Mapping The Imagination


Maps are a subject I keep returning to again and again and for good reason. Ever since I was a child I’ve held a deep fascination for atlas’s, globes, maps and cartography in general. The mystery of distant countries with exotic names, far flung foreign lands, strange topographic features or intricate maps of fictional worlds have always captivated my imagination and I know I’m not alone in this passion. Maps, particularly when used in fiction, are more popular today than they’ve ever been.

Check out my previous map inspired posts: For the love of maps! & Mapping your fantasy


In literary terms, the first map I’m aware of studying was probably E.H. Shepherd’s beautifully illustrated ‘100 Acre Wood’ for A.A. Milne’s glorious Winnie The Pooh, that was quickly followed by the maps in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Tove Jansson’s wonderful map of Moomin Valley and CS Lewis’s Narnia map.


As all lovers of good fantasy fiction know, there is nothing as pleasurable as poring over a map of your favourite fantasy world, whether it be George RR Martin’s Westeros at the heart of his phenomenal Games of Thrones (Song of Ice & Fire) series, JRR Tolkien’s Middle-Earth in his Lord of The Rings trilogy, Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea or Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. 34c29aa5e22785787f24a35d580761c71


Now, as an illustrator and author, I create my own detailed hand-drawn fantasy maps for my books and for other authors and publishers. I’ve only illustrated 9 books to date so far but have several projects in the pipeline, and would like to share with you, my fellow map lovers, how I created my latest commission for fabulous fantasy writer, Juliet McKenna and her awesome new River Kingdom series.

Firstly, I cannot tell you what fun it is creating these beautiful objects – “The literal and visual distillation of an author’s imagination through graphite, pen & ink and paint.” It is true that not every great fantasy novel needs a map and some authors like NK Jemisin were initially not keen on them, but for me I love them as I think they create a tangible geographical point of reference from which the story weaves its magic. Funnily enough, Joe Abercromie who apparently wasn’t keen on fantasy maps for his First Law series then included 5 of them in The Heroes (to represent the battle movements)!


At the end of July I was approached by Juliet McKenna who was looking for someone to do a map for her latest fantasy series, the River Kingdom. That started a really interesting month of creative exploration. Juliet, much like me, is a stickler for detail, which I love. The devil’s in the detail they say and that is particularly true when creating fantasy maps, the more information the better!


The first thing I loved, is that her River Kingdom is landlocked i.e. set in the middle of a continent, much like my Fendellin map (see left), and avoids the over used cliché of a coastline and seas. This makes total sense to me – as much as I love coastlines, not every land is going to be coastal and yet if you follow the vast majority of fantasy maps they are all either islands or coastal regions! River Kingdom is inland and is all about the rivers and the regions and peoples they dominate.


For a starting point Juliet emailed me a few pages of notes about her fabulous River Kingdom world, the main rivers (Tane and Dore) in her kingdom, what they are like (winding? straight? navigable? deep? shallow? rapids? maelstroms? etc), how they flow, the settlements and communities along their banks, the different administrative ruling centres and fiefdoms, what the Hill Country was like and forests, a description of the Nilgeh Mire, how the land lies and towns relate to each other, etc. It was obvious from the beginning that this was going to be something rather special, as so few authors really fully imagine and realise the worlds they create down to the everyday detail.


From this, we started a wonderful creative collaboration, back and forth. To ensure that my clients are 110% with the artwork they receive, I’m a great believer in asking questions rather than guessing, that way you are able to really crystalize what the author/client wants and are far more likely to deliver it.

More questions and details followed, the colour of the waters of the main rivers, their tributaries, what happens when the two great rivers meet, adding wharfs and quays for river folk to travel and ferries, the types of trees in the forest areas, how high are the mountains, how to represent the towns with different allegiances, motifs to be used to represent the Grainland and Grassland areas and lovely nuances like adding subtle terraces to some of the Downland hills and what the geology and terrain was of drier areas like the High Plateau. Discussions about the lovely maps of 15thC cartographer, John Speed and the red colour of towns depicted etc.


