Writing the seasons: Summer

Picnics – what summers are for!telegraph.co.uk

Summer is the pinnacle of the life of the seasons. I love the warmth that (should) be everywhere. In southern England the sun rises something like 4am and by 5am it is usually already warm. If you are ever awake at this time, I can recommend going for a walk and listening to the silence. Similarly at night, gone 10pm it is usually still quite light and the warmth is everywhere. It is a happy season, birds sing all day and night. Sit in the garden in the evenings and you can hear the fluttering of bats as they feast on the veritable banquest of midges and other insects. In England, we have become used to having mixed weather. Typically, summer rain is warm and disperses a very pleasant smell.

Have you noticed the atmosphere of summer? Everything glows. Everything is full of life. Optimism is everywhere. So how do we write what summer feels like?

Atmosphere

For me, there is a kind of glow to everything on a summer day; everything feels so optimistic and vibrant. The sun is proud. On hot days you seek shade. Wet days are usually muggy because it is so humid (I personally do not like humid weather. Give me a dry heat any time). Everything feels alive, awake, confident. It is also typically tourist season. Over here people head for the beach. It is also the time of year that we head abroad or foreign tourists come to visit. Use words to describe this atmosphere: warm, pleasant, alive, lively, lazy, sizzling, roasting, relaxing, muggy.

Smells

There are many odours associated with summer. By now the blossom should have been shed from the trees so those smells should have gone by now. People are cutting the grass, gardening, flowers are in full bloom. On heathland you can smell heather and other wild flowers. At the beaches there is always a smell of brine. The smells that really define the season are: fresh-cut grass, barbecues and beer, brine.

Sights

The most noticeable is the greenery: there’s lots of it. It must be remarked that England is so green because we get so much rain so cherish it people! The sun glows a warm yet unobtrusive yellow, confident. The sky is deep blue and the clouds are wispy and (typically) rare, the sky lazily. Like spring, insects are everywhere, particularly honeybees and bumble bees. And don’t forget the maybugs and butterflies.

In hot weather, clothing is sparse. Men wear vests, if they wear a top at all. Everybody is showing off their bronzed bodies in shorts and thin tee-shirts and other loose fitting clothes.

Sounds

Undoubtedly the most obvious sound of the season is the wildlife: birds and insects. The all-too familiar high-pitched rasp of the dreaded wasp, the never-ending sound of lawnmowers, of children playing outside, of football matches at the local rec (with the tradition of jumpers for goalposts). Depending on where you live you might hear the rasp of midges or mosquitoes. Returning to the beach, the roaring of the season over sand. My favourite sound is the sea drawing back over a pebble beach, it makes a distinct rattling.

Tastes

By that I mean think about how your (or your character’s) diet might be different in the summer than any other time of year. I tend to drink more white wine (red wine I prefer in autumn and winter), golden beers (stuff with less body and lighter flavour), tea (more refreshing than coffee) and water. I tend to want more salads and fish, cold meat. Then the obligatory barbecues we seem to want every time it stops raining for an evening or two. Though in writing narrative, what your characters are eating or drinking might be less important in the portrayal of the season, if you are writing a period piece you will need a greater attention to seasonal availability of food types.

Touch

How does the ground feel? It will be dry and grasses will be long; feel your bare legs swish against tall wild grass. A hot sun on the face might be accompanied by the prickling of sunburn. The clothes you wear will also feel different. You likely to wear vest tops, shorts and flip flops (again depending on where you live) and beachware in your garden or at the seaside. All of these will feel different and made of different materials from what you wear the rest of the year. Again, this may be less important depending on what type of fiction you are writing.

So over to you, what signifies summer to you? How do you identify the arrival of this season?

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10 thoughts on “Writing the seasons: Summer

  1. For me summer in England is strawberries and ice-cream floats while watching Wimbledon. In Hong Kong it means diving into the nearest swimming pool without the chill factor, tomato-spritzed anti-mosquito repellent and sizzling like a steak on a hot plate. I miss those cool breezy nights in England, where I watched the solar eclipse darken the dusky evening sky all those years ago.

    This is a great blog for sharing about writing 🙂 Thanks for reminding me about the senses 🙂

  2. Great post. Lots to think about here.
    And there is another summer smell – I live about 8 miles from the beach and we go quite a bit, more often in the winter because it’s not so busy. I don’t know if you know Southwold? Lovely old Victorian town right on the bump, far east of Suffolk.
    There is nothing much in Southwold, which keeps a lot of people away, but also attracts a lot. In summer, taking a walk along the prom, all you can smell is sun cream. Ambre Solaire blows off in waves, driven in by the easterly wind. And I quite often write that in my stories/novels. Summer in Southwold: the lighthouse, the brewery (Adnams – smell of mashing hops every morning) and Ambre Solaire.

    1. I’m afraid that’s not a part of the world I am very familiar with! I’m from the west country, lived in Exeter for a bit (but living in Petersfield) so Devon–>Wiltshire is my spiritual home.

      I live the “Ambre Solaire” touch, it is so easy to forget those unique smells. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Great post – I bookmarked it for later reference.

    I live in coastal Virginia, which is an area that may be ideologically confused (I’ve had long conversations about how Virginians identify as either Southerner of Northern Americans) but is definitely, climate-wise, part of the American South.

    It often gets so humid during the day here that you can barely breathe. Temperatures in in the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit feel like they’re above 100. There’s a reason that southerners are depicted as drinking sweet tea in sun hats and sitting on porches, and that reason is humidity!

    Evenings are simply lovely, though. My favorite thing in the world is to go driving late at night, when there’s a pleasant breeze drifting through your windows that smells like the ocean is lined with honeysuckle. Just great living.

    1. Hi there, thanks for your comment! Virginia does sound lovely.

      I’ve only visited the US twice. The first time was Florida around September – October and the second time was Arizona in May. Despite both being in the south, very different climates. I’d guess yours is far closer to Florida because of the humidity?

      1. Very different indeed! You’re right, Virginia is closest in climate to Florida. Sometimes Floridians come up to our state and debate about which one of us is worse – but, of course, the answer is both states are bad off, haha. 🙂

  4. You had me wanting to be in southern England when you mentioned the light. Wow! I wouldn’t know what to do with so much daylight. We feel happy here in the Mid-Atlantic states of the US to have light at 5:00 and on until near 9:00. 4:00 until 10:00…now that I would seriously consider being close to heavenly. Found your blog through the Daily Post page.

    1. Hi, thanks for commenting! The light is especially lovely at the moment because we’ve had several weeks of very good weather. I love sitting in the garden drinking wine until very late 🙂

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