X marks the spot

I love old maps and always stop and browse when I see one, online or in a shop.

I was always delighted whenever my daughter had to make one for school. Luckily, this happened quite a few times, thanks to recurring projects on treasure, pirates, seafaring journeys and suchlike. Huzzah.

We’d go to town. First, we needed decent quality paper. Old wallpaper lining paper always worked well.

Then we’d tear out a rough shape, and move to round 2: staining it with teabags to get the old parchment look.

When Lauren was older, we distressed it more, singing the edges with matches. I always had a washing-up bowl filled with cold water to hand, just in case. Let me stress this: we never once set off the fire alarm. Not really.

Then it was old fountain pens, brown ink, squiggly writing, and of course, the outline of the mysterious island with a large X marking the spot.
We were professionals. We didn’t stop there. Blood stains, creasing, thumb prints … all extra details to make it look as this particular map had changed hands many times. Very dirty hands.

Then, the official curling up of the edges, followed by fiddling about with a ribbon. Once, we even added a royal seal. The wax was from an old Babybel cheese in the fridge.

The only maps I like better are those at the front of a book.

The second my gaze lands on one, I just know I’ll love the story. Any author who feels the urge to add a map obviously has the right mindset, in my opinion.

Of course, I applaud the desire to make the locations absolutely clear, but a map in a book is so much more. It’s an insight into the style of the story and, more importantly, a glimpse into the author’s mind.

I fancied adding a map to an adventure story I wrote called Ice Trekker. I can’t draw, but I can Photoshop. Thank goodness there are loads of copyright-free maps to mess about with. It took a while, but after stamp-cloning, skewing, colour matching and all manner of filters and tweaks, I got there.

I was editing the book at the time, swapping from one job to the other, and doing the map helped ensure the mythical journey was consistent. This was much harder than I’d realised. I have to admit I caught myself out on a few occasions, so it was a useful exercise.

Now, I sketch out a map right at the very start and keep it by me as I write. It saves me weeks in the end.

It’s pretty rough and ready, but as long as I can read it, that’s fine. I’m working on a new one at the moment for The Cloud Pearl, first part of Legends of Liria, and I need a map of the mythical land and its six cities. Hmm. What symbol should I use for a hidden cave?

By Pamela Kelt


  1. How exciting to make your own. My OH (ancient mariner) is fascinated by old maps, especially of this area. He loves to trace old railway and tram routes and can point them out as we're driving which isn't nearly as boring as it sounds!

    1. Not at all! Whenever we go on holiday, I simply have to have maps. In fact, we're off to Dublin shortly and I'm actually in the process of downloading a city map now!

  2. Yay! I love old maps too. A reader who reviewed my novel 'The Beltane Choice' commented that she could have done with a map of Britannia. To that end, my sequel has been written with a hand drawn map being built as I write. Don't know how to work my Photoshop yet (got it for my recent b'day but might consult you nearer the time when I'm ready for it -if you're a dab hand at it, Pam. :-)

  3. I do like to dabble, but it can become a tool of procrastination! In fact, I did do a little course a few years (when between jobs). It really helped. Some online video tutorials are quite good for fiddly fades and such like. Good luck! Thanks for commenting.

  4. I had no idea about the maps in photoshop. I'll have to take a look, as I've been toying with a map for my books. I have one I sketched so I could see things, but am not sure it would work well in a book. Thanks, Pam!


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