I love living in a temperate country. Yes, the English weather is a constant source of amusement (all four seasons in one day at times) but variety’s the spice of life, so we never get bored. Some of our recent winters have been hard, unusually so; bitterly cold with deep snow abnormally early, and now we’re having a sub-tropical summer, high temperatures for days on end. Yet these extremes come as a constant surprise to us and we do get a fantastic range of conditions.
Winter brings misty, frosty, magical mornings where puffed up robins sit out on the hoary grass. In the summer we get warm, hazy days and mild evenings when the bats swoop and soar over the garden in search of insects. Then there’s autumn, with the countryside a quilt of colours and the sun dappling the trees with gold and amber. Then there’s my favourite. Spring. There’s a quality, a clarity, to the light in spring you simply don’t get at any other time of the year and the colour of the sky is a piercing blue.
One of my characters has blue eyes and his lover likes to compare them to the sky on a fine spring day, although my meteorological inspiration was something even odder. It was November and we were standing on the old fortifications at Portsmouth; the morning was misty and the mist over the sea was cornflower blue. That was always going to be the colour of Jonty’s eyes.
I love the feeling of hopefulness that comes with spring, the lengthening of the days and the emergence of buds and flowers. My family shake their heads indulgently over my enthusiastic response to the appearance of the first daffodils in the garden or to the emergence of the first beech leaves on the hedge down the road. I have to go and touch them – they’re as soft as the finest silk, a quality they only have for a day or so after coming out of the bud. (I wonder if my neighbours think I’m a bit touched in the head?)
When the flowering cherry comes out in our front garden the opulence and profusion of blossoms is almost decadent; when they’re almost done, we still shake the tree and stand in the pink snowstorm it produces, just as we used to when my daughters were small and wanted to play “here comes the bride”.
When I’m stuck for inspiration, when the right words or plot points won’t come, I go for a walk, under the great oak trees on our road or down by the beech hedges. Sometimes I go and knock seven kinds of brickdust out of the ivy that’s trying to take over my hawthorn, or perform some other equally mindless task, out under a blue sky with the colours of nature all around. I don’t stay stuck for words or plot for long.
But change is constant, and even spring’s wonders are transitory. The beech leaves harden, the blossoms turn brown and fall, the daffodils finish and the bluebells come. My garden never looks the same two months running, nor does the field and the woods we overlook. (The woods never look the same two days running, or even over the course of one day, when we can go from ribbons of mist hanging over the valley to blazing colours as the setting sun strikes the treetops.)
It can be depressing, that constant reminder of moving on, of the ravages of time, but change is inevitable; you either embrace it and enjoy it, or you sit and let it defeat you, locked in your own eternal January of the soul. Spring’s not just the time for daffodils – it’s a state of mind.