My last post about young writing projects turned my mind towards thinking about another small obsession of mine: maps. Historical maps, speculative maps, fantasy maps. There’s something about maps that fired my imagination as a child and still does today.

Maps are fascinating artefacts. For all their claims to representing the real world, they’re just as surely artistic endeavours that result from a series of choices made on the part of the cartographer; choices like naming and colour and notation. Like writing, maps embed narratives, can suggest stories. A medieval mappa mundi marries geography and chronology in a weird symbolic system that takes whole scholarly monographs to sort out. The map on an overleaf in a fantasy novel is an enticement and a promise and a one-glance summary. Maps can do all sorts of things.

I doubt my early efforts exploited all of them.

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I have a feeling every long-time fantasy reader has one. Usually, it’s the high school magnum opus epic fantasy novel with dragons and wish fulfillment. Sometimes, the urge to write a book comes earlier. In my case, it came when I was twelve. I still have the old notebook somewhere containing 250 pages of pencil scribbles and drawings of landscapes and swords. The only oddity was that I wrote a historical novel. “Historical” in the loosest sense, of course; I didn’t even have access to the internet at the time and the closest thing at hand was a set of out-of-date encyclopaedias from the 1970s. Oh, and what I gleaned from the terrible historical novels I binged on, which seemed to use the same source.

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Cover Confusion

I dropped by the used bookstore yesterday and found two editions of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Beginning Place side by side. An old one:

And a recent reprint:

The back cover blurbs seem to describe completely different books. Indeed, these don’t look like the same book at all. I stood there in bemusement at how greatly marketing and design trends in publishing have shifted over the years.

This probably reveals a lot about my own marketing non-savvy, but while the second cover is more technically accomplished…I prefer the unassuming quietude of the older cover.

Podcast Image

The podcast is (finally) available on iTunes and Stitcher! And I even made a nifty logo. Links below…

One Last Sketch on iTunes

One Last Sketch on Stitcher

We discuss Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson (which I already reviewed here), then get caught up in a discussion about Canada Reads and CanLit.

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Source of our theme song

Canada Reads 2008

The Old Religion

I picked up Witch Child (Bloomsbury, 2000) by Celia Rees because of its striking cover: a sepia-toned photo of a young woman staring back you. I took it home because it was a YA historical novel revolving around witchcraft trials in England and New England in the 17th century, and I wanted to see what Rees had to say about them. The story was also potentially compelling: the life of a granddaughter of an accused witch who crosses the sea to Salem.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get very far before I had to put it down. Because of this bit:

This must be the great Temple of the Winds. My grandmother had told me about it. A circle of stones, much, much greater than any other, built far to the south of us. Such places are sacred to those who live by the Old Religion. At certain times of the year my grandmother would set off for some stones that lay a day’s journey or so from where we lived. [...] The rituals practised there were mysteries, the celebrants known only to each other. (31)

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The CBC radio show Q ran an interview a while back with a woman who claimed that we stay stuck in the same roles that we had in high school. Adolescence was liquid cement, and by the time you leave it, you’re firmly shaped and set by those experiences and can’t escape them. Who we were in high school is who we are forever. You can’t get over high school, because high school is you.

It’s true that the teenage years have a looming cultural presence in North America in television and film. Our culture celebrates youth. We’ve even dedicated a whole section of the bookstore to novels aimed at teenagers–something that didn’t exist when I was that age.

Still, the thought of this absolutely terrifies me. One, because my high school experience was mostly unpleasant and mostly forgotten. Two, because when I think back, I’m not very proud of the person I was.

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