Monday 31 August 2015

Winter is Coming

by Addy Farmer

About two minutes ago, the Summer Holidays stretched out like this ...

not a computer in sight
There were delicious plans afoot: After a suitable number of days lolling in bed followed by jumping about in the garden, me and my family would go on holiday, read masses, get into all sorts of scrapes, rescue anything that stood in the way and actually climb a mountain. Not only that but I would have loads and loads of time to WRITE.

Moominpapa could write whenever he wanted to
Inevitably, it didn't turn out like that. I will not bore you, dear reader, with the list of what got in the way of my perfectly reasonable expectations but it was mostly to do with not living in the 1950s. I did write, in snatches, but it was mostly editing and revising. It's good to have the quiet head-space for that full-on flowing and original story writing.

Never mind because in the end reading is the stuff of writing.

The media would have us think that Summer is a time for reading. I did read alot although not on the beach. and I don't think that I read any more than I do during the rest of the year.  Radio 4 even had a brief say about how summer reading was really no different to winter reading on the daily commute. Most of my summer reading has been with a writer new to me, Frances Hardinge. I whipped through the brilliant, 'Verdigris Deep' and 'The Lie Tree' and 'Cuckoo Song'. I've just started, 'A Face of Glass'. These are cracking good stories and these are what I like to read any time of the year.

But I do like Winter and stories set in winter time. So, let's just conveniently forget the intervening hufflepuff-like season of Autumn and spring to contemplation of Winter stories. Is there a difference between these and those set in Summer? Perhaps, we might personify them. Summer is perky with arms-wide and smiling where Winter is dark, hunched and dour. One camps outdoors, one skulks inside. One looks out at the world, the other looks inwards ... well, you get the idea.

Winter is coming (say it like a cinema trailer announcement). Put that way, it sounds scary which to my mind is not a bad thing. Traditionally, Winter is associated with death and hibernation. It is when the flowers fold and the garden hides. The cold makes your fingers freeze and your bones ache; it requires effort to keep warm and keep moving.

Hope you're wearing a vest, Gandalf
So, let's look at the coming of Winter another way. 'Winter is coming!' Woo-hoo. The days will be short and the nights will be long and the fire will be flickering and there are stories to be told and there will be

Winter Time by Robert Louis Stevenson

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding cake.

Here, in A Child's Garden of Verses, Stevenson sums up all the good stuff I used to love as a child about Winter. it could be the exhileration of playing outside on a snapping-cold day, then the glorious comfort of warming yourself afterwards, not to mention the breath-taking beauty of a landscape transformed by SNOW.

Where the dickens did all this snow come from?!
Snow. I can't say it enough. Who cannot love a fresh fall of snow? To read Dickens you'd think it was as deep and regular as the seasons themselves. But frozen winters with frost fairs were a thing of the medieval past. It seems that Dickens was being nostalgic, looking back to a time when snow was more likely in winter. Snow was very much part of his winter story, A Christmas Carol. It made Victorian London almost cosy and charming.

" The darkness and the mist had vanished with it, for it was a clear, cold winter day, with snow upon the ground ... the quick wheels dashing the hoar-frost and snow from off the dark leaves of the evergreens like spray"

I like that C.S Lewis added a touch of Victorian London to Narnia. Not only that but the snow makes it beautiful. I want to go there. The snow plays a more sinister role here; it is seen as stilling time and freezes life to its essentials. The land waits for Winter to end (spoiler - it does).

Guess where this is

Snow can blanket and muffle and make the world a silent place. Time stands still and you are the only person in this white world.

"Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely -ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards." Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales
Snow can bring danger from creatures which form part of a wild and distant past.

Mad as a box of frogs

Snow can be a truly scary person, The White Queen in Narnia or The Snow Queen. In the story of Kay and Gerda we see how the snow forces Gerda to be astonishingly brave as she searches for her friend across a harsh, frozen landscape. The weather provides the obstacle to be overcome. It tests her friendship. The Snow Queen becomes Winter personified and is defeated by the warmth of Gerda's love.

She looks almost cuddly

Marcus Sedgewick seems very fond of setting his novels in places where snow is a given. They are places of vampires and bears and treacherous ice. If you stay outside too long you will die and not only from the cold.

do not cuddle this bear

The best cover in the world
Revolver is like a snow dome: a taut thriller trapped in a world of cold. A perfect snow storm.

In After the Snow, by S.D Crockett the snow provides the dystopian landscape where everything has gone wrong. Where the odds against our hero are already stacked high and made worse by the deep snow she finds herself wading through. Here the snow is bleak and unforgiving. 

I'm gonna sit here in my place on the hill behind the house. Waiting. And watching. Ain't nothing moving down there. The valley look pretty bare in the snow. Just the house grey and lonely down by the river all frozen. 
The snow can force you inside and send you mad or make you see things that might or might not be there. It is the perfect setting for a ghost story as Dark Matter by Michele Paver so brilliantly and shiveringly demonstrates. The snow blinds the hero, Jack. “How odd, that light should prevent one from seeing.” he says. The snow controls his movements and eventually his mind and makes him see what should not be there. In the end, the snow subdues him.

