Writing with the seasons: marking the passage of time – Cathy Woodman

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By Cathy Woodman

When I’m writing the Talyton St George books that are based in rural Devon, I like to set a time frame of approximately one year for each one which gives me plenty of opportunity to write about the seasons and give a flavour of the changing nature of the countryside.♥

As well as writing character outlines and rough treatments of a few key scenes, I create a timeline on a piece of wallpaper lining paper with coloured felt tip pens, to stick on the wall in my office so that I can keep track of the story.

When I started planning the book that became ‘Springtime at Cherry Tree Cottage’, I actually set it in the summer months, but the title morphed from the original ‘The Village Blacksmith’ because it conjured up a picture in my mind of an old man working in a forge, making gates and ironwork signs, rather than a fun and feisty female protagonist overcoming a certain amount of prejudice and sexism as she started her career shoeing horses. My editor suggested a title containing the word ‘springtime’, so I redid my time line.

9780099598923When writing ‘Springtime at Cherry Tree Cottage’, I added details, such as the plants that are in flower in gardens and hedgerows, and the timing of various farming activities, such as haymaking to the timeline. I added the main characters’ birthdays and the special events and annual celebrations, including the Country Show and Tarbarrels that my fictional market town of Talyton St George is famous for.

As the main character, Flick, is a farrier, I noted the intervals between her shoeing each horse on the timeline because horses are shod every six to ten weeks according to how quickly their hooves grow.

There is a pregnancy in the book, so I added this to the timeline as well, making sure that the character didn’t go through a two-year gestation like an elephant. I researched how long it takes someone to recover from spinal surgery and looked into how quickly a condition that causes lameness in the horse progresses.

It sounds longwinded, but using my trusty timeline saves me time later on. I can use it to check continuity if I change the order of the chapters as I write, and it helps me avoid those panicky editing moments when I discover that there are tulips blooming in December and I’ve given a character two birthdays in the same year.

Cathy Woodman recently moved to East Devon where she first found the inspiration for the Talyton St George books. Originally, she planned a trilogy set around a veterinary practice, but the ideas kept coming. Springtime at Cherry Tree Cottage, published by Arrow, is the tenth book in the series.


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