I had a day off from the A-Z blog challenge yesterday, so apologies if you were waiting with baited breath to find out all about maps!
But here we are, it’s Monday and today I talk a little about map-making when world building. (Or rather my version of map making and world building in my WIP Prophecy of Innocence. I in no way endorse my own way of doing this. It’s far too unplanned and haphazard.)
It s happens I recently read another blog post about world building and the writer there stated they had heard of someone who hadn’t even started their novel yet because they were still drawing the maps of the world. Crazy? Well, in a word, yes. And that’s coming from me who…well, you’ll see.
Now don’t get me wrong, I myself have always loved maps. One of the things I loved to do most on long journeys in the car was tracking the car’s progress up or down whichever motorway we were on whilst at the same time spotting unusual or amusing place names. (You’ll recall my earlier posts in this challenge where I told you of my penchant for naming my characters after motorway service stations or place names? Eh Voila.)
But despite my little mini, geeky love of a good road map I still wouldn’t start a novel there. I’m pretty sure Tolkien didn’t draw all his maps of Middle Earth and then thought “Ooh, I know, I’ll write a story about folk who live here.”
I find it really difficult to trace back the beginnings of my story and how certain aspects evolved but one thing I am certain of is that the maps and journey track the elflings take came after I started writing and continued to evolve for a while afterwards. I know this because I began writing Prophecy of Innocence (with only 3 A4 sides of scribbled notes as an ‘outline’) in September 2011 but I was given a notebook as present at Christmas that year and on the first page is a map of Britain. I’d drawn it and added on real places, as well as places in Trelflande and the routes taken by the Treebayan and Lutonian elflings. It’s changed since but then , it would wouldn’t it?
I had a vague idea very early on that the primary route of the elflings would trace parallel with where the main stretches of the M6 and M5 motorways run. I don’t know why. Perhaps it is because I have driven these stretches numerous times and so am familiar with them and the place names along those routes. There is a deeper more plot driven point to the route too before you get the straight-jacket ready, but I can’t go into that as it would give away a lot of the tie-in points for the final book.
For some reason, also unknown to me, I’d always planned for the action of Book 3 to be centered around the city of Bristol. I really have no idea why as I have no links to Bristol. My only experiences of the city are as a fleeting, passing acquaintance. My first brush with Bristol being was when I used to alight the train at Temple Meads station before catching a bus to Bath to visit my best friend during university days. Another time was to be at her Baptism ceremony. My only other experience of Bristol was getting lost in my car around its ring-road on my way to North Devon in the days when I wouldn’t drive on a motorway. I got so lost I ended up having to go on the motorway for the first time anyway just to escape the place!
Anyway, once I’d decided on Bristol as a final destination, I needed to decide on an alternative name for the Trelflande equivalent area underneath Bristol. I don’t know how this conversation came up but my mum said to me: “Did you know Bristol was known as Brigstowe during the Middle Ages?” Well no, I didn’t, but it got me thinking that to use its old name would be just perfect. It also happens that Bristol was, during the 18th Century when Book 1 is set, the second largest city in Britain. I needed the elflings to be near a big city for reasons I won’t go into here as it would be a plot spoiler, but suffice to say Bristol sitting mid point on the M5 motorway and being a large city on a river during the time of the Industrial revolution was too perfect for what I needed.
Since then I have had to draw numerous maps of the underground area of Brigstowe but these are of a localised nature to the elfings. Maps showing the tunnel layout and such like rather than a major map of areas of Trelflande although I am sure this will follow. These things are constantly evolving. I can see exactly how Tolkien would well have built up Middle Earth gradually. As you write, other ideas crop up and you add to and alter things all the time. I find drawing maps helps me enormously when trying to describe setting too. This is especially necessary I think in this kind of novel where a long journey is undertaken. You do have to have a clear idea of where your characters are and how far from home they’ve travelled.
One of the trickiest parts was trying to work out realistic time scales for how long it would take a thumb sized elfling to walk what amounts to a total of around two hundred and fifty miles. I still have no idea whether I have the time scale right. maybe an editor one day will tell me! (Or if anyone out there thinks they’d know, please could you do the maths for me as it’s not my strong point.)
The elflings begin their jourmey from their homeland, a place called Treebay. Treebay is a take on my second favourite motorway service station Teabay, although Teabay is further north in Cumbria whereas the fictional Treebay is in Lancashire. They then travel to the fictional Thorndale which is situated roughly directly west of Manchester and near to where the Bridgewater Canal began its construction in 1761. (This is actually planned and not random and does have a plot point to it!) I named Thorndale after a place actually just twelve miles north of Bristol called Thornbury. But for the purposes of the story, Thornbury/Thorndale moved north and Brigstowe/Bristol became the final place the elflings go to further south. For the record I have never been to Thornbury either. I only know of it because of the signs I see for it as I drive up or down the M5 when on holidays!
So once more a little glimpse into my slightly crazy head. My maps and place names will no doubt continue to evolve as the next two books are written. I could plan it all ahead I suppose but I just never know what gem I might discover next time I’m on mu travels up and down the UK’s network of motorways. After all, how else is one meant to pass the time in all those traffic jams?