Handouts as a structuring principle, mockups for getting things done

Mock-ups of a book of map making instructions

For the 1-hour drop-in map workshop at BWF, I made little zine-fold (aka 8-fold) booklets, which I put in little mermaid-stamped envelopes with little pencils and little pieces of nice drawing paper. (I think I learned this in primary school, but there are plenty of instructions for this sort of booklet online, e.g. wikiHow.)

Above, you can see the mock-up process (the easiest way to turn a vague idea into something real: Mockups and outlines).

Photo of yellow envelopes stamped with a linocut mermaid, with versafine clair stamp pad and hand-carved stamp in foreground
  • I folded a piece of paper into a booklet and really quickly, without thinking too hard, scribbled the whole layout into it. Then I went back over and drew all over that with arrows, moving things around — but that hand-drawn version has almost everything in it.
  • Then I drew up a template in Photoshop, with shading for margins and areas that wouldn’t print, so I knew what I had to work with.
  • I put the main text roughly into place, and then put in the example images I already had (I’d deliberately drawn some calendar pages and other illustration to give me examples for map workshops — see for example Tiny Forests and Banners).
  • I printed that out, and used it as a template to draw all the extra details around, like the map and lettering on the front cover.
  • Then my housemate and I proofread it a few times, and I spent some pleasant hours cutting and folding and listening to music.

Was this overkill for a free one-hour drop-in workshop? Yes. Was I overcompensating for my own uncertainty as to the exact venue constraints and whether this workshop could be done in an hour? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes.

Designing and folding the booklets took time, but it was proportionate to the result. People enjoyed them (they were awfully cute), and said it was good to have for such a short class, and to be able to take away if they had to leave early (since it was drop-in). And I really liked have a physical object to give people, so I knew they left the workshop with something.

The biggest lesson for me was how useful this sort of booklet/zine/object was in planning and giving the workshop. It’s easy to just go wild with handouts. But this was a single, self-contained object, with a size appropriate to the length of the class (three double-page openings and a wrap-around cover — the flip-side of the paper was blank for people to use as scrap paper). It was something that constrained my natural urge to put ALL THE INFORMATION in a talk, but it was also a prop I could talk to and scale my time around.

It might not apply to every format, but I’d like to experiment with similar (if less-illustrated) scaled handouts as a central structuring object for other workshops.

Photo of whiteboard with very scribbly fairy-tale map on it
The whiteboard by the end of the workshop

I’m adding this to my running list of lessons I’ve learned for giving workshops and presentations (see e.g. lessons for presentations and conferences). I should probably do a master post at some point, but for now the main lessons I have learned (your mileage my vary) are:

  • Use a handout scaled to the workshop size.
  • Do an initial outline very quickly, before overthinking.
  • If a presentation is image based, arrange images in the slideshow first, print them out 9-to-a-page to keep track, then just talk to/about the pictures. Minimal script needed — often any title-slides and maybe one or two scribbled notes of phrases to remember are enough.
  • If a slideshow is image-heavy, export a copy to PDF and use that if the tech set-up allows — you can zoom in on a PDF in ways a Powerpoint doesn’t easily allow.
  • If a script is necessary, use cascading dot-points — this makes it easier to edit for time (skip up to high-level dot-points) or elaborate (by referring to the low-level ones), as well as to navigate quickly.
  • If it’s a creative workshop, get people making things as early as possible.
  • If you want people to interact, get them to share their thoughts/activities in smaller groups, then pick on the groups for any ideas that emerge (giving everyone safety in numbers/plausible deniability).
  • If possible, mixed-age workshops can be great. Adults mellow the kids, kids loosen up the adults, everyone seems more willing to show their work, and if you need someone to act out an implausible action for art reference purposes, young joints are better suited.

Brisbane Writers Festival — Workshops and panels!

The Brisbane Writers Festival 2022 is happening the first week in May, and I will be there!

I’m on two panels:

  • Debuting in a Pandemic with Jacqueline Maley, Sophie Overett and Lyndall Clipstone on Friday 6 May
  • Sweet Sweet Fantasy (sold out) with Lynette Noni, C.S. Pacat, and Samantha Baldry on Saturday 7 May

And I’m giving an observation journal workshop and a brief drop-in map workshop!