Then, after the graphite and then inking stages were finished, a whole new conversation took place about colours and tones for the finished painted map. Mountainous regions in reality, vary hugely, another reason why I prefer to hand draw everything rather than using computer programs which just replicate the same mountain shape again and again, some smaller some bigger but none with any individuality. Were the mountainous regions alpine in nature, snow capped and grey granite or like the dry peaks of parts of the Andes or more like the Cairngorms and Snowdonia, greener lower peaks?

What about the woodland areas?


Most forests depicted in fantasy maps tend to be one generic shape repeated infinitum and if they are coloured, one generic green shade. We decided instead to have individual shapes, colours and shades for the different tree types just like a real mixed forest canopy of deciduous and coniferous trees. Yes these are still stylised trees, drawing an accurate observational study of a tree with all it’s intertwining branches would look dreadful in a map context, like a mass of spider webs and would become too distracting to the overall effect.

captureThen you have the map’s compass. I like to do an individual compass for every map and client, so they are unique to that client’s work. In Juliet’s case, I really wanted to include some of the mythos present in her story, namely the fact that her market towns have shrines to the Sun Goddess & Moon God, so I wanted a compass rose with a sun and moon motif at the centre (lol, Juliet is apparently now thinking of using this compass rose as a cross-stitch design!). 🙂


When painting the map, I found myself using some truly gorgeous pearlescent paints and gold inks for the details (there are amazing art products out there!), I only wish the sheen of these had fully translated into the final scanned map.

So, after a month and a bit of continuous work, we had a finished painted map for Juliet’s amazing new fantasy, Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom, which launches at *BristolCon in less than two weeks! Pop along and meet Juliet in person and grab yourself your own signed copy from the author herself! (check out the gorgeous cover by Ben Baldwin!)

*BristolCon – is a fantastic one day SFF convention in Bristol at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel on Saturday 29th October! The programme of events is here. (Juliet will be there signing copies of Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom and appearing on two panels & I’ll be there too supporting my publishers, Grimbold Books and doing a panel and reading – come along and join the fun!)

So, there you go folks…the process of actually creating and making a fantasy map, it ain’t easy but boy is it FUN! 🙂 xxx


🙂 xxxx

Derailing The Diversity Train

A very very interesting and insightful blog here on the continuing battle to try and get more diversity into fiction, specifically SFF fiction and how in some quarters, even daring to have that discussion brings derision and harassment and how the issues at the heart of the discussion are being ignored in favour of merely discussing the ‘fights’ and controversy.

I am not a person of colour, I am white and I know that unjustly comes with certain benefits I take for granted. But what I am is a woman, 50% of the world’s population but without the inherent advantages of the other 50%. As a female writer, specifically a female SFF writer, I myself have come across prejudice in relation to the fiction we create, merely based on our gender rather than ability. Yes, that prejudice is infuriating, unfair and as with any prejudice, is completely inaccurate and based on fear not fact.

I work in a library too, and sadly it is quite a familiar occurrence for customers (always male) to refuse to read or say they don’t read any fiction written by women, often dismissing it as frivolous ‘chicklit’. I don’t read ‘chicklit’ myself either (personal preference, I like SFF), but I have nothing against the genre and am against snobbery of any kind. I also believe that there are many writers of that genre which are talented, good, accomplished writers. Why have snobbery about any genre?

But the point is, female writers have a FAR harder time trying to break into publishing, trying to be visible in such a male dominated genre as SFF, trying to be heard and most of all READ. The general prejudice I’ve heard is that somehow, due to our genitals, we are unable to write dark, gritty, bloody work of complexity, that we are somehow lightweight or prone to put romance in. None of which is true of course. As a library worker, I try to open eyes, so I talk to these customers about women writers who write weighty tomes, dark crime, gritty SFF etc, Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, Stella Rimmington, Ursula Le Guin, NK Jemisin, Jen Williams, Susanna Clarke etc. Why this blog post is SO great, is that it is trying to focus people’s attention back on the issue that really matters – not the arguments, the hateful rhetoric on twitter etc, but actually on the issue itself – of trying to bring more diverse voices into fiction. Of trying to make fiction more representative of the diverse cultures and countries we live in. It is not about stopping other people’s voices, or political correctness, or oppression of any kind, it is about inclusion. Including more diversity in fiction, why is that scary to some people? How can inclusiveness and diversity possibly offend or threaten anyone? Great post!😀


There have been quite a few awful blog posts, videos and speeches given regarding the discussion of diversity in publishing in the past few weeks. Some of these opinion pieces have led to harassment, to trolling, to people leaving Twitter and blocking half a village.

