Maybe it was the Hundred Acre Wood in Winnie-The-Pooh. Or perhaps the old auto club strip maps my mother thrust at us on the never-ending annual childhood road trips between Sydney and Melbourne. All I know is that I love maps.
There’s an air of expectancy when I open a book and see a map in the front. Either I need to know the lay of the land as in a murder mystery like Minette Walters’ The Ice House. Or it’s an invitation to enter an imaginary place created by an author as in William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.
I started to collect maps in my late twenties when I bought a pair of these original maps of English counties dated 1614. I love their beautiful jewel colours, latin names and fancy lettering. They would once have been part of a large and expensive portfolio belonging to a gentleman’s library. Luckily they’re now mine.
Later I acquired this original Georgian Strip map of 1765 (predecessor of the auto club strip maps of my youth) which came from The Gentleman’s Magazine. Designed to guide the traveller from London to Lands End by the great turnpike roads of the era, this is my favourite map. The delicate pastel coloured strips differentiate the counties giving the map an attractive graphic quality. But it’s the imaginary journey I take alongside that gentleman that makes my heart race. We set off from ‘Hide Park Gate’ and pass through the little villages of ‘Chelsey’ and Hammersmith. And in my imagination I’m not sitting inside, all corseted up. I’m up top beside the driver. The names of large houses and directions like ‘to the moor’, ‘the college’ and ‘to the mill’ make this an intriguing map. What college? And which mill?
To say that HM Government’s Ordnance survey maps of England have given me hours of pleasure probably sounds very dull. But in my 30’s I caught the rambling bug and the romance of English long distance footpaths captured me. I acquired piles of OS maps to trek these paths. Later I used those same maps to identify, if I could, those intriguing mills and colleges from the 1765 map. They’ve also been invaluable for family history, helping to locate family farms and mining leases.
My map fetish extends to collecting quirky handwritten walking guides like A Wiltshire Way. I love to think of some geeky rambler standing in the freezing cold, blowing on frozen fingers to warm them enough to draw the pictures. I love the little cotton floss trees, the careful script. I love that he has stopped to draw a stile or church and include them on the map in the manner of a medieval monk decorating a manuscript. It’s about time and care. This man is more than a walker. He’s a creator. And I wonder whether that gate, noted as ‘always locked’ in 1982, has ever been unlocked?
One of the things most complimented in Her Italian Aristocrat is the portrayal of an Italian hill town setting. Whilst I gripped my wrist and resisted the urge to draw a map, I did see that town so vividly in my mind’s eye. My hero and heroine spend a fair bit of time on the streets of Montefigore and I hope, map or not, that I’ve managed to convey that sense of place.