Mapping a world . . .

Fantasy map from Wikimedia Commons.

I visited my tiny local library today and came across a giant book (one that just fitted into my bike basket), called The Map Book edited by Peter Barber.  Published in GB in 2005, it is the quintessential history of maps and their making and has the most extraordinary collection illustrated in its pages.

I always took maps for granted: something in the glove-box of the car, something in a waterproof folder on the boat, or in the handbag if you didn’t know your way around a new city.  Something often in the front of a hist. fict. book and always in the front of a fantasy book.  Thus when I began to write fantasy, it really was the first thing I had to do: sit down and draw the geography of my world.  It was a fun excercise, took a couple of days and required raiding my son’s architectural drawing supplies and my daughter’s graphics’ supplies.  But I am only a writer and when came the time to be published, Cath McAuliffe of took on my needs and created the perfect map of my world.

But then miniature book artist Patricia Sweet from

Mapping Eirie

ran with the idea and created the Eirie Collection, a series of maps concealed within tiny map books.  She then developed the idea further . . . a pocket globe based on the Georgian pocket globe – a  tremendous little item the English dandy would carry in the pocket of his damask tailcoat or his breeches to show that he was up to date with all the newly explored territories of the world.  Patricia said I needed to expand my terrestrial world and while I was at it, maybe I could think up a celestial world as well, so that she could create a map chest of Eirie.  Right, says I!

There’s something almost blasphemous in creating a world.  Firstly the map has a coastal outline and then there are deserts, mountains, rivers and forests, and one assumes then that the world is peopled and one has to name those areas, knowing as the names appear, that this might be the site of a battlefield, or a that might be the site of a famine, or maybe a portal to another world, a city of souks, or a university town or a town built on canals.  And as one creates the world, the story to be written begins to take on a dimension, giving more and more ideas.  As the story progresses, I find it handy and somewhat necessary to return frequently to my maps and see whether the protagonist is heading North, South, East or West and how long would it really take to get there and what sort of terrain would he/she be travelling through?

The motivation for this post was generated by Francis Hunter’s great blog ‘Which fictional word would you live in?’ The idea of maps and mapping was a natural follow-on and I’m wondering what other fantasy  writers do when they world-build.  Does the map come first, or the world?  And how hard or easy is it for everyone?  Feel free to comment.