Justine: Map Freak

Oatland Park (#61) from Patterson's 24 Miles Around London (1791).

Oatland Park (#61) from Patterson’s 24 Miles Around London (1791).

I’m not sure whether it comes from my dad or my love of history (probably both), but I love looking at maps…especially old maps. Before I started writing, I never really had a reason to purchase old maps, but now that I’m knee-deep in the Regency, my map passion has taken on a life of its own.

In London this past fall, I purchased (and Jilly bought for me — thank you!) a couple of interesting things from Stanfords. One was Patterson’s 24-miles Around London (1791). Want to know where the Rt. Hon. Wm. Pitt lived? Near Holwood Hill in Kent. Where was HRH the Duke of York’s estate? In Surrey, south of Houndslow Heath, along the Thames (it was called Oatland Park). I’m finding it incredibly invaluable for naming estates, neighbors, towns, etc.; finding out what local landmarks are nearby (Woolwich Marsh); and other things that I hope will add to the realism of my story.

The other thing I got while in London is “The A to Z of Regency London” by Harry Margary. It’s a map book that shows not only every street in Regency London (1813-ish), but attempts to show every house number! I had to purchase a magnifier when I got this book, because in some cases the print is so small, it’s nearly impossible to read unaided. What I like this for is the ability to pick a street where my characters live, and assign a house number that isn’t actually a working house number (just in case they haven’t changed — I wouldn’t want someone to see their address in my book).

My latest purchase was a map of the provinces of France (1818). My story takes place just as Napoleon is leaving Elba for Paris, in late Feb – March 1815, to begin his 100 Days (of course, at the time, he didn’t know it’d only be 100 days). I wanted to be able to chart Napoleon’s trek across France, seeing the towns, roads, rivers, etc. that he traversed or crossed in order to get there (it is important to my story, actually). The map I found is perfect! I have charted his progress on my map with a trail of tiny sticky notes from the south of France near Cannes to Paris, adding for certain cities the dates I knew he was there. Again, for someone trying to be as real as possible, this sort of thing is invaluable.

Now, some of you will probably say that several of these maps can be found for free and online. You’re right. In fact, I’ve downloaded a few, but what I find I miss with those maps is the exploratory nature of letting my eye roam wherever it wants. Digital maps are great if I know what I’m looking for and set out to find it, but if I want to just let my eyes wander, and let my mind cogitate on the different streets/towns/landmarks I see and how they’ll fit into my story, a map I can hold in my hands is by far preferred.

Next on my list of maps I wish to acquire are those from the early Caribbean settlements. My next story involves Susannah’s sister, who resides in Jamaica. It’d be nice to see what early 19th century Jamaica looked like.

What sorts of collections have you started since you began writing?

10 thoughts on “Justine: Map Freak

  1. I absolutely love the sound of those maps, especially the London ones. Today, I’ve taken a day off work and am sitting in the London Library surrounded by fashion books. My story is set in the 1950s and today I’m trying to find outfits for all of my characters. Actually, that’s not quite true, I have lots of possible clothes, mostly courtesy of collections on Pinterest, but, I have no language to describe these clothes – so, I suppose today I am looking up words more than clothes.

    • Oh, I wish I were with you right now, Rachel! Only I’d be researching Regency dress, of course! How wonderful to have such resources available to you. I live in Phoenix, and unless you’re writing a story set in the desert southwest (as Kat is), there’s not much here for you. Of course, Arizona State University is here and I suppose I could check out their library, but it’s a time thing — never enough.

      Have fun researching! If you see anything peculiar from the Regency, let me know! I’d love to see it!

      • I had a brilliant day Justine – funnily enough I have reserved a book about the Regency, so I will let you know if there are any interesting nuggets when I get it. I’ve always been tempted to write a regency, but wasn’t sure if I had anything new to say on ground that has been so well trodden. That is why I have (I now think probably rather misguidedly) decided to set my story in the 1950s. I love reading Regencies, so just shout if you need another beta reader (when you get there).

        • I think a story in the 1950s would be fabulous! In the US, they had all of those great clothes, and there was a mini-boom in pop culture (like the post-war angst of the 1920s, but for whatever reason, more pure and sentimental). I don’t know much about 50s Britain — you guys still had rationing for quite a while, didn’t you? I think 60s Britain is where writers often start if they are doing 20th century retro. Although Life on Mars tackled the 70s and it looks like Ashes to Ashes are doing the 80s with the same sort of flair. (Although, I connected a lot more to the 70s Life on Mars, maybe because I was so young that my memories are quite fuzzy. Maybe because Britain was more influential in the US during the 70s? Maybe not — but the first episodes Duran Duran wasn’t the Duran Duran I remember from the mid-80s.)

          Anyway, the 1950s sound like there’s a lot of new material for a writer!

  2. I LOVE old maps. Although for me, the fun is not about what an area actually looked like at the time as much as it is about what the map reveals of the mapmakers world view. Also, they just look cool. Do you have them tacked up or tucked away?

    Old globes are fun, too. There is a wonderful globe museum in Vienna where I spent hours and hours last spring. My favorite globes were the ones based on information from early explorations of the west coast of North America. The first explorers correctly identified Baja California as a peninsula, and it shows up as such on globes from that time. A later explorer claimed to have sailed around it, and for ten years all the globes showed Baja California as an island! Enough later explorers refuted that claim, and eventually it was represented as a peninsula again.

    I haven’t started any collections since I began writing unless you count index cards. I have stacks of blank index cards with pens stashed all over the house so that when something funny happens I can jot it down. These are great for adding humor to scenes, and have been good for my general attitude, too. I hadn’t realized how freaking funny we are until it was all there in black and white.

    • Jennifer, right now most of my maps are tucked away, but that’s for two reasons:

      1. I have little kids with grubby hands.

      2. I have limited wall space in my office.

      Plus, I drag them out and look at them periodically, so having them mounted on the wall would be a pain in the neck. I think at some point I will get framed maps (perhaps a reward for getting published?), but for now, the ones I have are really ones I use on a regular basis, so they’re more for research than for show.

      I love globes, too! My kids have gotten into them. I got one last year that has a “wand” (that’s what they call it) that when you point to an area of the globe, it talks to you (language, GDP, capital, etc.). In our household, we often say, “I love you from Portland to China” or some such destination and I encourage the kids to find new destinations on the globe to tell us how much they love us, particularly ones that sound quirky. My husband and I do the same (a recent favorite was, “I love you from Poughkeepsie to Azerbaijan).

      I collect pens, too. For awhile it was the G2 gel pens, but lately I’ve gotten into UniBall Vision Elite. The gel pens I have a really fine tip, so when I feel like writing something precise, I use those pens. When I’m feeling more creative or winging it, I use the UniBalls because they flow over the paper better and are smoother, IMHO. (I’m sure there’s a psychiatric classification for my thing with pens.)

      • I bet a lot of people have pen, ummm… quirks. I know I do. I have one pen I use to make a conflict box for each scene, a different pen to outline the scene, and yet another to edit that outline. These pens are kept in a special case, separate from the pen I use for my grocery lists and the pen I use for my calendar (both of which I insist on keeping on paper, to my husband’s disbelief and horror).

        So if you find out what that psychiatric classification for pen issues is, let me know. It would be convenient to have an official diagnosis to justify my pen obsessiveness. 😉

        • Oh, I love a good pen! I think that might be a writer thing . . . . And I really like a pretty map, too, despite being cartographically disadvantaged. Before Google got its navigation together, I had to print out Google maps because I just couldn’t deal with them on the computer — and even then, I found them terribly hard to use. Not enough map on them, or not enough detail. My gas station offered free maps of Hokkaido every summer, and I still go for extra gas when they do that promotion!

  3. Stanfords is a fantastic shop, I’ll take any excuse to hang out there and I never leave empty-handed. The travel books are great, but the maps are amazing and the staff are knowledgeable and friendly. We bought our first map there when we went trekking in Nepal many, many moons ago, and we’ve been regular visitors ever since.

    I haven’t needed maps for my writing (yet) but I did splurge on one as a gift some years ago. For his 60th birthday I bought my dad an original hand-colored map of Derbyshire from the 1600s. It’s a thing of beauty and fascinating to see the differences five hundred years later.

    • I wish we had a Stanfords in the US! I’m sure I’d never leave there without my purse a little lighter.

      The map for your dad sounds awesome, Jilly! I’m sure he appreciated it very much.

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