Maps, mapping and writing

I wrote yesterday about signs and signals, actual physical direction pointers and then those a novelist pops into their story: They are:

the very obviously things which show the way, and as a writer I need to put in signs to my reader, hints to show them along which reading path to travel…  they maybe surprising but  they must fit with what the reader knows, subtle signals I’m careful to include…. There’s nothing more frustrating as a reader than coming across something which has never been signalled, or  finding the narrative path has petered out and a final destination is never reached on a particular plot line .

Yesterday in our newspaper review section there was a feature ‘The Writers Map – before you set off you’ll need a map…’ . It was a series of extracts from a book about writers and maps; three writers, David Mitchell (‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet’  and Cloud Atlas’) Phillip Pullman and Sandi Toksvig shared their thoughts; in extracts from the book they discussed their personal experiences of maps and mapping – as actual maps they drew, maybe from childhood, or as background to what they were writing, or a map as an actual plan of a book.

I’m one of those people who have always loved maps, and the idea of interesting on paper something which exists geographically, even if it’s an imagined geography. I loved books which had maps – particularly maps of islands (buried treasure was a bonus but not necessary) and from early on I would make maps, draw lands or islands. When I was teaching, not so long ago, everyone loved drawing maps and as I was teaching English it was a great way to trigger stories and get less-than enthusiastic students engaged.

I only have mental maps now – my stories are mostly set in the imaginary seaside town of Easthope, the small city of Strand, Camel Wood, and the villages and other towns in the imaginary district. I’ve never drawn a map of it – maybe I should! When I was writing about a real place, Lees, in the town of Oldham where I was living, I did create an actual map because I invented streets, pubs, alleys and cut throughs – as well as Spo Mill where the climax takes place. I had t elongate real roads, put in extra streets, build two schools, add some extra pubs to the small town  – but I did use the real library, a little tribute to what a marvellous place it was..

I shall drop heavy Christmas present hints about this book… I think it will be fascinating and inspiring… I might start drawing maps again as I did when I was a child!

Here is a link:

…and to Flipside:




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