How can keeping an observation journal level up your practice as a writer? Join author and illustrator Kathleen Jennings as she demonstrates how a creative journal can awaken your creativity and helps you build a repertoire of exercises that will refine your ideas, techniques, and creative skills.

Every good fantasy adventure needs a map of the world the reader will be journeying through. But have you ever thought of creating your own? Award winning author and illustrator, Kathleen Jennings takes you through a brief introduction to creating a fantastic fantasy map.

And don’t forget entries to the Qld schools Wordplay Microfiction competition (art prompt by me!) close this Friday 22 April 2022.

Cut paper silhouette swirl with fish, birds, person with paper planes

Students are invited to respond to the image in no more than 120 words, using any written format (verse / prose). Shortlisted entrants will be invited to present a reading of their microfiction at the awards ceremony during the Festival.

The winner will receive a cash prize of $1000 thanks to UQ, and a book pack featuring every Word Play 2022 title for their school. 

The award information is on the BWF website here: https://bwf.org.au/whats-on/word-play-2022/microfiction-competition

And the entry form is here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BWF2022MicrofictionCompetition

Observation Journal: Mapping movements in stories

On these observation journal pages, I was thinking about the way stories interact with the space in which they take place. (This was because of a comment about Travelogues, which is very much about moving through landscape.) But the exercise turned into another way to break apart and consider stories, and find new ways in.

I began by quickly noting down the main locations in some favourite fairy tales, and tracking how characters moved between them (see also: The Usefulness of Template Stories).

Below, you can see Little Red Riding Hood (the version with the river and the washerwomen), Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel (the one with later attempted murders), Beauty and the Beast, and Snow White.

Handwritten page with diagrams of locations and movement between them in a series of fairytales

Charting stories like this highlighted some interesting patterns. The shuttling activity of Cinderella, the concentric, narrowing focus of Sleeping Beauty. The increasing distance from home and outward movement of Rapunzel, the ring-road of Little Red Riding Hood.

It also highlighted the places where other locations were implied but not revealed, and the difference between story movement and that of individual characters. For more on that, see Plotted: A Literary Atlas by Andrew DeGraff and Daniel Harmon and Cinemaps: An Atlas of 35 Great Movies by Andrew DeGraff and A. D. Jameson.

Cinderella in particular amused me.

Ballpoint diagram: home and palace, and arrows going there, back, there, back, there, back, back and there

Looked at this way, the focus of the story became the road between home and palace. So a few days later, I took a closer look:

Handwritten notes on movements between locations specified and implied in Cinderella, with some ballpoint and watercolour sketches

There are several nebulous implied locations (where the stepmother and godmother originate from, for example) — they could be expanded, ellided, or conflated.

Ballpoint and watercolour scribbly sketch of a cottage

And while the road is a key location, there is rarely much time spent on it. What would the story look like from the point of view of observers along the way?

Ballpoint and watercolour sketch of farmers leaning on a gate watching a carriage go past, saying "there they go again"

What about the tension between the landscape passing outside the carriage and the anticipation of the person within it? (Tangentially connected post: bored teens in cars.)

Ballpoint and watercolour scribbly sketch of a carriage crossing a bridge and a woman in a pink dress looking out of a carriage

The next day, I was just playing with tiny maps of Cinderella, for fun:

Handwritten notes on locations in Cinderella, with some maps drawn in ballpoint and coloured marker

But while the earlier charts open up the story, the map forces decisions, from aesthetic and style to the details of the world, the number of bridges the carriage should go across, and therefore the waterways and surrounding geography. At least, they do so if you build the world out from the events of the story.

If you fit a story to an existing geography, draping it over a landscape or running it along known roads, it is mostly the story that changes (and, perhaps, the meaning of the landscape). “Gisla and the Three Favours” (published in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet last year) began as an exercise in draping the story of Cinderella over a volcanic landscape, and letting the story change. When writing Flyaway, the process involved introducing several fairy-tale elements to an ill-suited climate and watching them shift — but also letting the mythic weight of those stories become a lens through which to view landscape often written about more cruelly. And Travelogues explicitly involved attaching fantastic and fairy-tale imagery to very real geography and journeys.

