Thursday, 16 December 2010

Never Start a Book with the Weather... by Savita Kalhan

“Never start a book with the weather – readers will skip ahead to find people.”
This is one of Elmore Leonard’s basic writing rules.

I am about to embark on a new book because it’s autumn, but I will not be opening with the weather. I am writing this blog while it is still technically autumn, even if whole swathes of the country have already been clenched in the icy grip of a bitter northerly wind that brought with it snow and the usual accompanying chaos. The snow was forecasted all week, but it still took the councils by surprise and only some of the gritters braved the roads. There was high drama on the roads, avalanches descended on pavements, frozen train tracks, no school and lots of hot chocolate. But that’s already happened and set for a repeat performance this weekend when the Arctic winds blow our way.

But, even technically, autumn is fast receding, and I’m getting a little bit anxious because this is when I usually embark on a new story. I have done this every year for the past few years and it’s a tried and trusted system that has always worked for me. So why have I found myself messing about with the system?

Well firstly, I’ve belatedly discovered, at great pain and with much lost time, that being a writer doesn’t mean you’re allowed to sit around writing all day, heaven forbid. You have to be pro-active in creating your ‘brand’, raising your profile so that your work gets as far ‘out there’ as it possibly can because if you don’t do it then no one else will, and you have to maintain a visible and active profile in cyber-space, in schools, in bookshops, anywhere that will have you. That stuff takes time! I am only just getting to grips with it, and guess what? It’s definitely worth it as long as it doesn’t take over your life!

Secondly, I was side-tracked by the not unimportant task of finishing a psychological thriller. Enough said about that while it is being perused by the powers that be.

Whilst I have yet to start a book with the weather in Elmore Leonard’s definition, I do find it appealing and have wondered whether there are any best-sellers that do begin with the weather. I’m sure there are lots. Of course, I think he’s talking about his type of writing where an opening page on the weather would just get in the way of a rip-roaring story and brilliant characters.

Distractions, side-tracking, and Elmore Leonard aside, it’s still autumn (officially winter starts on 21st December) and I have obeyed that nagging voice and made a start on my next book and now I’m all set for the onslaught of winter, the decadence of Christmas and the advent of 2011...


Miriam Halahmy said...

I hate to say this, but! Its been WINTER in Golders Green for months! But don't let that put you off starting yet another terrifying psych thriller. Good luck with the writing, Savita.

Penny Dolan said...

Have always wondered if where you live makes a difference to your attitude to E.L's "Rule"? If there is little change in or within a season - eg once it's sunny, its sunny - maybe it doesn't affect him/her or the reader so much, especially in an urban context?

Savita Kalhan said...

Thanks, Miriam, and yes, it is definitely wintery! Lovely to see you today!
Penny,I think it does make a difference if you have all four seasons rather than just two, as does an urban generally unchanging context. Personally, the weather or the season always makes more than a cameo appearance in my writing.

Charlie Butler said...

I thought of a couple of classic 'weather openings', but both mix up the weather with people's reactions to it, which may be cheating. One is Charlotte Bronte and the other is Dr Seuss - but which is which?

"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so somber, and a rain so penetrating, that further outdoor exercise was now out of the question."

"The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house all that cold, cold, wet day."

Now I look at them side by side, the resemblance is uncanny.

Savita Kalhan said...

Brilliant, Charlie! I struggled to find a weather opening. And, you're right, the resemblance is very uncanny! I love Charlotte Bronte, but Dr. Seuss is so succinct!

Sally Nicholls said...

Of course, there are some great weather openings.

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen" (George Orwell)

"It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs and I didn't know what I was doing in New York" (Sylvia Plath)