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My Weather Diary by Elizabeth Hawksley

December 21, 2012

When I was a teenager, someone gave me a five year diary. As each day was allotted only five lines, I decided it was useless, chucked it in a drawer and forgot about it.

Many years later, when I started writing historical novels, I discovered that if I wrote a winter scene in, say, August, I couldn’t remember exactly what being cold felt like. What plants, if any, were out in the garden, what birds were around, what was the temperature? I wasn’t sure. And it’s those little touches, like one’s ears going pink with cold and stinging, which brings one’s story alive.

Then I had a brainwave. I would use my five-year-diary and make notes over five years. What should I include? Daylight hours, for a start. I was brought up in the country and many of my stories have a country setting, so I needed to note the weather, the temperature – in Fahrenheit, of course – and what was going on. What birds were around? Had the dawn chorus started – or stopped? What stage were the trees at and what flowers were blooming? What was happening in the farming year?

I jotted down anything I thought would be useful to me as a novelist. For example, in October, I noted what date I started wearing gloves.

Today, December 21st, is the winter solstice; daylight hours in London are 8.04 am to 3.54 pm. (Up in the Shetlands, daylight lasts less than six hours.) This is what my weather diary notes for today over five years:

Year 1 43º F. Still cold. My jasmine very pretty. Good holly year – holly likes warmer winters, mistletoe prefers it cooler. Lime twigs glow red in the winter sun. Very low winter sun shines straight into my eyes.

Year 2 45º F. Bare trees show remains of large untidy magpie nests. N.B., in winter, birds roost in woods, not in their old nests. Robins and blackbirds looking good (finished moulting) and singing again.

Year 3 32º F. Very cold. Fog lingering – Dickensian. Hazel catkins emerging. Outside, my ears sting and my breath puffs like a dragon.

Year 4 41º F. Chilly. Dull but dry. Large orange cones on spruces. Little green crocus spikes up. Silver birches have small catkins.

Year 5 40º F. Bloody cold. Wind from east makes my eyes water. Fallow deer and young run round in rings – playing? Black ash buds. Blackbirds and thrushes enjoying holly and ivy berries.

It has proved its worth over the years; I wouldn’t be without it now.

A very happy Christmas to you all.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2012 4:34 pm

    Reading your entries transported me to the countryside. Lovely!

  2. Marion Rose permalink
    December 22, 2012 9:44 pm

    I love the idea of keeping a weather diary or even using old diary notes about a place. A lovely insight! Thanks.

    • December 23, 2012 11:27 am

      Thank you Marion and Odette. I’m pleased you enjoyed my post. I also write down weather sayings at the back of the diary. For example: ‘A wet autumn indicates a cold and early winter’. Hm. Not sure about that one!.

  3. December 29, 2012 12:36 pm

    I love this post – like tweeting but with real purpose.

  4. December 30, 2012 9:59 pm

    I’ve got a weather diary too! Mine is an ‘any year’ diary and I started it in the mid 1980s and also copied in a few observations from the very hot summers of 1975 and ’76. I only write in it occasionally so there are some days with several years of entries, and some still blank. I haven’t written anything in it for years – must start again! Thank you for reminding me.

  5. January 4, 2013 10:01 am

    I love the idea of a five year diary and the short entries. I have a ‘Gratitude App” on my phone that allows a similarly small space to record things you are grateful for each day (along with a photo) there is something hugely satisfying about creating a little entry that sums up each day. I also find that I remember a lot more if I’ve written an entry on a day. Your entry for year 1 reminded me of my frustration of having the sun in my eyes every time I went for a walk in december – it felt like the sun had planned to blind me on my stroll!

  6. January 24, 2013 6:02 pm

    Thank you all for your comments. I’m delighted to know that you, too, have a weather diary, Ann. I love seeing the variations from year to year.

    I agree with you, Joe, that even a small reminder of something – like the low winter sun shining in your eyes – can be very evocative

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