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

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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.

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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)!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!).  🙂

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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

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🙂 xxxx

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Distant Worlds – Welcomes Sophie E Tallis!

This is the eighth post of a brand new blog series, as I dip my toes into the mysterious waters of author interviews – and as today is my birthday (gulp) and the auspicious publishing date for a very cool fantasy/sci-fi charity anthology I’m in (A World Of Their Own), it’s my turn to be in the hot ejector seat!

Having watched so many fantastic interviewers (Tricia Drammeh and her Authors to Watch, AFE Smith (see below), Katrina Jack and her New Authors section and Susan Finlay’s Meet the Author to name a few of the best – please check out their wonderful blogs), I’ve always been a little reluctant to throw my hat into the ring…but here goes!

One of my all-time favourite worldbuilding PC games, is Sid Meier’s ‘Alpha Centauri’. So, in homage to that (and a shameless rip off of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ and AFE Smith’s brilliant blog series Barren Island Books), here is my own author interview series – Distant Worlds.

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To kick off the Distant Worlds strand, over the last few weeks I’ve been focusing on fellow fantasy and sci-fi authors from ultra-cool UK publishing house, Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink and Tenebris Books – a bunch of uber talented and whacky characters who I am also proud to call friends.

Grimbold Books were also doing a fabulous ‘Summer Promotion’ from 31st July – 4th August, where ALL of its wonderful titles were priced at only 99p/99c across Amazon platforms. Now, although the promotion is now over, there are still great bargains to be had, so grab yourself something special before the prices go back to normal! Awesome fiction at awesome prices!!!! hyperurl.co/GrimboldBooks 

Right, now to our eighth author interview…epic fantasy writer and illustrator…

Sophie E Tallis

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Sophie, YOU find yourself cast adrift in deep space, your colony pod’s life support is failing, your only chance of survival is a distant habitable world…

What 5 essentials would you choose to help you survive?

I always think of Ray Mears here, who undoubtedly would say fresh water, shelter, food and fire would be essentials. So, I’d take my very handy Swiss Army penknife with a ridiculous amount of useful tools in it, a waterproof and spider proof tent (essential for me!), a lighter, plastic bottle for water and warm blanket.  🙂

What 5 personal items would you salvage from your crashed ship before it explodes?

If I couldn’t take my four gorgeous white wolves with me and my family and friends, then I’d have to grab paper, pens, pencils, photos and some kind of music. If I can’t draw or write I’d go crazy pretty quickly and I need to have music.

Would you seek life-forms for help or go it alone?

I’m such an anti-social sod, I’d probably enjoy going it alone.

What 5 fantasy/sci-fi books would you have to keep with you and why?

It’s almost impossible choosing only 5 books because I love so many, but I’d probably mostly choose the classics, things I know I love already and can read again and again. (There may be some cheating here!)

  1. The Complete works of Philip K Dick (I LOVE ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, ‘A Scanner Darkly’, but also his short stories are awesome, ‘Minority Report’, ‘Total Recall’)
  2. The Complete works of JRR Tolkien (are you seeing a pattern here?)
  3. The Complete works of Frank Herbert (Dune has proved a very popular choice in these interviews, why? Because it is awesome!)
  4. The Complete works of GRR Martin (these are such large tomes they should keep me going for a while.)
  5. The Complete works of Joseph Conrad (yeap, strange choice perhaps, but I love ‘Heart of Darkness’)

What 5 songs or albums could you not live without?

I have incredibly eclectic tastes, but will leave out my opera and heavy metal albums.

  1. OK Computer – Radiohead (this was the sound track to my 4 month backpacking trip around New Zealand in 97/98. Awesome band, awesome album.)
  2. Pure Cult – best of The Cult (also part of my NZ soundtrack)
  3. Best of Vaughan Williams – I love Fantastia on a theme of Thomas Tallis, the soundtrack to White Mountain.
  4. Ten – Pearl Jam (great album and a huge part of my student days, when all I listened to was Grunge Rock – Soundgarden, MotherLoveBone, Soul Asylum, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Live…ahhh, the endless lumberjack check shirts, youth angst and long dirty hair!)
  5. Best of Blondie – (I wanted to be Debbie Harry!)

