Today is the shortest day - or you could think of it as the longest night. The long, dark nights are a time for snuggling in the warm to read a good book. But they are also a time to write what we hope will turn out to be a good book. Some ideas need to over-winter, like seeds lying dormant through the cold months, getting ready to be written in sunlight. Others shine out with the holly berries and demand to be gathered immediately before they wrinkle and fade. I'd never noticed before, but I'm a very seasonal writer; I write ghost stories and gothic in winter, humour in summer. And this is a very gothic winter.
After the first really deep snow fall last week, I went outside with my daughters to find animal tracks in the garden. There were cat, mouse, fox, deer and rabbit prints as well as the usual birds. Snow is nature's Wikileaks - it reveals the hidden life you knew was there but had no proof of. I've used the revealingness of snow before in a ghost story (Soldier Boy), and I expect I'll use it again. Most ghost stories are set in winter, surely? Is it even possible to write something truly creepy that is set in bright sunlight and warmth?
Many years ago, I started a gothic novel while sitting in Cambridge University Library watching the snow swirling outside, snittering full snart. That novel took a very different turn in the end and moved so far from where it started that the original idea is still unwritten. This winter, I want to revive that old story. It begins in the morgue of Edinburgh hospital in December 1821 and ends somewhere in a frozen Russian cemetery in 2002. It is a dark, wintry story full of snow and death and revenge. I've thought about turning it into an opera libretto instead, though I haven't the first idea how to start an opera libretto so that probably won't happen. But it can only be written in winter. I'm in the mood for dark and terrible, it's become my natural medium, and I won't flinch from whatever horrors the story demands - as long as the snow still lies thick to reveal the footprints, the blood stains, the crumpled dark figure in the graveyard, the dead hand as white as the snow thrust up through the earth...
Are you a seasonal writer? Or can you write snow in summer and sun-drenched meadows in winter? I can't. Maybe this incapacity is why I tend to write such short stories - they have to be finished in their season, or hibernate until the following year. It's not just writing weather, it's mood - dark and gloomy rules the long, long night of the winter solstice.
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