There has been a push towards inclusiveness in the publishing world lately and it’s normal to see push back. Change always begets fear. Fear sometimes leads to opposition. Like any discussion on any sensitive topic there will be people who get upset, people who take it to the extreme with things like death threats which are completely ridiculous, and people who express their anger pointedly.

The discussion about diversity has largely been about one message: creating space for all of us. Yet, over and over again, I see authors and bloggers choose to focus on the anger that is a part of the discussion instead…

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Struggling authors, please read.

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This is SO true! All us writers are often plagued by self-doubt and from time to time we do feel like giving up, that we’re wasting our time and spilling our guts onto paper just for them to be lost in the ether amongst all the other millions of writers vying for attention. But is so important that we cherish our own personal journey and keep going, here’s why…

Author Kyle Perkins

By Kyle Perkins.

So lately I have heard from a few people that they feel like they should just give up on writing because for whatever reason, they are feeling like it just isn’t worth it anymore. Whether they feel like they aren’t getting enough attention, don’t have enough fans, or whatever the case may be, they are wrong, and here’s why.

Writers and authors have a gift, and because we have that gift, we have an obligation, a responsibility to use it. We may “just” arrange words in such a fashion that people enjoy reading them, but a heart surgeon “just” transplants hearts, and astronauts “just” go to space. We need to stop treating writing like it is simply a hobby that “anyone” can do, because that’s not the case. We “just” take people to places they can’t go on their own, and give them a form of escapism…

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Battling the Great ‘D’!


The Great ‘D’ – depression.

I’ve battled with this nasty bottom dweller since I was a teen, not just the usual teenage angst but something fundamentally more serious and frightening. Well, it’s true to say that I have been struggling again these last few months.

The problem with depression isn’t merely the ‘being down’, the negative thoughts, the brain paralysing fears and paranoia’s and the black pit of despair, it is also the straight jacket, the feeling of having your hands and feet tied whilst being asked to continue with ‘normal’ daily life. A total impossibility. Depression is a paralyser of creativity, ideas, ‘normal’ cognitive function, it skews and sours everything.

There’s that awful word again – ‘normal’, as when you’re in the grip of depression you feel anything but normal, you imagine your head enlarged, a sign scrawled across your forehead, a big pointy neon sign following you around. Did I mention paranoia? You feel out of control, scrutinised, attacked, beaten, bruised, defeated all at once. It’s the sensation of speeding in an open top car at 110mph with no seat belt while the driver wears a blindfold, yet at the same time feeling as if you’re stuck neck deep in treacle – unable to move, to progress, to do anything. It’s debilitating.

It’s such an insidious condition. I’ve known it’s been creeping up on me for the last few months, that sinking feeling as life’s little or big crisis’s become increasingly more difficult to deal with. None of us can stop life being damn hard, from bad things happening. But when you have depression, you are completely incapable of dealing with them. You become instantly overwhelmed by the smallest thing, and completely smothered by anything larger.

It’s for this reason that I’ve neglected my own lovely blog for so long. I’ve found it virtually impossible to get the energy to blog anything this year and have been utterly incapable of following any of my friend’s wonderful blogs. Every time I saw one of their blog posts pop up on my emails, it just stayed there, accumulating with all the others along with hundreds of emails, probably thousands now.😦

So, a huge apology to any and all of my friends if I’ve been a bit weird of late. I’m usually a great one for doing a ‘swan impression’, appearing in control, the effortless gliding swan, while in truth the legs are peddling manically beneath. That’s me to a T – so busy trying to convince others and myself that everything is okay, that I’m my usual social, bubbly, happy self, when the reality is anything but that. It’s exhausting and a dreadful ‘Catch-22’ cycle, one I find almost impossible to break. Perhaps it’s a confidence issue, but I’m just so used to putting up a front, the happy exterior that I don’t seem to be able to let that slip and allow people to see me down. Reality bites.

