Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Slippage

Once upon a time when the Bitch was a soppy little girl and long before she became a wise-ass city type, she knew everything about the countryside, and birds and animals, and her especial love was flowers. And she loved Wordsworth too because he did, and even after she became a cynical city type she had to admit that a big thing in her writing was a sense of the seasons, for which reason while writing she always had to keep her pathetic fallacy detector well polished.

Well, she knows nuttin no more. As Steerforth has noted, there is ample evidence this season that things are changing fast. And what does this do for a writer? How dated our books will become. What anachronisms will occur - are occuring already: not so long ago in Waterstone's I picked up a novel written recently but set in the thirties which began with a reference to green leaves on the trees in October. Yet it's only in the past three years or so, I think, that the trees have still been green in October. And if we get it right, if we portray the past as it was - with leafless trees and bone-hard ground in October, will young readers believe us, or see our writing as unrealistic, or will we betray ourselves as unpalatably linked with a past which has gone (and God knows no one respects the past much nowadays)?

Susan Hill says she's going to record the things in her garden to check all this out, and here are my notes:

Here in South Manchester in January we have not yet had frost. There are fuchsias and roses still flowering in the gardens, and yes, there are still some trees with leaves on them, mostly yellow, but some green. Nasturtium plants are still trailing over the trellises, not black and slimy as they should be with frost. As last year, the jasmine over my front door, which is meant to flower in spring and summer, is coming into flower right now. On a Christmas walk, like Steerforth I found spring flowers - coltsfoot and tansy - and witnessed ducks taking part in mating rituals.

How will this affect our psyches as writers? How will it affect the kind of literature we write?

5 comments:

Bournemouth Runner said...

It's good though, really, since I think it stops writers being able to get away with cliche. They'll have to notice! So if you're writing a novel set in, oh, 2006, you'd have to take note of it, in the same way as one in 1976 would have to be hot, hot, hot. I think it says a lot for how impoverished the writing on Eastenders has become that they had snow in Albert Square for dramatic purposes this year, same as every year. Haven't they noticed its getting warmer? (Mind you, took about 10 years for them to give their characters mobile phones!)

Ms Baroque said...

Well, here in north London we have had frost, several times. And last week we had rain so cold it felt like ice needles on my face.

Also, I can distinctly remember Christmasses in the early 80's when it was about 50°F, and times in the late 80s when there were forsythia and even daffodil buds in January.

I'm not saying the climate isn;t changing, but I do remember these things.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Yes, Katy, it's true about the eighties, though I must say this is the first year I've seen some of the things I mention above. I forgot to say that the bluebell spears in my garden have been coming up earlier each year, and this year they were coming up in September. I remember a time when they didn't start sprouting out of the ground until March or April. I just wish I had kept a record of these things. It really does have interesting implications for one's writing, I think: it's so hard to remember what each year was like, will novels become more fictive and less reliant on social fact than they are?

Debi said...

Oh blimey! Something else to worry about ...

Can't we get away with hoping our writing's so good no one would think to stop and say, 'Hmmm - that's not right - that was the year when we sunbathed on Xmas Day and she's got her characters sheltering from the storm ...'

Happy new year, BTW ...

Elizabeth Baines said...

Happy New Year, Debi. Glad you're back