting sick. I really like it when weather features in books, since it's such a part of all of our lives.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Elizabeth, It is always amazing when Mother Nature forces NYC to slow down. We lived there during the Perfect Storm and even the subways stopped running.

Kalen, You have now given me an excuse to read Austen again to see how often she refers to the weather.

We are down to flurries, the roads are cleared. Wonder how long that took in regency England. I suspect that London was like any big city and worked on through and the folks in the country hunkered down until the weather passed

9:56 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

The last time I remember NYC really shutting down was the blizzard of 1996; but even during the blizzard of 1969, the subways still ran, because we took the #1 line (which is partially elevated in some stretches) from the Upper West Side home to Riverdale. Today is diddly by comparison.

For some reason I recall it raining when Lizzy says "that chapter is definitely closed" and she's looking out a window...but I may be mixing up that heroine looking out a window when the rain is coming down with the 1975 Public Television production of "Much Ado About Nothing." That was a film version of the A.J. Antoon production with the same cast that was on Broadway. At one point in the TV version, Beatrice is looking out a window as the rain is streaming down. It's the moment she realizes she loves Benedick.

I used a stormy (rain) night in an early scene in "All For Love." And there's a storm scene based on a famous incident when the King and Queen of Naples fled for Sicily with the Hamiltons aboard Nelson's flagship on Christmas, 1798, in "Too Great a Lady." I try to be mindful of weather, though it's not a character in my books the way it is in some books, or movies.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I love bad weather in literature -- actually I love (being inside in) bad weather in real life too. I've never thought that "it was a dark and stormy night" was such a bad line, and "King Lear," a play about everything, is to me, at bottom, a play about not having a roof over your head in the rain. I use bad weather all the time in my books. Usually rain and snow, because it's so easy to get people clutching and cuddling. And once the Mistral, the hot wind that blows across the south of France and is said to make people crazy. Most recently in Edge, I used the summer heat of the end of a London season, when everybody who's anybody wants to remove to Brighton, and everybody who isn't -- like servants -- stifles up under the eaves.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

oops -- blogger ate the last chunk of my post...

I was going to add that in Jane Austen -- especially in Emma, which is structured around a year in the English country calendar, the weather is omnipresent

12:12 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Thanks everyone --

Amanda -- we moved back east from St Louis in the spring of 96 and people told us how lucky we were to have missed the winter -- there was still snow in those towering snow piles the plows make.

I wrote a contemporary set in Juneau Alaska where the climate influenced the story so much that I considered it a character. The book was rejected but I still love the idea that where you live influences your world view.

Pam, I love the you reduce Lear to the basics!
Okay, Emma it is. I will reread it and follow the weather through the story.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

It's raining terribly here in NorCal. Not even an umbrella and a pair of boots has kept me from getting wet. Ah well, at least there's snow in the mountains up north.

I find weather very effective for setting the mood. It's why I hem and haw over when exactly to set a WIP since the season (particularly a NY-set historical) is so tied to certain types of social interaction.

5:12 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

I think the social interaction I'm looking for beats out my interest in the weather for my books.

Evangeline -- how many Americans realize that you can drive five hours north of San Francisco and still be in California? I think that the area around Mt. Shasta is one of the most beautiful places in the country.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Mary, the answer is: Not many. About as many as realize that you can drive 9 hours south and still not hit Mexico (a friend from college was in in San Diego or a meeting and wanted to meet me for lunch!).

8:23 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

FOR not "or". *sigh*

8:24 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post, Mary! I love using weather in books. Particularly stormy weather--it can add so much drama and be such a great echo of what's going on with the characters internally. Besides, I love writing about light and shadow, and you have to figure out the time of year and the weather before you can right about light. "Secrets of a Lady"/"Daughter of the Game" takes place in November over about three days and includes a rainstorm that's part of several scenes in the book. "Beneath a Silent Moon" takes place in June/July, but there's still a rainstorm (it's set in Scotland, after all).

Lately I've been enjoying listening to sound of the rain as I write.

9:05 PM  

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