I think the only time in my life that I’ve really ever broken down and cried in public was at my friend’s funeral. So, to anyone who suffers from depression, whether you put on a brave face like me or are able to be open and honest about it, you have my heartfelt sympathies. It sucks. And to anyone who knows someone who is struggling, please be patient with them and if they appear okay, look a little closer. No-one builds a wall better than someone battling depression, we’re experts at hiding from the world, our friends, ourselves.

At the moment, I admit I am drowning slightly. Life worries are weighing heavily and those worst dark impulses are louder than ever. So, trying to be positive and drag myself out of this cycle, I have promised myself to try and list 5 things every day that are positive or make me happy, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant.

So here goes:

  1. A notable and prestigious writer has approached me to do a fantasy map commission for her amazing books. I am both thrilled and honoured.
  2. I have a lovely meeting of my gorgeous fellow Grimbold authors and friends at my place this Sunday for a big BBQ. I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to this and what a light in a dark tunnel it’s been.
  3. I am perpetually thankful for the family that I do have. I love them all dearly.
  4. My four gorgeous doggies bring me laughter and light every day.
  5. Despite my job being terribly low paid, I do absolutely love it and love the people I work with.

There, 5 things to be thankful for. If you are struggling with any kind of depression, mental illness or anything else, then please take the time to breathe, look around you and find 5 things that make your life better/easier/happier. It’s so so easy to be swamped in a negative mire and forget to look up and really see what you have.

I will also try to blog again and when I can (without beating myself up anymore), read and support my lovely friend’s blogs…it may just take me a little time.

Take care and remember to be kind to yourself as well – you can’t help others if you’ve fallen yourself.❤ xxxx


Writing: Wise Words to Inspire and Motivate Indie Authors

A great blog post for inspiration here, by Debbie Young. Check it out folks!😀


Wise words from great writers to inspire indie authors to keep writing and self-pubishing their books, courtesy of author members of the Alliance of Independent

Source: Writing: Wise Words to Inspire and Motivate Indie Authors

Is it me that’s nuts or them?

Brilliant post by MT McGuire that perfectly captures how I’ve been feeling during this divisive and toxic EU referendum. xx

M T McGuire Authorholic

WARNING!!!! There is swearing in this post. Actually, thinking about it, if you are offended by swearing what on earth are you doing here on my potty-mouthed blog? No but seriously, there is swearing, so please don’t read this if effing and blinding (and ranting) offends you.

Right, if all the non-swearers have left, on we go.

Rant mode activated.

Lately, I’ve been slightly worried that I might, perhaps, be going nuts. Perhaps it’s just the mean spirited horrid climate of the EU referendum that’s making me feel out of sorts. After all, while the folks voting leave are not all racist, you can bet all the racists will be voting leave. And then you get Farage with his smug bull frog grin and his ‘At Breaking’ Point’ poster aimed at brown people. I know I shouldn’t single him out but it’s so hard not to. Well, Mr Farage, Boris…

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Life in perspective – car crashes, glass and tears.


This rant…ahem, post was written a couple of months ago, but, I was feeling too delicate to post it. Although the situation is still ongoing – lawyers and insurance companies take FOREVER, I thought I’d post it anyway.🙂


On Saturday 13th February I was involved in a rather serious car crash. I say involved…I was driving to work when I approached a set of traffic lights at the Tetbury A46 junction in Gloucestershire, UK. I slowed down but then the lights turned to green as I approached so I thought, “Great, I can keep going!”

Two cars on the opposite side of the junction were indicating to turn right, across my path. They are supposed to wait and give way to incoming traffic, as the yellow signs say. They did not. The first black car crossed right in front of me, I flashed my lights at him and slammed my feet on the brakes. The second blue car hesitated and stopped, as they should. “Great I thought, bloody right, it’s my right of way!”. So I continued on…unfortunately the idiot woman in the blue car then changed her mind and thought she could somehow make her illegal right turn in front of me before I reached her. She was wrong.