I’ve also used this approach when planning and editing a current large project. Here’s a slightly redacted chart of the key locations, to see where movement was concentrated, and where the story opened up or was bottled in.

Map of many messy multicoloured loops between various redacted locations

Here is the same for an early version of an house from the story:

Tiny ballpoint house plan with coloured lines tracking various paths through it

Writing/illustration activity

  • Pick a story (a fairy-tale, a movie with mythic weight, something you’re working on — see The Usefulness of Template Stories).
  • From memory, do a quick rough chart of the key locations, and how characters move between them.
  • Notice and consider:
    • If you notice anything new about the story, or a new angle of approach to it, make a quick note of that.
    • If you wanted to open the story up, make it more claustrophobic, more cosmopolitan or focussed on logistics, what changes could you make to its locations?
  • Write or draw:
    • Are there any locations that don’t get a lot of focus? Implied off-page points of origin (or destination) — where was the woodcutter cutting wood? Heavily trafficked but almost unmentioned roads or driveways? Important outbuildings or waterways (did Sleeping Beauty’s castle have a moat, and what water fed it, and what became of it when everything was overgrown)?
    • Do a quick sketch — written or drawn — of a scene set in that place, or viewed from that point of observation.

Some related posts:

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Ballpoint drawing of a small wheeled suitcase fallen over
From one of the observation pages: my suitcase full of art books for a workshop

Maps in Books: An interview with Kate Prosswimmer, editor

And finally in this series of Wilderlore posts, an interview with KATE PROSSWIMMER, editor at Margaret K. McElderry (Simon & Schuster), who published Amanda Foody’s Wilderlore novels.

Inking of stream on map in progress — visible pen nib

Kate Prosswimmer joined the McElderry team in 2019 after spending five years as an editor at Sourcebooks. She has had the distinct honor of working on acclaimed and award-winning titles including Amanda Foody’s The Accidental Apprentice, F.T. Lukens’ In Deeper Waters, Jess Keatings’ Shark Lady, Annette Bay Pimentel’s All the Way to the Top, and Zoraida Cordova’s Brooklyn Brujas series. Kate is enthusiastically acquiring a list picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction. If she had to distill her taste across all age ranges and genres to one word, it would be “escapist.” She loves mysteries, books that make her ugly cry, atmospheric and unusual settings, middle grade stories that are both whimsical and earnest across all genres, picture books that favor story over message or concept, YA that exists outside everyday settings in both contemporary and speculative genres, and stories across all ages that make the ordinary feel extraordinary.

https://editors.simonandschuster.com/editor/prosswimmer-kate/

For related posts (and much more art)

Photo of inked maps side-by-side on drawing board
The original inks: see more in the illustration process post

1. KJ: What do maps do for you as a reader? Do you have a favourite map (literary or otherwise)?

Kate: I’m a very visual person, the kind of person who remembers faces and not names and uses landmarks to navigate rather than street signs. And when it comes to complicated fantasy worlds that feature unusual names, the struggle can be really compounded! Because of this, I oftentimes feel lost in a story when I can’t visualize the physical journey a character is taking. Maps help an otherwise fantastical world feel more accessible and grounded in a way that allows me to get closer to the characters and the story. I don’t know if I have a particular “favorite” map, but I will tell you that when I was growing up, I pretty much refused to read a book if it didn’t have a map in it! That was the easiest way I knew to identify books with the kind of epic scope and adventure that I was looking for.

2. KJ: How do you decide when to put a map into a book? Why did you want maps in these books?

Kate: Typically, I consider adding maps to any of my books that depend heavily on a complicated or far-ranging setting. That happens most often with fantasy titles, but maps can certainly be helpful in contemporary titles too. If having a map would enrich the reading experience by providing a useful reference point for readers, then I like to try to include one! Amanda Foody created such a rich and exciting world in the Wilderlands, and providing maps for readers felt like a great way to honor that and amplify the reading experience! There’s something about physically seeing a special, magical world that makes it feel more tangible.

