12 Days of Christmas – #4 Mark Williams

Well, here it is; #4 on the countdown! Ooh, not many sleeps left now! 😉

So, today, I have for you a very rare treat. The ever elusive, but strangely brilliant, Mark Williams (you might have heard of him before? He’s the quiet and least best looking half of the Saffina Desforges duo) has graced us with his presence. Even if it is the first time ever! 😉

Now, for those of you who know Mark, you’ll be well aware that he wouldn’t just write a normal post. Oh no, not him! So, in true Williams stylee, he’s set you a comments challenge!

Let’s see what you clever lot can come up with.

And, there’s a prize for the best description! We’ll give the winner a FREE copy of our next anthology, just to say thanks! Here’s Mark to explain in true teacherly fashion, what he wants:


It’s nearly Christmas. Even here in sunny West Africa.

And while I’m enjoying the weather reports from “back home” of grey skies and fog, howling winds and torrential rain, icy roads and blizzards, I sometimes find myself looking enviously at those lovely winter scenes of fluffy white snowflakes, cottages laden with snow, deep and crisp and even, with the Christmas fairy lights twinkling, and colourfully-wrapped children building snowmen with twig arms and carrot noses.

In the UK, of course, a white Christmas is a rarity, and as Bing Crosby knew all too well, it’s something most Americans can only dream of, too.

Here in West Africa snow is quite simply unknown. I can show the local people pictures of snow – both the delightful Christmas card idealized image, and the cruel reality of blizzards, ice-storms and hypothermia – but explaining it…

How do you explain a snow flake, or a snowman, or a blizzard, to someone who has never experienced snow? It’s white, and it falls from the sky. It’s made of water, but it’s not ice and it’s not rain. It’s soft and it melts in your hand, but in the morning it will be crisp and crystalline.

We all love stories about Christmas, and we all love snow scenes. But we take the snow for granted. We write about it with the clear assumption everyone knows what snow is. We describe it without ever explaining it.

So here’s a Christmas challenge to all you lot out there who like to think you’re writers.

Explain snow to someone who has never experienced snow before. Go on, do your best. And I’ll try your efforts out on local people who have, literally, never experienced snow.

If you can explain snow, even as the flakes float gently down about you and the children build snowmen in the yard, then you’re a better writer than I, Gunga Din.

Ok you lot, get on with it! 😉



Writer, dreamer, pantser.

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10 comments on “12 Days of Christmas – #4 Mark Williams
  1. Patrice Fitzgerald says:

    The best way to think about snow is to think about clouds. Different every day, in shape, size, texture, color, but always beautiful. And with snow, you can touch it.

    I remember my daughter’s early awareness of snow, when she was two years old. We had just bought her new mittens that had pictures of Disney’s Little Mermaid on them. She went out into the yard for the first snow of the winter, and these little floaty white flakes fell onto her mittens. We thought she would be delighted, but she was terribly unhappy that these things were getting onto Little Mermaid! She kept trying to shake them off, but then they would warm up and turn into wetness. Oh no! Now the mermaid was getting wet too!

    Later, when I lived in a house near a big water reservoir, I used to walk through the woods to reach the road that wrapped around it. People would hike, run, bike, and roller-skate around the lake throughout all the seasons. One day we had a very big snow that had come down fast and was about a foot high. By late afternoon there were only desultory flakes still drifting down through the bright skies, so I put on my boots and walked to the water. I got to the road around the reservoir and there was not a soul there. No footprints in the snow, no tracks from cars.

    I stood in the middle of the road and turned my face up to the sky, now a glowing light gray. I spread my arms to grab all the snow that I could, and opened my mouth to take in the flakes that landed, like fast disappearing pinpoints of cold, on my tongue. I started to dance like that, my arms wide, my tongue out, my eyes closed and my feet, in heavy fur-lined boots, shuffling right and left through the drifts. For a moment, I was blissful in my private snow dance, a figure in a big bulky black coat, with a leopard-print scarf and a funny hat wrapping around my head and chin.

    Suddenly I heard something behind me. A line of trucks and cars from the water treatment plant on the far end of the reservoir was coming down the road. I could see the face of the man at the wheel of the first truck. His mouth was open. He had not expected to encounter someone dancing in the snow on the empty road to the plant.

    I think I cannot explain snow. It is a special miracle, like the ocean or a sunset. You will perhaps get to experience it for yourself someday.

    But if you imagine the air full of slowly drifting bits of chilly white fluff, not frozen and not liquid, and a lady in black dancing with her tongue out, you will have a picture of one of the many possibilities of snow.

  2. Ash falls like snowflakes. If they’ve ever seen ash falling from a fire, imagine it white and cold. It will land on your skin, and if you touch it, it just crumbles. Snow is very similar, only it doesn’t leave a smudge of black or gray, it melts, leaving a wet spot.

    Undisturbed, the snowflakes will land in drifts that look soft. The top layer will always be, but as the snow remains, it begins to melt a little, then refreezes as the temperature fluctuates. Then it becomes brittle, and makes a very satisfying crunch sound under your boot, similar to dried grain.

    Snow is also very heavy. One drop of water in a cup is so light, it’s hardly consequential. But add hundreds and hundreds of drops and the weight quickly adds up. As snow piles onto tree branches and other surfaces, like roofs, it can cause collapses just as bucket fulls of water can cause a tarp to tear.

    • Ah yes, the satisfying crunch…

      As a kid, being obsessed with science, I invented my own sound-of-snow-underfoot chart to categorize how the sound changes depending on depth of snow, how long it had lain, etc. For some reason the Nobel prize passed me by on that one, and I had forgotten all about it until reading your comment.

      Thanks for that trip down memory lane. Elizabeth.!

  3. Can I ask a couple questions first? Because it is always easier to explain something when you know a bit more about what the people your’e trying to educate know. :}

    1. Do they know ice, and understand how it freezes and melts and floats on water?
    2. Would they be able to cut out a paper snowflake?

    *giggles* You’ve tapped into the fun part of my current WIP, explaining modern terms to people who live in a ‘backwards’ world. I did contemplate making my MC try to explain snow once.

    :} Cathryn

    • “Explaining things to an alien” is a common exercise i creative writing and teaching a second language, Cathryn, but there’s always this supposition of previous knowledge.

      Some people here know ice in so far as they may be able to buy blocks if they live in a big town, but natural ice is completely unknown.

      As for a cut-out snow-flake… In the villages paper and scissors will be as much a mystery as snow!

      But your WIP sounds like great fun!

      • My brain is at an impase… especially after reading Elizabeth’s take comparing snow to ash… she’s so right about that I just can’t compete. (I may still try)

        As to my WIP *grin* I really need to get back to editing it or Charley will send her hounds after me. :} But yes it is fun, and eventually the plan is to publish it.

  4. Ever tried to explain snow to a cat? That’s even harder. I remember a 6 month old kitten I had, who asked to go outdoors during the first snowfall of a New England winter. I opened the door, and let her see what was out there. She put one paw out into that white, cold stuff and gave me a furious look:. “How could you do this to me? Make this go away!” All night, she kept sitting at the door, asking to go out, getting more and more furious that I hadn’t made that white stuff stop falling out of the sky.

    • Patrice Fitzgerald says:

      Anne, I used to have a cat that would go to the door when it was raining, and when I opened it, he would turn tail and stalk away, with an attitude… Then he would try the back door, in case the weather was better on that side. Surprisingly, it was always raining there, too.

    • I like it! My cat was the same, she used to jump rather than walk in the snow, I don’t think she liked the way it wasn’t solid! 😉

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