Like most other work by Brown, A Time to Keep is set in Orkney. The description of the surroundings is often used to create tension, a ploy used by Brown, particularly in Tartan. When Bill is caught in threatening weather, Brown writes that
the delicate egg-shell blue sky was gray as oysters, purple as mussels, and the sun slid through thickening clouds. This depiction of the setting creates an element of intensity and connects the setting with Bill’s livelihood.
However, the setting’s connection to Bill’s (and other islanders) livelihood also has more positive connotations. It is both a help and a hindrance towards life. This is highlighted in section nine. When Bill’s harvest blossoms, Brown writes that:
the whole field lay brazen and burnished under a blue sweep of sky. And the wind blessed it continually, sending long murmurs of fulfillment.
This captures the setting as the provider, working with weather and seasonal cycles to produce a bounty of fulfillment for the islanders. Though in this case the crop is then destroyed by the weather, this only serves to highlight the dangerous potential of the setting of the story.
In Brown’s small Orkney community, gossip often plays a key role. In A Time to Keep, when Mr Sinclair arrives at the croft
a half-dozen old women were at the end of their houses, waiting like hens for scraps of scandal. Indeed, it is through gossip that Mr Sinclair acquires much of his information, raging
don’t imagine I don’t hear things when listing his gripes.
Gossip is also present in The Whaler’s Return when Peterina knows people are discussing her hardships.