3. KJ: Do all maps in books need to do the same thing? Or what are some of the purposes a map might serve?

Kate: Not at all! Some maps are meant to help communicate the enormous scope of a world that sprawls over multiple continents, while others provide a look at how intensely detailed a smaller city full of discoverable nooks and crannies might be.

4. KJ: What’s the process you follow when you’re commissioning a map? Are there any surprises in that process? Has anything ever gone hilariously wrong (that you can talk about)?

Kate: I’m pretty lucky – as the Editor, I get to go to our in-house designer and say “let’s make a map!” From there, I get to sit back and enjoy as they present me with a selection of artists who might be good for the style that we’re looking to employ. We discuss the options before coming to an agreement on who we’d love to reach out to, and then we cross our fingers and hope they’re available! So far, I haven’t had anything go hilariously wrong…*knocks on wood*

5. KJ: What would be your favourite thing to find in a map?

Kate: I love nothing more than to find an extra little world-building detail on the map that isn’t explicitly written in the book. It feels like a special little discovery that’s been placed for the delight of the reader (which is pretty much accurate)!

6. KJ: What would be the worst/funniest book to have a map in, if you could only get away with it?

Kate: Probably a picture book, like THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES – there would be nothing to map out!!

7. KJ: Any questions you’d like me to answer?

Kate: I’d love to know where you start when you begin creating a map? And what’s your favorite part about illustrating maps?

KJ: I start by reading the books and trying to imagine the shape of the world and the lookof the landscape — sometimes it’s clearly described, but often I have to build it out of hints and probabilities. At the same time, I collect little details that might be interesting to fill out the world — creatures and oddities to draw into the corners of the map. My favourite part is finding those twists and ornaments that will help create the feeling of the book, the right way to draw a creek for that forest, or just the right type of fish, or a way to fit in those phrases that suggest the map is unfinished, or hint at what’s over the borders.

More:

More:

Here are the books:

Cover Image of The Accidental Apprentice
Cover art: Petur Antonsson, design by Karyn S Lee

A boy who accidentally bonds with a magical Beast must set off on an adventure in the mysterious Woods in this “wholesome, delightful” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), and cheeky middle grade fantasy debut—perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

Cover image of The Weeping Tide
Cover art: Petur Antonsson, design by Karyn S Lee

Barclay and his friends must save an island city from the Legendary Beast of the Sea in this exciting second book in the Wilderlore series, perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

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Maps in Books: An interview with Karyn Lee, designer

Herewith, an interview about maps in books with KARYN LEE — designer at Simon and Schuster, who art-directed the maps for Amanda Foody’s Wilderlore books.

For related posts (and much more art)

Karyn Lee is a designer at Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, freelance illustrator, and a native New Yorker.

She earned her BFA from Pratt Institute in Communications Design and has since worked for clients such as The Washington Post, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster as a freelance illustrator. Much of her time is spent daydreaming about fancy historical clothing and yet-to-be-drawn botanicals, and nothing gets her by like a carefully curated playlist.

Her design work has been featured in the Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club, The New York Times, and Buzzfeed.

She is represented by Chad W. Beckerman at the CAT Agency (chad@catagencyinc.com).

Check out Karyn’s design work at karynslee.com

1. KJ: What do maps do for you as a reader? Do you have a favourite map (literary or otherwise)?

Karyn: I’m a visual person so maps really help me add that little bit of depth to the world that I build in my head. I love it when books have maps because it really shows how important the geography is to the story and sometimes, in the case of something like… let’s say The Lord of the Rings, it really emphasizes the length of the journey that lies ahead. And it’s always fun to flip back to the map to see where they’re going! The map that has always stuck with me the most is the one in The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer. It was my one of my favorite books growing up and I liked that the map really was a part of the hero’s journey—it turned up on his doorstep with the Phantom Tollbooth! I remember spending a long time staring at it and getting lost in the twisty doldrums and it was just so fun to envision a place with the name “Valley of Sound”.

2. KJ: How do you decide when to put a map into a book? Why did you want maps in these books?

Karyn: I feel we put maps in books that we always think could use an extra bit of world-building. Traditionally, maps are included in books with journeys—long journeys across lands that are unfamiliar and fantastical. For the Wilderlore series, we’re attempting to give young readers more of a vision of this ever-expanding world Amanda has created. This series is a great contender for a map because of the vastness of the world and because Amanda put so much thought into these locations, it’s wonderful for readers to see the time and effort she put into creating it. I hope they go back and reference the map as Barclay and his friends move from place to place.

