Memories are often interwoven with the time of year at which they happened—a summer holiday at the beach, a romantic walk on a balmy evening, a cosy gathering around the fireside. But with so many of us living largely indoor lives in concrete jungles, the seasons often pass by hardly noticed. With eyes glued on computer, TV and mobile phone screens, and ears plugged into earphones, we hurry past the first spring daffodils, never see the autumn mists swirling around a distant mountaintop and the golden summer sunsets, and drown out the song birds with Lady Gaga, Snoop Dog or Mily Cyrus.
If you want to write the best fiction you can, unplug yourself, tear your eyes away from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and stop and smell the roses. Chocolate melting to soft gooeyness in a child’s hand or the salty taste of sweat on a lover’s skin—these are details that will evoke summer in your readers’ senses. Then take it further. Weave the seasons into your story like a character. A suffocating, empty, paralysing life in the inner city can be made doubly so in a hot, airless summer. The tar is melting on the road and releasing its thick, burnt smell, the heat is arising from the concrete in shimmering mirages, tossed-aside milkshake cups and ice cream wrappers rattle down the dry gutters, the hot, bothered people hurry along the sidewalks, anxious to get back to their air-conditioned cars and offices. Or a hot summer can be a lazy and dreamy summer of love. The lush summer foliage, balmy breezes, lazily chirping cicadas or grass crickets, time spent laying on the cool grass, the warm, moonlit summer nights…
A change in the weather or seasons can also be used to dramatic affect. A sudden torrential downpour after weeks without rain, the first snowfall of the winter, or the falling of the autumn leaves in a gale—all of these can take place alongside a development in your plot or character.
In my novel Beguile Me Not, I used comparisons to nature’s cycle of growth and decay to good affect too. The heroine, Anna, feels that youth, love and happiness are passing her by, leaving the bleak prospect of a descant into old age and misery ahead of her. I have her finish putting the bunch of wilted weeds in a verse and fall into a thoughtful mood:
When Anna looked up from the completed task, she paused to study her reflection in the mirror above the fireplace. Her skin was now beyond delicately pale. It was ashen. And the bones it covered were becoming ever more pronounced. No, the months spent out here had not done her face any favours. She looked tired, haggard, strained. And the eyes…they were strangely hollow, somehow. What eligible young Auckland bachelor would look at her now? No, not one man among them would look at a fading rose whose petals would be gone in the next gust of wind. Not when there were so many fresh new rosebuds unfurling their dewy petals all around.
‘Your time is over, Anna,’ she whispered to the pale reflection. ‘There will be no new dawn for you…’
And Mr Sleighman, the man she does not love but whom she is determined to make herself marry in place of the unsuitable man she loves, says:
‘What’s that, Anna?’
'Nothing, Mr Sleighman, nothing at all,’ she replied sadly. ‘Merely the wind tugging at the roses beneath the window.’