It’s the last day of the county championship season today, with Warwickshire needing to finish off Hampshire if they’re going to win the league. Coincidentally, tonight happens to be my first fencing session of the new season.
That particular combination has me thinking about the ways in which we divide up our lives. I’m not just talking about the big events; the rites of passage as Van Gennep called them. I’m talking about the little markers each of us has in the year as part of that very human tendency to carve time up into manageable chunks. They might be holidays or birthdays, the start of a sporting season or the official first days of the real seasons. They might, given that we’re writers, involve the regular appearance of NaNoWriMo (No, I’m not. I never do. The last thing I need is another deadline) or the publication of a favourite anthology. We have markers.
So what about your characters? How do they mark the passage of time? Is there any sense of it? This is particularly one for the fantasy writers out there, because I’ve got a pretty good idea what some of you will do. Mostly because I’ve been there as a writer and seen it as an editor. You’ll have the change of the seasons, and maybe a holiday linked to that, but there won’t necessarily be those other markers. Yet they’re so easy to introduce.
Just consider a few very traditional markers in rural communities for a moment. There are the first and last days of harvesting, which was a much more important endeavour in the days before mechanisation stopped it being something for whole communities. There were the major markets, which in some communities came around for just a few days each year, covered by royal or episcopal charters. There were the days when fishing fleets or regular trade fleets set off or came back. Normal life, in other words, and it’s always the sign of a good fantasy novel when there’s normal life going on in the background.