Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Where am I?

by G.M. Malliet

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.

I heard no more about the map for a long time. I finally asked about it, and learned it hadn't yet been green-lighted. These things are an added cost, and few publishers these days are looking to pile on the expense. Then a couple of weeks ago, the okay came through (yay!) and rough sketches of the village began arriving by email. And yesterday, something close to the final sketch arrived.

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.
Artist: Okay.
Me: Could you take the lid off the church?
Artist: Hmm?
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?
Artist: Sure.

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?

G.M. Malliet
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Photos of idyllic English villages (Cerne Abbas in Dorset; South Poole in Devon; Kingham in Oxfordshire) from


Barb said...

I love maps, Gin. In books, and even just regular maps. I can stare at them for a long time. Very cool that your new book will have one.

Barb Goffman

Keith Raffel said...

Am so impressed that you carried this whole village around with you in your head. Equally impressed that the artist could represent what was lurking in there. Can't wait for the book.

Alan Orloff said...

Maps are good. And so is that name, Nether Monkslip! Outstandingly British!

G.M. Malliet said...

Thanks, all. Alan, the village where JK Rowling was born is called Chipping Sodbury. The inhabitants of course call it Sodding Chipbury. I couldn't top that no matter how long I thought about it.

Darrell James said...

I think that's fabulous, Gin. I enjoy seeing maps in books. My forthcoming Del Shannon novel takes place in a fictional town. I have the entire town in my head but didn't consider drawing it. Wish I had.

Kathleen Ernst said...

How wonderful that you not only got the map, but had the opportunity to work with the artist! I love maps in books as well. People have asked for maps in my Chloe Ellefson books, and I'd love to see it happen.

Shel said...

Ok, now I can't WAIT to get my hands on this book! And I too love maps in books, I like to refer to them to picture in my mind where everyone lives in relation to each other.

G.M. Malliet said...

Shel - thank you! I do hope you read and like the book.

This whole map thing can be tricky. This is a very detailed map with drawings of the little cottages, the woods, and so on. Now I have to make sure the map matches what I've said in the book. Even if no one else notices, I will, if I get it wrong!

Alice Loweecey said...

I love maps! This may or may not have something to do with the many times I reread LotR when I was a teenager. :D My fictional town is a suburb of Pittsburgh, nothing as cool as yours, though. Looking forward to your book!

Beth Groundwater said...

Okay, Gin, what's a menhir?

I love the name of your village, btw!

G.M. Malliet said...

Darrell & Kathleen - next time? I really think almost any fiction book would profit from a map to center the reader. A map showing the 7-11 and the gas station - why not?

Beth - a menhir is an ancient standing stone. Think Stonehenge.

circuitmouse said...

There was a wonderful travelling exhibit, "Language of the Land" with a catalog book of thwe same name, by Martha Hopkins and Michael Buscher of the Library of Congress.

So great to have the validation that I wasn't the ONLY person to enjoy those maps!