You are all alone on a distant world with little chance of being rescued…do you choose water, vodka or coca-cola to drown your sorrows?

Sadly water. Still can’t drink vodka since my missing 24hour memory gap from a binge when I was 17, and I don’t want Coca-Cola rotten teeth.

Random comet question: If you had to live somewhere else, would you chose Westeros or Middle-Earth?

I think Westeros would be awesome, but as much as I’d like to see myself as a strong survivor mother of dragons type, in reality I’d end up being murdered in about 5 mins by a drunk dwarf or have my head squashed by the Mountain. So I’ll be a coward and will choose a nice quiet corner in Middle-Earth, maybe the Grey Havens, and settle down with a dingy and a fishing rod.

You have 30 seconds (max 100 words) to tell the alien approaching you about your latest book. Remember this is more pressurised than an elevator pitch – screw up and he’ll eat your brains! Go!

Book 2:

Darkness spreads, as prophetic warnings come to pass and a series of disturbing murders and arson attacks on the world’s great libraries and museums, multiply across the globe.

Morreck the Corruptor, an evil changeling of terrifying strength and sworn enemy of all elder races and humanity alike, has sired a ‘darkling child’, an heir that could bring about the destruction of the world.

The hunt is on and the war to end all wars is about to begin…

How would you choose to spend your time on this distant world?

Drawing, painting if I can make up some pigments from the surrounding materials available, and of course, writing.

What 5 things would you miss most about Earth?

In no order. My dogs, my family and friends, birdsong and nature in general (especially forests, Dartmoor, blue oceans).

What 5 things would you NOT miss about Earth?

Where do I start? Religion, war (often caused by religion or ego), pollution (including crappy reality TV), capitalistic greed and right-wing ***holes (the Tories and Republican Party).

Time-traveller questions (for Dr. Who fans): If you had the chance again to go on this deep space adventure, would you take it?

Yes, I think I would. 🙂

What is the one thing you wish you could turn back time and change?

Wow, there are so many things I wish I could replay and do differently. I don’t dwell on my regrets, life is too short, but…Yes, our struggles and strife make us the people we are, but I think I could have done with less character building and more happiness. I wish I could have stood up to the toxic people in my life earlier, before they caused all the damage they did, especially my ultra-violent alcoholic father, and just told him to…ahem off and then gotten on with my life.

What 5 indie authors and books you would recommend to any carbon based lifeform – and why?

Again, its so tricky to pick only 5, I have about 8 indie books on the go at the moment with a TBR pile of gargantuan proportions!

  1. Vortex – by Lindsey J Parsons. I admit that this is a sentimental choice for my dear friend who sadly passed away last year, but it’s also a great book!
  2. In Search of Gods and Heroes – by Sammy HK Smith. I haven’t finished this book yet, yes I’m slow, but it’s a brilliant book already.
  3. The Cooper Promise – Jen Williams. Okay, strictly speaking not an indie author as she is with one of the Big 5 publishers, but she’s a new writer and this was her debut and from what I’ve read…wow!
  4. The Art of Forgetting – by Joanne Hall, another awesome book I have started and am hugely enjoying.
  5. Willow Weep No More – An anthology of dark fairy tales by Tenebris Books, full of real gems.
  6. Yes, it’s my birthday so I’m picking 6 books! Songs of Seraphina – by Jude Houghton. I drew the fantasy map for this book which got me really interested in reading it. I’ve only just started, but it’s great!

What advice can you give to fellow space travellers (writers and readers) out there?

