The landscape may now be bare, but it is beautiful in its skeletal outline. I love leaves, but the winter scene has shape and structure and filigree form that catches the eye and holds it, particularly when a tree stands alone and has grown with all the advantages of light and space into its true adult character. I love the light in January, too, especially in the late afternoon of a clear and frosty day, when the trees stand out against a Jan Pieńkowski sky; there is exquisite contrast of black against that glorious blue and the very essence of the natural world is revealed.
In crime fiction terms, the tree’s winter skeleton is the Agatha Christie of plots: precise, ingenious and with no unattached loose ends. (Rankin does a dandy plot, too.) Intricacy and artifice combine in a natural, convincing and connected story that conforms to the conventions of crime novels. Writing such is a challenge; published authors sometimes acknowledge that they have only a vague idea of plot when they start to write and just allow it to unfold; some admit that they don’t do it in order – I’m not sure that the anguish of plot uncertainty is worth it, especially if the chapters and sections end up across the carpet in an effort to pull the pieces together! Getting the right degree of complexity (too much and the reader is flapping helplessly around in the branches; too little and there is insufficient challenge) is essential and, for me, sub-plot interest and alternative narratives make for appealing additional subtlety. That’s not to say that plot is everything, but a clear view of the structure is fundamental to a novel’s success. I’m working hard at my second and looking out of the window with envy at an oak tree’s perfect form.