Mother Nature, only in Canada

Mother Nature, only in Canada

Posted on September 14 by Barbara Fradkin
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In Canada, weather is always on our minds. Mother Nature is a constant companion, sometimes charming, sometimes atrocious, but never taken for granted. When two Canadians greet each other, the first words out of their mouths, often before hello, are a commentary on the weather. “Lovely day, isn’t it?” “Isn’t this awful?” “Do you believe this snow?”

It is no different for writers who set their books in Canada. It is not truly authentic unless the weather is as vividly captured as the crowded streetscapes and brooding forests. Canada is a country of extremes, not just in seasons but from one hour to the next. There can be a downpour one moment and glorious sun the next. Freezing rain one day and forty below the next. If a writer wants the reader to be completely immersed in each scene, to walk in the footsteps of the characters and to experience the moment as they do, weather is a powerful tool. Imagine cold so sharp that it freezes your lungs, heat so oppressive the sweat runs into your eyes and glues your shirt to your back. Imagine the battering sound of hail on a metal roof. Mother Nature can give us all five senses in a couple of well-chosen images.

Weather also creates mood, from gentle sad rain to sullen charcoal clouds to threatening wind. Or try juxtaposition. Dappled sunlight playing over a dead body, for instance.

But beyond creating mood and experiences, weather can be a powerful foe, even a killer — an unexpected challenge that can turn a run-of-the mill rescue into a terrifying ordeal. Blizzards, whiteouts, ocean storms, fog, and thunder and lightning — Canada takes them to extremes.

When I embark on a new book, I think carefully about the season that would create the most dramatic backdrop. And as I am writing, weather hovers like an insistent relative. What challenges can it present, and how can I use them? Fire in the Stars was set in Newfoundland in the fall, with its glorious colours, animals on the move, changeable oceans, and thick fog. As the pace of the novel ebbed and flowed, I drew in the weather to add a counterpoint or an extra level of tension. Amanda became lost because of fog and battled fierce wind and waves while she was trying to row to safety. I hoped the reader felt her screaming muscles, her fear, and the cold salt spray on her face.

In the newly released The Trickster’s Lullaby, I take Amanda and her group of students into the Quebec wilderness in the middle of February. It creates moments of serene beauty as they ski through the pristine white woods, moments of thrilling fun as they toboggan down a snowy hill, and moments of panic as Amanda tries to track down a lost student. Because a blizzard is obscuring his footprints, she can’t wait for help but must venture out by herself in pursuit.

Stories are most compelling when they are unique in time and place. Nowhere is this easier for a writer than in Canada. Not only is there extraordinary diversity in setting from ocean to prairies to northern barrens and mountains, but Mother Nature serves up endless twists.

Barbara Fradkin

Posted by Kendra on December 6, 2014
Barbara Fradkin photo

Barbara Fradkin

Barbara Fradkin is a retired psychologist who is fascinated with why people turn bad. She has written numerous short stories and novellas as well as the critically acclaimed Inspector Green novels. Two of these, Fifth Son and Honour Among Men, have won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. She lives in Ottawa.