In Ireland, pretty much everyone is an amateur meteorologist. When two Irish people meet, a comment on the weather is almost invariably the conversation opener. One might remark that we’re getting a fine run of it; the other, depending on his disposition, will either agree happily or look darkly at the sky and declare that there’s rain on the way. If it’s already a wet day, the talk will probably run in roughly the opposite direction. Small wonder, in a country where the climate rarely behaves itself, that we get so much mileage out of it: in conversational terms, Irish weather is the gift that keeps on giving.
But it doesn’t stop there. When it comes to literature, the weather can play as significant a role in a book as one of the characters. Storms, earthquakes, floods, landslides and avalanches – the writer has a wealth of climate-related traumas at her disposal, all of which can completely alter the feel and direction of a narrative; good weather, on the other hand, can bathe a story, literally, in sunshine – but take it to extremes, set your tale in relentless heat and stifling humidity, and you’ve given yourself a whole other set of delightful psychotic possibilities.
There are so many instances of the weather playing a significant role in the books we love to read. Think of the storm at sea that finally united Charles Ryder and Julia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited – would they have got together without being literally propelled into one another’s arms as their ship was tossed by the waves? Think of the incessant rain that added to the poverty-stricken dreariness of Frank McCourt’s autobiographical Angela’s Ashes, or the tempest at the beginning of Wuthering Heights that set the scene for Lockwood’s horrifying encounter with Cathy’s ghost, or the heat of a New England summer that turned up the sexual tension in Lolita.
Shakespeare, of course, knew exactly how to make use of the weather. Lear’s ramblings on the stormy heath as he took slow, heartbreaking leave of his senses surely wouldn’t have had half the pathos if he’d disintegrated under clear blue skies; similarly, the booming thunder and crashing lightning of Macbeth’s opening scene provided the only possible setting for the three witches as they stirred their cauldron and hatched their spells; and the whimsical goings-on in a certain forest could only have taken place on a certain perfect midsummer night.
And more: remember the passage – of course you do – in Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife when Henry found himself revisiting the scene of the car crash that had killed his mother? The elements of the mid-winter snowstorm that had contributed to the accident – the treacherous road conditions, the freezing temperatures, the driving snow – were so expertly and vividly described that I swear I felt physically cold as I read: and when poor little Henry crawled from the wreckage and perched on the icy sidewalk to await help, I shivered along with him.
Contrast this with the clammy, suffocating heat that soaked into every page of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, cranking up the drama, tightening the racial tension and adding to poor Atticus’ woes as he attempted to defend the doomed Tom Robinson. You could almost smell the sweat, hear the ominous whine of the mosquitos, feel the burn of the unforgiving southern sun. What we go through as readers!
In my own books the weather frequently plays a part. On the fictitious island of Roone, the setting for three of my stories, the inhabitants are particularly subject to the vagaries of the weather. A storm can dash fishing boats onto the rocks (check), or cause the ferry that connects them to the mainland to be cancelled (check), or literally raise the roof of the local hotel (check), all of which give great scope for story development. Blazing sunshine, on the other hand, when accompanied by Roone’s stiff coastal breezes, can lead to severe sunburn for hapless tourists to the island (check). Come to think of it, Gavin’s red face didn’t significantly alter any part of that particular narrative, but it did give me a chuckle as I put him to sleep under the noonday sun without a drop of protection factor.
The events in The Street Where You Live, which is due to hit shelves in early June, take place over the summer months. The story opens at the start of a heatwave that’s set to last for six weeks (yes, pure fiction). During this prolonged spell of unseasonably good weather (the hottest Irish summer on record) the characters react in their various ways – some enjoy it, pulling dresses and shorts from the back of the wardrobes; others endure it, fanning themselves with leaflets and complaining bitterly. Sleep during the humid nights is difficult to come by – and we all know what sleep deprivation can do to a body, don’t we? Tempers are frayed, chances are taken, senses are momentarily deserted. When the rain eventually arrives, towards the end of the book, it is the direct cause of a fatal road accident when a car skids on the wet road, with consequences that radiate throughout the community. The resumption of normal temperatures also heralds a clarity of vision that the weeks of heat had prevented: consequently a nascent affair is ended, a life-altering decision taken, a budding relationship allowed to bloom, a friendship discovered to be much more.
Where would writers be without the weather? As I write this, I’m looking out at the usual grey-skied blustery showery day that’s so typical of March in Ireland, and I’m thinking it would be the ideal kind of weather for the funeral that is to open my next book. On the other hand, maybe I should opt for blue skies and sunshine – wouldn’t it be more interesting for a perfect summery day to be full of grief and loneliness?
About The Street Where You Live:
he new bestseller from one of Ireland’s best-loved writers … Over six weeks of summer and in the country’s hottest heatwave in years, members of a choir prepare for an end of summer concert, but as the notes soar so too do the scandals and secrets …
Molly sees a young boy who she’s convinced is her grandson but how does she find out the truth when her son Philip ran away to New Zealand five years ago? Could he have fathered a son and then vanished? And is he ever going to return?
Meanwhile Molly’s daughter Emily has fallen in love for the second time in her life. Except this time it’s with the wrong man …
While handsome and dynamic Christopher, choir leader, has closed off his heart to relationships a long time ago, making do with snatched trysts with married Jane, the newest member of the choir. It’s exactly the level of commitment he wants and needs – or is it?
Then there’s Clem, nursing his own private heartache, and Freddie, the children’s author, who has just moved to Ireland from America with her young daughter in tow.
As the heatwave breaks, so too does the veneer of calm in the small town. As performance night approaches, the members of the choir discover that their lives intertwine more than they could ever have imagined – but are the inhabitants of the town ready for what happens next?
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