Sunday, January 30, 2011

Maps: A Love Story

Maybe it started with Winnie-the-Pooh, and that map of the wood drawn by Christopher Robin. Or with the map above, from my own loved and battered copy of the Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories by Joyce Lankester Brisley. I'm not sure which book I read first, as a child, but together they made me a fan of the map in the front of the book, and inspired me to make my own maps of the places I write about.

Being an engineer's daughter, I'm hard-wired to love the whole concept of maps their precision, their detail, their orderly lines. And I like to imagine my characters moving within them; to know where the streets and the trees and the fields are, and where the sun rises.

I don't need to hand-draw my map, if the setting I'm using is real I just print off a map that's already been made and then mark it to show where the characters live and where certain scenes happen. But if I've adapted the setting, as I did with Avebury in Mariana, or with Gardone Riviera in Season of Storms, I happily get out my pencil and paper and set to work.

Usually no one but me ever sees these. They're filed in the ring binder where I keep all my stray notes for that novel, along with my research. They can either be a close view, like this one I did of Exbury (above) for Mariana, or a wider landscape like the one I drew for my upcoming book The Rose Garden (below), which takes place in a reworked version of Polperro, Cornwall, with an altered coastline and a Beacon and a cave and stream thrown in where none exist in real life.

I'm not sure what it is with me and maps. I don't do outlines for my novels, and I've long since given up the notion that I'm in control of what my characters are doing, so perhaps in the absence of any real structure I find all those orderly lines reassuring.

Or maybe it's all down to Winnie-the-Pooh and the map in the front of the book an associative reflex, or something.

My son and I just started reading The Hobbit together, and one of the first things he wanted to do was to study the map at the front, showing where Bilbo travels, so maybe it isn't just me...

What do you think of maps? Do you love them, or hate them (or make them?)

Be sure to come back here this Thursday, to read Julie's post.


  1. I also love maps - and not just for stories. My favorites are the ones you get from the hotel for. If you are writing a story set in that city, knowing some of the landmarks and businesses can be a huge help.
    I haven't been able to draw my own so far - but haven't really needed to yet.

  2. I love maps in books. And I printed off nearly 50 pages of blown up pieces of a map of 1795 London and pieced it together with scotch tape to help me with my historical romance. It is wall sized. It took up my whole living room, but it was the only way I could figure out where everybody needed to live and what locations took place where and how long it would take for chases and running home to fetch weapons and how long it would take for a footman to deliver a message. Whew! That's a lot of map usage. Then there's the wonders of google maps with satellite overlay. Love those. My road romance needed those maps desperately. I loved using a travel book from the historical period and lining it up against modern maps to have a sense of time and place. So, yes, I'm a map hound. I love them. My favorite maps are from Dorothy Dunnet's books. I'd never have kept track of the characters' movements without them!

  3. I too love maps, especially old maps, I did Cartography as part of my degree course, and really enjoyed it. I love google maps and the ability to zoom in to street level, also Bing Worldwide maps as they have the OS maps on for England and Wales, and as a genealogist, I really appreciate being able to find places on a map where my own, or a client's ancestors lived. I love being able to use them to retrace steps people have taken either in fition or real life.

    I remember spending ages poring over the map in the Lord of the Rings book, and if there are any maps in the front of novels, I really appreciate them. Once reading a book False Dawn by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro where her characters set of across parts of the United States in a post apocalyptic world, I had out my World Atlas turned to the pages of the US so I could follow their journeys (this before the advent of the internet).

  4. I went to Polperro for a holiday last year. Great place! I used to love maps too. Tolkien did great maps, as did David Eddings and my youngest son, who has Asperger's, loves collecting maps of places like Marwell Zoo, Chessington, etc and studying them intently.

  5. As a child I used to draw house plans for fun, but my love of maps in books began with Tolkien and Middle Earth, and I had to chuckle while reading this post, Susanna; on the wrought iron book stand inches from my monitor is a map of Boston's North End, circa 1800, marked and circled where the characters in my WIP live and work. Spread in another spot on the desk is a reproduction of the entire Boston harbor at that time. On the wall is a map of the Tennessee/Kentucky frontier, also late 18th century, and not far away is a huge map of Colonial North Carolina, including all the trading paths and Indian trails and wagon roads connecting one tiny village or settlement to another.

    I obviously share your love of maps. As for how they help now, I can't seem to write about a new location until I've either found or created a map for the primary setting. For my story set on an 18th century plantation, I created my own map to be sure I was consistent about the location of house and outbuildings, stable and fields and slave quarters, etc.

    I've drawn at least a rudimentary map of every major story setting since I began writing. I can't imagine writing without one.

  6. I LOVE maps, in books and out. It's another 'Dad' thing. :-)

    I used to love the C S Lewis Narnia maps, so evocative of the land.... *happy sigh*

    Lovely, Susanna!

  7. I am another map lover. That scan from Milly Molly Mandy takes me right back.

    I have the complete set of OS maps of Cumbria which were bought for researching The Stone Voice. I took liberties with places and distances but I wanted them so that I could immerse myself in the place.

    I read a lot of fantasy books and I always love the maps at the front of them.

  8. Yes, totally agree - maps are great! Ellis Peters had them in the Brother Cadfael books I seem to remember and they really helped. At the moment I'm trying to put one together for my WIP and I can't get on with writing it until I've got this right! So glad I'm not alone ...

  9. Perry, I like hotel maps, too -- and those maps you sometimes find on restaurant paper placemats! Always useful.

    Jennifer, your wall-sized map of London sounds extremely cool. I used to plaster photographs of the setting all over my writing-room wall, but never thought of a giant map... (hmmm..)

    Carolann, I share your love of genealogy and can completely relate to the thrill of retracing one's ancestor's steps. And I do envy you your Cartography course -- I don't think they offered one of those at my university, or I'd have been first in line.

    Nicolette, glad to meet another Polperro-lover. It's a magical place. I'm enjoying rediscovering Tolkien's maps with my own son.

    Lori, I already knew you were a kindred spirit when it comes to research methods. And I may have to borrow your Boston map, sometime -- I had ancestors living in Colonial Boston.

    Anna, yes, the Narnia maps.. I nearly chose one of those for the image for this post, but wasn't sure about the copyright so went with Milly-Molly-Mandy instead.

    Glad you liked it, Biddy! And those OS maps are truly the best, aren't they? Wonderfully detailed.

    Christina, I forgot about the Ellis Peters Cadfael maps, but now that you mention them I remember liking those, too. Like you, I'm glad I'm not alone in my obsession!

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone.