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True Places…

“It is not down in any map;. true places never are”. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick.

Regular readers will be well aware of my reverence for Ursula K Le Guin, and recently I’ve been finding new delight in theIntroduction and the Afterwords to each of the five novels that make up  The Books of Earthsea. In the Introduction I read:

"After I'd gotten over the panic, and a big story about a young wizard began to sketch itself out in my head, the first thing I did was sit down and draw a map. I saw and named Earthsea and all its islands. I knew almost nothing about them, but I knew their names. In the name is the magic.

"The original map was on a very large sheet—probably butcher paper, which I had rolls of for my kids to draw on. That big map vanished years ago, but I'd made a careful copy on a smaller, handier scale, the original of the map in this book. And that provided the model for the many professional illustrators of various editions of the books in many countries to draw as carefully and more skilfully than I."

I’ve been thinking for some time that I ought to create a map of the world of The Shattered Moon, at least for my own reference. It’s expanded considerably since Three Kinds of North, where the mountains East of Delven form the edge of the known world (and fire Jerya’s ever-ready imagination). The general shape of the Known Lands was there in my head, but it was getting too complex for me to still be sure that distances and journey times made sense.

Finally, during the last Christmas break, I spent a chunk of time working on it. However, I didn't start with bold strokes of a pen, or even a pencil; I started with tiny bits of paper snipped from Post-It notes, playing around with these until I the distances between key places were consistent with the text, and with each other. This was the framework on which the rest was constructed.

I didn't use 'butcher paper', as Ursula did. In fact I didn't even know what that was until I googled it (we call it baking parchment here). Instead I used lining-paper, as we happened to have a spare length left over from our last bout of decorating, and it gave me a larger 'canvas' to work on than anything else that came to hand (the map measures 66 x 52cm). For support, it's taped on the back of a foam-board-mounted print from my last photo exhibition. Everything you see here is hand-drawn, with the outlines roughed out in pencil first and then finalised in ink.

I've since photographed it and added clearer lettering and some other elements in Photoshop. I expect this version to be the 'public' one… but definitive? I think the lesson of history is that no map is perpetually definitive. I'll certainly be keeping this hand-drawn version, er, handy, ready for updating. There are a few short stories to fit in too…

In the end I didn’t include a map in Vows and Watersheds, because anyone who takes a close look at it will immediately see a bloody great spoiler for one of the central plot lines. For the same reason, if you’re reading this before you’ve read Vows, you might want to step away from this page now and come back later… but it is, of course, up to you.

If you’re still reading, the current 'finished' digital map is at the bottom of this page.And I have a question: I'd love to know (through the usual channels) your thoughts on this. Should I plan on including it in Book Four (which doesn't add anything of significance to the geography), or should I perhaps offer it as a pdf as another reward to existing subscribers/reader magnet for new ones?

Meanwhile, a bit more background… As you'll notice, there is an Archipelago on my map, and in Chapter 23 of The Sundering Wall, and if you suspected that this was a small tip of the hat from me to the great Ursula, you would be absolutely right. However, I can't say that all of Rodal's adventure under sail is a tribute to Ged's voyages in Earthsea , because it has more complex origins, going right back to various of the Swallows and Amazons books, as well as to my own very modest experience of life aboard ship. Maybe I'll say more about this in a future newsletter.

Maybe my Archipelago takes something from another source. Maybe ten years ago, we were walking with some friends on the Lancashire coast not very far from home when we stumbled across a piece of flotsam: a rubberised tube that turned out to contain a number of mariners' charts of parts of the Norwegian coast. Though the tube was capped and the maps tightly rolled, some water had got in, but we rescued the least damaged and had them framed and this one has been on our bathroom wall ever since.

Finally, here’s one other map that played a significant role in a key episode in my life. Long story, short version: in 1990, four of us trekked from Snow Lake in the Karakoram Mountains, over the Hispar La (pass) at 5,128 metres and down the 50km of the Hispar Glacier. Without porters, we were carrying everything ourselves, and this is the map we used. I'd photocopied it from an Italian expedition book, hence the naming of 'Ghiacciaio Hispar' and so on. We had the altitude to contend with, and crevasses and tortuous moraines. The map was useless for this, but we did still have a general idea where we were and we knew that there was a village just beyond the end of the glacier. At the close of Three Kinds of North, Jerya, Railu and Rodal were setting forth with no map at all, and no idea of what awaited them if they did succeed in forcing a crossing. Maybe it's appropriate that when I began writing this part of the story, I also had no real idea.

"I followed what I wrote where it inevitably led.”

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