Monday, 30 September 2013

A map is so much more

A couple of weekends back I found myself in Oxford at the Bodleian - as you do. They had an exhibition on about magic and fantasy in writing and had chosen to fix Oxford firmly in the centre of that particular universe. The writers they were focusing on were Tolkien, CS Lewis, Phillip Pullman, Alan Garner, etc. There were notes and drawings by each and all in all it was a nice little exhibition with much to interest the child in this particular adult - not least because the stories these authors wrote (with the exception of Pullman who was much later) fuelled my nascent interest in writing when I was no more than a wee girlie.

Half way round the exhibition I had a bit of an epiphany. One of the reasons I loved these stories so much as a child was because they weren't just stories; they were entire worlds - worlds I could get lost in - worlds that could be explored by map, no less. In fact my love of a good map goes all the way back to a book by Annette Mills entitled Muffin the Mule. British children of the late 40s and 50s will remember Muffin on TV of course, but I had the book, complete with a map of his 'world' - the garden in which he and his friends lived.

So there I was in the Bodleian thinking, that's what I need to do - I need to draw a map of the world I am creating. Good authors provide maps. Good authors provide a world their readers can inhabit alongside the characters. Or, to my mind, they do anyway. That's not to say I haven't read a good many books that don't have maps, because I have. But you know where you are with a map.

Yesterday, online, I found a map of London drawn in 1767.  I managed to cobble together a jpeg of it and took it along today to Hobs in Marylebone Lane to get it printed. For the princely sum of £5 I now have two black and white maps, 150 cm by 95 cm (so, big) entitled A Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster and the Borough of Southwark with the new buildings 1767. From this I will create the 'map' of the world my character Annie Beaumaris lived in at that time. I have other, more detailed maps, showing the courts and alleyways of central London in the 18th century, but this big map enables me to plan all of my characters' movements as they negotiate a world full of bubble stock dealers, murderous loan sharks, corruptible lawyers, extraordinarily exotic whores, idle gossip-mongers, murderers, religious fanatics, philosophers, actors, property developers, highway robbers, journalists, Bow Street, Runners, Magistrates, grocers, actors and witty raconteurs with ease.

I cannot recommend highly enough the need for a good map!