I need to sit down and work out when all the events in the novel occur – to the exact day – because at the moment it’s all a bit vague and a mishmash. One of the minor characters is going to have a baby. At this rate she’s in danger of being pregnant for 6 months or 12 months.
But this is fantasy so where’s the fun in using the Gregorian (Western) calendar to work this out? More to the point, you can fit masses of cultural detail into why and how a specific calendar system is used.
I start as always with a bit of research into what existing and past cultures have used. This is one of the reasons I love writing; I love finding out stuff. Research in this case consists of me lying in bed at midnight looking at Wikipedia on my iPhone. It transpires that calendars can generally be divided into either solar or lunar systems or a bit of both.
Lunar systems – which divide time up into months based on the moon’s cycle – gradually fall out of sync with the seasons because 12 lunar cycles only equal 354 days. The Islamic calendar uses a lunar cycle, which is why the fasting month of Ramadan falls in a different month (by our reckoning) each year. I’d never actually thought about why that happens!
It can obviously be a bit confusing to have things changing so much, especially in countries with very defined seasons. Do we plant crops in April or November? There’s nothing like fresh strawberries in December or tobogganing in June. To get round this an ‘intercalary‘ month is added every 2 or 3 years – just like we add an extra day in leap years. This is where it gets interesting.
A month that only happens every 3 years is going to be a bit special, a bit unusual. What if that was the month in which the action that takes place in my city occurs? What if that month was seen as perhaps a month when the spirits of the dead walk again among the living? When spells can be cast and fortunes told. When charm sellers and masked soothsayers and necromancers roam streets clouded with the greasy smoke of burnt offerings and the tang of incense. When an already superstitious city reaches fever pitch and anything might happen.
I think I’m finally starting to understand the personality of my city.