As I’m crossing the road this woman’s car slams right into me, ramming into the side of my car, shattering the windows, setting off the door airbag (which I didn’t even know I had) and ramming my car off the road and towards a solid stone wall. With the force of the impact, according to the police themselves, if I had hit that wall head on I would not be here. They actually praised my driving! The strange thing is the whole thing happened in slow motion. I remember suddenly being slammed into then the wall coming up, I managed to turn the steering wheel and slam my foot on the brakes as I was sliding, missing the trees and solid wall completely and resting high way up the grassy verge.

I sat there in stunned silence, covered in glass. The woman who rammed me was already on her phone, I suspect she was on her phone when she crashed into me. She asked if I was alright but I couldn’t answer.

A very kind passer-by stopped and helped me. The car was filling up with smoke. The driver’s side was completely mangled, so he opened the passer door and helped me out. I was shaking violently and couldn’t stop crying. He put his coat around me and eased me back to his car to sit in the warmth. He and his kind lovely wife looked after me, gathered my bag and things and were just…amazing. I can’t thank them enough.

The police and ambulance turned up. The police took my statement, between my ridiculous sobbing.

The shock still hasn’t sunk in fully. In over twenty years of driving, I’ve never had a point on my licence or even a parking ticket and have never been involved in a crash.

The car, my beloved car, is completely totalled – a total right-off. Her car had damage to the front corner where she drove into me, but looks easily fixable. The woman in question looked wealthy, well-to-do, but me? I’m on minimum wage, money is so tight it keeps me awake at night. Long gone are the days when I was teaching and on a high salary when I could afford a new car. Since my illness ended my teaching career and a job I had slogged my guts out for 12 years, I am unable to work full-time and can’t teach at all as I get too dizzy and sick. So, having always worked, I found myself in a dire situation, no job but still with a hefty mortgage and huge bills to pay. I ended up finding a lovely part-time job working in a library with lovely supportive people which also gives me time to continue my writing. The only down-side, is that the pay is terrible, minimum wage, so when something like this happens it is truly devastating.

Despite having insurance, at best it will still leave me without a car in the short term (and living in the sticks that’s no joke) but could possibly leave me without a car in the long term. My car is 6 years old and worth very little now, so the probability of my being able to get the same car again on that money is remote to say the least.

The ambulance checked me out, whiplash, bruising, shock and a few cuts from the glass but miraculously unhurt given the force of the impact. Of course I was shaking uncontrollably and couldn’t stop crying. But I must say a huge THANK YOU to the Gloucestershire police and ambulance service and a MASSIVE thank you to my knight in shining armour, Neil Fraser and your wife…the kindness of strangers, eh? THANK YOU so much for looking after me, in my worst blubbering state.❤ xxx

I was picked up and taken home, was sick with terrible head pain and promptly fell asleep for about 6 hours+. Amazing how the body goes into preservation mode and there is nothing as restorative as sleep. And yes, shock meant that I was absolutely FREEZING. So now I’m at home, finally awake and under a pile of duvets and copious amounts of sweet tea. My whole right side especially my hips, neck and shoulders are very painful and will no doubt come up in an assortment of bruise colours, but despite feeling rather sorry for myself, being desperately worried about the money/car situation and being very angry at that stupid cow who caused all this…I have also been very lucky and I know it.

So…in the spirit of recognising when something could have been so much worse…I forgive that driver. Yes your actions were stupid and thoughtless and I’ve been the victim of them, but, it was an accident an occurrence with no malice behind it. So, I forgive you.

Tomorrow, I will have to take a deep breath and deal with life again. My crunched car is still out there on that verge where it was rammed into, albeit with a police sticker on it. So tomorrow I will have to phone the insurance people, garages etc and get it towed and start the whole process. My lovely work colleague even phoned when I was asleep and has even sorted cover for my shifts on Monday knowing I’ll be too shaky, which I will be. I still have pretty bad head pain and pain all over really, but I am a lucky lady…

So…what is the lesson to be learned from this?

  • The kindness of strangers really is a thing, a beautiful thing.
  • When you’re feeling down, or if things are going badly, just take a deep breath and realise that things could be so much worse.
  • At the end of the day, despite our worries, the pain we may carry (emotional, mental or physical) …we are all pretty lucky.🙂 xxxx

Love to you all and drive safe.❤