The Beast From the East…and other stories

I’ve been thinking about the weather. Ok, so I’ve been procrastinating by thinking about the weather (we won’t talk about the plot outline I’m supposed to be putting together…I’ll blame the snow…it has caused a lot of trouble this past week).

More specifically, I’ve been thinking about The Beast From The East.

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Very beastly weather Image: itv.com

My initial reaction when the media comes up with a name for a “weather event” is to recoil in anger and horror. “Why is this necessary?” I want to shout. Actually, I do shout; it’s just that no-one can hear me, apart from my husband, but he’s probably shouting too, so that’s both of us shouting at the radio/TV. Why do they have to give weather events a name? Why give them a character? It’s Disney-fying the weather. It’s as if they don’t trust regular people to understand the concept of a weather front moving in from the Arctic. When I see “Beast from the East” pasted on the front pages of the right-wing press, it all feels a bit Brexit. There’s no excuse for it in the more moderate media.

Plus, there’s the underlying suggestion that anything from the east is, you know, beastly….a big, hairy, snarling, drooling bear, swiping at poor, defenceless Brits, shivering in our tumbledown thatched cottages, trying to boil our kettles on fires that won’t stay alight.

Of course, this naming of the weather isn’t a new phenomenon: they began naming storms a few years ago – badly, in my opinion. I mean, storms shouldn’t be called Amy or Barbara or Clive. They should be called Adolf or Barbarossa or Clytemnestra. If they have to be called something at all…which they don’t.  I’m surprised they didn’t just go for it and call this one “Vladimir”. It’s what everyone was thinking.

As I was fuming over the naming of what is just some weather, I wondered how long it would take for someone to use The Beast from the East as the basis for a novel. There’s probably a writer scribbling away already, setting a story in or near or under…or inside…(now there’s an idea) a snowdrift.

And THEN I got to thinking how often weather events crop up in literature. I don’t mean when the weather gets a mention in a story; a novel which never refers to the climate or the rain or the heat or clouds would feel a bit empty. Weather details are the sort of details which add depth and realism without the reader realising they’re there. They’re the sort of details which, if absent from the writing, would leave the reader feeling short-changed, without them necessarily working out why.

No, I mean big weather events; or significant weather events; weather events which change the course of a story. Or maybe they ARE the story; without them, there is no story.

I suppose the biggest weather event to feature in a story would be the flood to end all floods. Every kid in the West, and a lot in the East (not THAT East…the Orient East) grow up with the story of Noah and his ark and the animals going in two by two – including those terrifying bears from the East, no doubt.

Noah's ark...actually, it's Playmobil's ark...but you get the idea

Where’s the beasts from the east?

This is a great story idea – yes, I said “story idea”…what do you expect? I’m a lefty, atheist, gay, children’s writer – disaster flood threatens life on earth, leaving one man to save said life by building monumental vessel to ride out the storm. I wish I’d thought of that.

Another major climatological event which acts as a catalyst for an entire series of books is that cyclone in Kansas. Without it, Dorothy would never have made it to Oz. 15203561487141665449114246597058.jpg

Without it, her house would never have crushed the Wicked Witch of the East (why is always the East? See what they’re doing? It’s a conspiracy), and our Dorothy would never have skipped her way along the yellow brick road in those Ruby…actually, they were silver in the books… slippers.

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If you’re going to be crushed by a farmhouse in a tornado, you might as well be wearing a GREAT pair of shoes.

A quick browse through the children’s books on my own shelves turns up several stories which rely on the weather for the main event:

Where would Raymond Briggs’ Snowman be without the, er, snow? Nowhere.152035541937717070412601273304913.jpg

Without an eternal winter being cast over Narnia by the White Witch, there would be no battle to be fought in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.152036598641720189739021905078738.jpg

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is totally about a weather event. An unusual one, I give you, but it’s based on a meteorological happening.15203643471284916558219293652.jpg

Then there’s the wonderful Last Wild trilogy from Piers Torday. This dystopian future is set in the disastrous aftermath of catastrophic climate change. 15203563119011316076789228213252.jpg

In the strange and inventive Heap House – book one in the Iremonger series by Edward Carey – a storm rages outside on the heaps of trash and curios, almost drowning the young hero Clod Iremonger. 15203564286376998940341270004858.jpg

And in Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, our hero and his insect friends discover the weather is actually controlled by the Cloud-Men, who then nearly destroy the peach by producing a hail storm. 15203643845261527510696953651610.jpg

In my own writing, I’ve included a storm – which is definitely not being given a name – through which I send my protagonist and friends. It isn’t essential to the plot, but it adds drama and tension and excitement; it’s a hurdle they have to get over…or never make it to the main event.

The Beast from the East produced stories of its own last week: folk stuck in trains, in cars, in snowdrifts. Babies delivered by the side of the road. Flights cancelled; weddings cancelled; school cancelled (yay…more time for sledging!). Lives were changed forever; lives were lost forever. People everywhere were forced to stop and stay still and do not much at all. Who knows…in that time, stories will have been thought up, written down and maybe told to children warming up by the fire after the snowball fight of the century. I hope so.

Look on your shelves – I bet you’ve got some favourite books which are about the weather, or which feature the weather, or which only exist because of the weather. I’d love to hear about them.

And now, a new idea just occurred to me. It’s about a storm…what shall I call it? How about…The Pest from the West?

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