Fiction Writing and the Inspiration of the Seasons

Tanis Browning-Shelp

One evening last week while I was doing some ‘extreme gardening’ (read: madly pulling weeds
between intense writing sessions), my dad, who is here visiting, asked what flower produced
such a sweet fragrance—the one that kept wafting over on the late spring breeze.

 A tiny patch of this writer’s ‘adopted’ garden…tended frenetically, and with gratitude, for the way that its fragrant beauty winds its way into my fiction.

A tiny patch of this writer’s ‘adopted’ garden…tended frenetically, and with gratitude, for the way that its fragrant beauty winds its way into my fiction.

Could it be the black locust now in full bloom, or even my spindly, winter-damaged white lilac? Being botanically ‘boneheaded,’ I could not say for certain. But my Dad did get me thinking about the aromas of spring, about the seasons in general…and about their impact on us.

Here I am in early June, for the third time since beginning the series, enjoying the final dance with my story just as Maryn’s racing season heats up.

Our everyday lives, of course, are shaped by the seasons. For my teen-aged son and daughter, late spring means unbearably hot school portables, tree pollen allergies, final assignments, and the forbidding approach of exams.

Then, before they know it, summer will stretch out beyond school with its canoe trips, lifeguarding, and, in the case of our eldest, preparations to leave home for university.

Undeniably, the seasons also shape my writing—the flow of my characters’ lives and the flow of
the books themselves. The heroine of my YA book series, Maryn O’Brien, is a teen mountain
bike racer. When she is in school, when and how she trains, off-season versus competition
time…all of these elements of her life are worked around the Ontario climate/seasons and
directly affect the pacing of the books.

...before they know it, summer will stretch out beyond school with its canoe trips, lifeguarding, and, in the case of our eldest, preparations to leave home for university.

Living and writing in Ottawa, Ontario, I get to experience first-hand the crispness of the air in winter; the dappled light of a sugar maple grove in spring; the buzz of a meadow’s cicadas in summer; and the sharp scent of pine in autumn. Being familiar with such distinctive seasonal features helps me capture them with greater authenticity in my work. But what struck me most of all as I pondered the seasons on that flower-scented evening is how the flow of my own creativity seems to ride along with my character’s rhythms. While Maryn settles in during the harsh winter months to train indoors and build a solid foundation for her race season, I too hunker down to research, plan, and deliberate. In the springtime, when Maryn throws aside her stationary bike to hit the forest trails ready to fly, my own writing comes alive like the budding of the trees. Here I am in early June, for the third time since beginning the series, enjoying the final dance with my story just as Maryn’s racing season heats up.

So, despite the demands of the seasons—the weeding, shovelling and other tasks—I am grateful
to live and write in a place like Ottawa where the dramatic changes of the seasons feed and
inform my work.
 


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Tanis Browning-Shelp lives in Ottawa, Ontario with her husband Andy, and their teen-aged son and daughter. A spirited, active family, they support one another in achieving their individual goals. That’s how Maryn O’Brien came to life.