Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Mapping the Story

I love it when a novel comes with a map.

What would Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings be without that wonderful map of Middle Earth and more recently, Westeros in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. A map brings a place to life, helps you place your characters and makes you feel an integral part of the tale.

When I began writing the new Rhona MacLeod novel, None but the Dead, I knew it had to have a map. Earlier Rhona novels have featured Glasgow and Edinburgh, although she also ventured at times into rural Scotland. In the city-set books, I use real places, streets and buildings, easily located at a mouse click on any online map.

When I decided  to set Book 11 predominantly on the island of Sanday in the Orkney Isles, it seemed impossible to imagine it without the inclusion of a map.

Cut off from the rest of Orkney, and Scotland, by bad weather, in None but the Dead, Sanday becomes an almost mythical land, like Middle Earth or Westeros, where its imagined inhabitants (I make them up) take part in the dramatic unfolding of a tale that encompasses the distant past, the recent past and the present.

Evidence of the past is everywhere on the island, Neolithic remains sitting side by side with the remnants of both world wars.

The landscape, the shorelines,  the distinctive soils of the island all have a part to play in the story, even sometimes a forensic role. I created the small hand drawn map below as my initial guide.

Gradually it evolved, via my publishers, into the final map for inclusion in the book.

Delving into the wonderful Orkney archives at the library in Kirkwall, I found a strange part-drawing, part-photograph, of the famous Start Lighthouse in the eastern tip of Sanday, where part of the story takes place. This became the the inspiration for the suitably sinister book cover image.

The archive too was an excellent source for old school photographs showing Sanday children of the past, who also play a pivotal role in the story.