Put the effort in and don’t rush yourself. Yes, there are plenty of authors out there who can whisk off a new book every few months and good luck to them, if you’re not one of those (which I certainly am not), then don’t rush yourself. Write the very best book you can and worry about time scales later, if it’s good enough it will be worth the wait. Do your research, treat the readers with respect, even if you only use a fraction of that research in your novel, the readers will thank you for putting the effort into your worldbuilding.

Before we leave you and blast into another parallel universe, please tell us about yourself, your inspirations and your publishers!

SAM_5206Sophie E Tallis in her own words…

I won’t use my standard bio because, hey, I’m getting bored of it!

Okay, I’m a glacially slow writer, who loves fantasy, science-fiction and most things of a nerdish nature. After 16 years of full time teaching I’ve swapped 50+ hour weeks, horrible office politics and heavy workloads for part-time, low stress work in a library surrounded by books and lovely people! Do I miss my old job? Er, no! When I’m not working, I’m juggling writing, illustrating and managing a hectic life with my four enormous white wolves who keep life very…ahem, interesting!

My inspirations are life, great writing and the natural world around me.

My publishers, Grimbold Books, well, what can say? I owe them so much. They did a beautiful job on my novel, real care taken and what a gorgeous cover! I won’t hark on about the past, but my first publishers were terrible people to deal with, just a thoroughly horrible, scarring experience, but Grimbold Books and their imprints, Kristell Ink and Tenebris Books couldn’t be more different – professional, author-friendly, honest, just lovely people who have your back and want the best for you and your novel.

My debut novel, epic fantasy, White Mountain, was re-published 1st December 2014 and I’m busy writing the sequel (slowly). I also write short stories and poetry and have 7 short stories being published this year in various anthologies.

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  • A World Of Their Own – An awesome anthology of fantasy, sci-fi and literary short stories by ‘The Alliance of Worldbuilders’ (AWB) is published 4th September 2015 (TODAY!!!!!). ALL profits go to a charity, a very worthy cause – The World Literacy Fund. I have three short stories in the anthology, ‘The Wishing Tree’, ‘Happiness is a lie’, and ‘The Artist’ as well as 6 fab illustrations. Amazon UK  &  Amazon US 
  • H is for HawkesburyH is for Hawkesbury – An anthology of short stories, poetry and novel extracts from the inaugural Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival, published 19th August 2015. I did the illustration for the front cover and have one of my favourite ‘White Mountain’ excerpts in it – Amazon UK 
  • Fight-Like-A-Girl coverFight Like A Girl – A kick-ass anthology of women writers focusing on strong female protagonists who kick arse. I have an awesome sci-fi short story in this, ‘Silent Running’. To be published Autumn/Winter 2015 by Kristell Ink.
  • The Orphan and the Iron Troll (borderless)Shadows of the Oak – A wonderfully dark collection of equally dark fairy tales and sequel to ‘Willow Weep No More’. I have a magical Russian fairy tale, ‘The Orphan and the Iron Troll’, in this and the illustration I did to go with it. To be published Autumn/Winter 2015 by Tenebris Books.
  • I’ll be a little mysterious now as the details still need to be worked out, but there are two brand new ‘White Mountain’ short stories I’m hoping will tide over fans until Book 2 is ready next year. Very exciting!

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Book Blurb:

A dying world hidden from our own. An ancient people conquered by human progress. A ruthless changeling bent on revenge and power…and a sorcerer and dragon determined to stop him.

Amongst our modern world, lies another. An archaic and hidden world of tradition, sorcery and magic. Lost, long before the last Ice Age and barely surviving beneath the onslaught of human advance, it now faces its greatest challenge and its bitterest enemy.

As dark demons awaken from the past and a series of sinister disappearances and murders plague the secret cities of the few remaining elder tribes, a group of disparate travellers race against time to save a friend and destroy an evil that threatens to swallow us all…

***

Thank you, Sophie. Yes, congratulations, you are survivor! A decrepit mining transport has honed in on your distress beacon, you’re going home!!!

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Happy Horizons! 😀 xxx