Deciding what time of year to set your book can prove quite a dilemma. And it’s a dilemma you need to resolve before you begin to write, because it permeates the whole story.
A no brainer, you might say? But, when you become immersed in the writing of a novel, it can be easy to forget how many times it rained, what the weather was like on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, depending on your timescales…
Seasonal weather can have a big impact on your storyline. It not only affects the way you dress your characters – you can’t have people running about in shorts in the middle of winter, or trussed up in hats and scarves in the midst of summer – but also the mood and atmosphere you wish to create.
An Unfamiliar Murder is set in November. Why? Because in November, in the UK, it can be icily cold, but rarely snows. We have a high level of rainfall – very effective for keeping people of the streets if you want to lots of empty alleys, roadsides, towns. In contrast, we also have frosty days when the sun shines merrily increasing the temperatures slightly.
November marks the end of our autumn season and generally the trees are devoid of leaves. On those cold, murky, damp days they can feel quite sorry for themselves, perfect for mirroring a melancholic mood, or creating that scary atmosphere.
Also in November, it gets dark around 4.30pm, ideal if you have a killer lurking in the background, stalking their prey. It’s much easier to do this, and much more terrifying, in the shadows.
There is a scene in the book where Anna agrees to meet an unsavoury character on a disused railway track called the Bracken Way. This fictional track is based on the very real Brampton Valley Way that runs through my home county of Northamptonshire in the Midlands and, on balmy summer afternoons, it’s mobbed by cyclists, families having picnics and afternoon walks. In late autumn, it is empty and in early evening, when dusk is setting, particularly eerie – Perfect place for a murder, one might think;-)
My second book fast forwards to March. Sequel to An Unfamiliar, I don’t have the luxury of being able to set it at what time of year I please. There have been developments in DCI Lavery’s family, changes in her job priorities and personal life that require a set period in which to take place. Setting a novel in Britain in March is presenting new challenges. The light lasts longer into the evenings. It marks the beginning of our spring season, which is generally milder and, depending on temperatures, the trees may be in blossom, flowers like bluebells, snowdrops, brooms, magnolia in flower. I’ve never been much of a gardener – time for more research.
Getting the seasonal setting of your story right from the beginning, allows the undercurrent of the story and the background to flow from the start. I’ll get back to the challenges of setting my second murder mystery in the season of optimism. I’d love to hear what challenges you face with your story settings.
Jane Isaac’s first novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, is out on Amazon.com, Amazon.uk and Kindle worldwide now. Jane is still very much a Newbie and with a day job, a family and a very demanding black Labrador, she squeezes her writing into every spare moment she gets. You can catch up with her at www.janeisaac.co.uk