Writing Tips: Wind in the Willows and millipedes on the path

Writing Tips

My brothers and I, we’re all massive fans of the Thames television adaptation of The Wind in the Willows from the mid-eighties. Do you know the one I mean? The one with David Jason as the voice of Toad and Chief Weasel, and Michael Horden as Badger. Anyway. At the beginning of each episode, the narrator—Ian Carmichael—does a little scene-setting, speaking over a series of real-life stills of the great British countryside, giving the viewer a rich, evocative description of the riverbank in spring… or of the Wild Woods in winter… or the rolling meadows at the height of summer. Granted, it gets a bit cloying after six straight episodes, but it does succeed in lending a timeless quality to the idyllic version of Edwardian England in which these tales are set.

Recently I found a passage in one of my old notebooks that mentioned millipedes. “The millipedes are out again,” I’d written. Without reading any further, I knew exactly where I’d been when I wrote this passage, because there was only one place where I’d ever seen millipedes in such abundance, which was on the path I used to run along, in the huge park close to where I lived in Terrassa, in Catalonia—and even then I only ever saw them at one particular time of the year, in the spring, when the sun was getting really warm…

The point I’m trying to make, by way of these two rather obscure and disparate references, is that it’s always worth taking note of the present. The here and now. Hemingway said to always remember to write about the weather. I’d go one further, and suggest taking careful notes on each and every season as it passes, and any changes you detect—however small. (In fact, the smaller the better.) By doing this, and incorporating these details carefully—sparingly, even—into your writing, you’ll be able to transport yourself and your readers immediately and uniquely to the place in space and time about which you’re writing, or where your story’s set. At least, that’s the aim, right?