Ah, but it's not all teen-angst gloom and doom. At the younger end, there are so many ways for snow to be the cheery, comforting, exciting and playful.
Summer fading, winter comes
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs,
Window robins, winter rooks,
And the picture story-books.
Picture Books in Winter by Robert Louis Stevenson

Come in! It's lovely and warm inside!
The Finn Family Moomintroll sensibly hibernates during the Winter but when Moomintroll awakes during their long sleep, he finds a beautiful, alien world. It is silent and dark and scary to be alone but soon he meets Little My and Too-ticky and the snowy fun begins. But the Moomins being the Moomins this wintry world remains a haunting and challenging place.

Bear and Hare:Snow! by Emily Gravett celebrates the joy to be had with friends in the snow. 
We've all done it
One of my favourite friendships is that of Melrose and Croc by Emma Chichester. Here is the cold of no friends ...

.... before the warmth of friendship found and all wrapped up in Christmas - lovely.

I leave the obvious to last and I'll whisper it, Christmas. It seems that no Christmas is complete without snow. I agree. I want Christmas to have deep and crisp and even snow ...
so we can make snowmen.

So never mind that it's the end of Summer, Winter is coming and it brings ...



  1. Ahhh. What a wonderful post even if you skipped autumn, my favourite time of year (does anyone write books set in autumn?) ... funny about your Frances Hardinge binge, I've just begun to do the same!

    1. Thanks, Candy. Yeah, sorry about Autumn, it got in the way of telling my story so I just cut it out. I LOVE Frances Hardinge!

  2. Thank you! Have just switched 35degree sunshine for well ... this (!) and been thinking in terms of coming back to "lights out". This post has actually made me feel excited about the longer nights, so thanks! Though Candy, I'm with you - LOVE autumn!

    1. Thanks, Larissa! It is exciting to think about all those lovely stories just waiting to be found, under the snow or by the fire or in the dark and so on and so on. Plus snow.

  3. What a lovely post Addy, it almost made me wish for snow, which I quite an achievement as I'm really not s fan of the white stuff!

    1. Thanks, Sally! My grown-up brain tells me that snow is unlikely and yet and yet, I believe it will come. But I still hang onto the notion of Father Christmas being real so you may want to ignore my prediction.

  4. Loved this post! (Candy, have to watch myself with Autumn, all my books end up rabbiting on about September and October).

    1. Thanks, Celia! I do think that Autumn is the poor relation when it comes to the seasons but it has its own beauty and deserves story recognition. It's also my birthday season so it must be good.

  5. Hadn't thought about this before but I do have a marked preference for autumn/winter books, and an open fire with snow falling outside is the perfect environment for reading, or a Jo March attic with a bag of russets.

  6. Lovely, inspiring post - thank you!
    I probably do achieve my highest word counts on cold, wet days (like August Bank Holiday Mondays) when I'm not tempted to go outside. But I refuse to think about winter until I've enjoyed my summer holiday in September, which I'm hoping will be followed by a glorious autumn. I usually go into hibernation mid-November and find that's the best time to write summer stories.

    1. Thanks, Linda! Yes, Winter may well be the best time to write Summer stories because well, Winter can be dismal and dreich and even snow-less. Good luck with your writing!

  7. I love the winter - only time things really slow down on the farm and even the hens go to bed early. I set More of Me in the winter though, winter without the cosiness..and there's snow, a thing of fleeting joy, isn't it always?

  8. Ah, but what about Keats and "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness..."? :-) Not my autumn, though. It's generally wet and miserable. Winter - no snow here, just more of the wet and cold. Nice to look on winter as an excuse to read, though. Snuggle up with a mug of tea and music on the stereo and a good book.... However, for me today is the first day of spring. Christmas Day is likely to be good for beach going. One year, when I couldn't have my regular beach picnic because there was a storm, I had it on my living room table and binged on a favourite TV show. Another year the storm began while I was at the beach. I took shelter next to a broadly smiling English tourist who was licking an ice cream and thoroughly enjoying the warm.

    1. Thanks, Sue! Yes, I did somewhat skip over Autumn and I do love it but it seemed to me that more books are written with the Winter cold in mind. The cold and snow lends itself more easily to character and feeling and contrast, perhaps. The truth is that the winters here are a bit drippy and only occasionally divinely crisp and cold. Like Dickens, I happily write as though they are always the latter. Your Christmas Day Storm sounds wonderful and you should write it as a picture book!

    2. Have Yourself an Aussie Christmas ...

  9. Thanks, Addy! Now I know where my summer went.

    1. Woo-hoo, Gill! Plus you are no longer a robot! So pleased to see you here!

  10. Lovely post, Addy. I love winter books too - how about WINTER HOLIDAY by Arthur Ransome, my favourite of his lake books when I was growing up. I love autumn too - it always seems full of new opportunities to me.

  11. Thanks, Jeannie! I don't know Winter Holiday but will search it out. I also rate The White Darkness by Geraldine Mccaughrean - a tour de force of ways to describe snow as well as being a cracking story. Here's to the colours of Autumn!


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