When I start writing a story I’m always very aware of its season and weather. Maybe it's because I'm British and my stories are set in the UK. You can't have a character, for example, spontaneously pop out for a game of lawn tennis in October - it lacks some credibility even at the height of summer.
Sometimes the setting and weather comes first, before I have any idea of characters or plot.
Pennance I wanted to write a tense and atmospheric story set in Cornwall in winter. I love the landscape around the coast at that time of year: brown beaten moors, windswept fields with stunted trees, bare and distorted in the direction of the prevailing sea winds. The weather is never dull. Even on still days when it drizzles and mist hinders the view, clouds crawl slowly from the sea and creep up the valleys.
It’s a perfect setting for my main character Lucy who has withdrawn from society after the death of her partner Jake. She suffers from a form of survivor’s guilt and lives in an isolated cottage without heating and only the ghostly memory of Jake as company. She is gradually drawn out of this existence by a new neighbour living further along the country lane. Karen is an older woman with two children, and also a damaged character after a nasty divorce, who is equally in need of a sustaining friendship. Not everyone approves of this deepening relationship, however, and more than one life is put in danger.
I also have a short story out in the SunKissed collection. This anthology had a seasonal theme of simply 'summer' and has a fantastically broad range of stories inspired by this.
My own, ‘I Also Met You in Summer', is about a romantic, who in the heat of summer is seduced into a relationship with someone unsuitable. She finds romance again, but not without first suffering the consequences of her choice.
Other works add to this fantastic mix of stories and voices - far more varied than I imagined from the cover of the book.
The novel I’m writing at the moment is set in autumn. Characters and plot definitely came first with this story. My favourite protagonist is a woman in her mid-fifties and a beautiful autumn seems most appropriate for this character.
I wrote the novel before Pennance and was going to leave the work as unpublished, but I find myself constantly thinking of scenes for two of the characters and wanting to put right where I went wrong with two others.
The book is set in London and Oxfordshire and is dominated by elements of romance, intrigue and some dark moments. It is a story of love, secrets, obsession, betrayal and lust. It’s the kind of story I wanted to read on holiday, trashy but (hopefully) well written enough not to feel guilty about reading it. I hope to publish it at the end of this year, in time to start thinking of a story in spring - my missing season.
Clare Ashton's Blog