“Weather tonight: dark. Turning partly light by morning.”
Who remembers George Carlin, the Hippy Dippy Weatherman? A whole generation of viewers in the 1970s laughed at his silly weather forecasts, but they struck a chord. People are obsessed with the weather.
Especially the English.
According to surveys, 94% of British respondents admit to having conversed about the weather in the past six hours, while 38% say they have in the past 60 minutes. “This means,” according to British sociologist Kate Fox, “at almost any moment in this country, at least a third of the population is either talking about the weather, has already done so or is about to do so.”
While complaining about the weather in Britain is a national sport, visitors from across the pond best not join in. It’s the equivalent of calling someone’s baby ugly.
I’m one of those obsessed with the weather—not so much in life but in fiction. And since my Kate Hamilton Mystery series is set in the UK, weather is an important part of the setting.
Setting doesn’t mean place alone. Setting includes things like the history of a place, the myths and legends attached to it, the geography, the social and political climate—and the weather. Who can forget the muddy streets in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House? How about the thunder, lightning, and winds in Macbeth? Or the oppressive heat in A Streetcar Named Desire?
Weather sets the time and the season; weather creates suspense and conflict; weather creates a mood and an atmosphere. I remember one hot summer at the lake cottage when I found myself (in ninety degree weather) making endless cups of tea as I read Charles Todd’s A Cold Treachery. I literally felt the icy blasts of the wind and the trickles of ice down the back of Inspector Rutledge’s neck.
But the weather in that book is more than a sensory detail. It’s a plot device. Not only is the violent blizzard a reflection of the violence Rutledge finds in a remote Lake District farm house, the weather also means potential disaster for a missing child.
In my debut novel, A Dream of Death, an unexpected snowstorm cuts off the fictional Isle of Glenroth, limiting the suspects in an unusual murder. In my forthcoming novel, The Art of Betrayal, a season of unrelenting rain wreaks havoc in rural Suffolk, creating a major challenge for antiques dealer Kate Hamilton and her friend, Detective Inspector Tom Mallory
If you’re a writer, how do you use weather to set your scene or develop your plot?
If you’re a reader, what part does weather play in some of your favorite books?