My new mystery series, debuting in late September 2011, is set in a mythical village I call Nether Monkslip, near the English Channel. As I wrote the book and my story and setting began to evolve, I did something I've done with all my previous books: I began scribbling a rough map to help me picture the village in my own mind. I found it helpful to indicate what went where, and which character lived where.
These are by no means accomplished sketches. They're pretty awful, in fact. When it comes to drawing, I'm operating at about the third-grade level. But when I submitted the manuscript to my editor, I included a PDF of my strange little map. I figured it would help orient her to the story. And I half hoped a good artist might be enlisted to turn it into something usable for the book. This had happened in the past: My second St. Just book contains a schematic of a Scottish castle, and my third, a drawing of the grounds of St. Michael's College, Cambridge.
Let me tell you: The map is utterly and completely captivating. Just charming. The artist has done exactly what I hoped he'd do: Produced a drawing that makes you take one look and say, "I wish I lived there." That he could do this based on my sketch is a miracle. But the process did involve several email exchanges in between versions, exchanges that went something like this:
Me: We're going to need a hedgerow or a fence or something so the cows don't fall in the river.
Me: Could you take the lid off the church?
Me: The lid. That little pointy cap thing. Those were usually later additions to Norman churches. The Victorians have a lot to answer for.
Artist: Okay. Anything else?
Me: The menhirs are too regular. They need to look like bad teeth with a few crooked or missing. And could we have some tombstones in that churchyard?
This went on for quite awhile. His patience was remarkable. I had lived with this thing inside my head so long that I knew exactly what the village looked like, and any deviation from that vision really bothered me. That he captured it so perfectly even on the first run is, again, a miracle.
I mentioned this map on Facebook yesterday and several people dropped by to say how much they loved maps in books, and family trees, and diagrams, and all the rest of it. These are considered old-fashioned touches but to me they're not. We live in an almost entirely visual age. It's probably time to bring back the "old-fashioned" touches that pull the reader into the story--for village traditionals like mine, and for hard-boiled PI novels. What say you all?
Photos of idyllic English villages (Cerne Abbas in Dorset; South Poole in Devon; Kingham in Oxfordshire) from telegraph.co.uk