3. KJ: Do all maps in books need to do the same thing? Or what are some of the purposes a map might serve?

Karyn: Oooh, I don’t know! I’ve always felt maps have been in books with long journeys, but I’m recalling the map in Circe by Madeline Miller that was just an island. And I think in that book, for me, at least, the map really emphasizes how confined Circe’s life was during her exile. I also have seen maps used in crime novels and think that’s a fun idea as a reader could use it to help them envision and solve the crime in the book, trying to figure out where suspects were at the time of the crime. So, I think there’s a ton of possibilities and reasons why a map might be in a book.

4. KJ: What’s the process you follow when you’re commissioning a map? Are there any surprises in that process? Has anything ever gone hilariously wrong (that you can talk about)?

Karyn: I have to say, that this is the first map I’ve worked on! So there’s nothing hilariously wrong that’s happened yet. I think finding the right artist is always the hard thing—there are so many ways to render maps and we wanted something that young readers could really get lost in. And you brought ours to life so perfectly with all the little details and beasts—there are so many things to consider in maps that I’ve never considered before (like… waterways!) I always think it’s interesting when an author has a comment (not just on maps but any art that goes in or on the cover of a book!) where they say like “oh this isn’t quite how I envisioned” because everyone envisions things differently.

5. KJ: What would be your favourite thing to find in a map?

Karyn: Ooh, I don’t know… I like little easter eggs—places in the book that maybe get passed by and mentioned that aren’t fully explored in the text. I love when we still get to see it on the map!

6. KJ: What would be the worst/funniest book to have a map in, if you could only get away with it?

Karyn: I think it would be so funny to have a map in Holes by Louis Sachar—also one of my favorite books from my childhood—the main character, Stanley, is sent to a correctional boot camp where, every day, he’s tasked to dig large holes in the ground “to build character”. It’s an amazing book that is more than it seems. But the setting is essentially a desert full of holes with a mountain range surrounding it, which I think would make for a hilarious map!

More:

Here are the books:

Cover Image of The Accidental Apprentice
Cover art: Petur Antonsson, design by Karyn S Lee

A boy who accidentally bonds with a magical Beast must set off on an adventure in the mysterious Woods in this “wholesome, delightful” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), and cheeky middle grade fantasy debut—perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

Cover image of The Weeping Tide
Cover art: Petur Antonsson, design by Karyn S Lee

Barclay and his friends must save an island city from the Legendary Beast of the Sea in this exciting second book in the Wilderlore series, perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

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Art reveal: WILDERLORE maps

Fantasy map of woodlands

I’m very excited to be able to show you these maps for Amanda Foody’s first two Wilderlore novels: The Accidental Apprentice and The Weeping Tide (art directed by Karyn Lee).

I’ll put up a process post soon, and also map-related interviews with Amanda Foody, Karyn Lee, and Kate Prosswimmer (Amnda’s editor at Simon & Schuster)!

The maps aren’t in the first editions, as I came on board as the series expanded — I understand they will be in newer editions of The Accidental Apprentice (from 1 February) and second edition/hardcover reprints of The Weeping Tide (when they come out — the first edition is out now, though!).

Fantasy map of islands

The books are a splendid middle-grade romp, with a decentralised magical training system which I particularly enjoyed, and some really fabulous animals to draw (also just enough sheep).

Cover Image of The Accidental Apprentice
Cover art: Petur Antonsson

A boy who accidentally bonds with a magical Beast must set off on an adventure in the mysterious Woods in this “wholesome, delightful” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), and cheeky middle grade fantasy debut—perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

Cover image of The Weeping Tide
Cover art: Petur Antonsson

Barclay and his friends must save an island city from the Legendary Beast of the Sea in this exciting second book in the Wilderlore series, perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

On getting maps into books: An interview with Karina Granda

Previously in this series of posts:

Karina Granda, Art Director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, can be found at https://www.instagram.com/karinamakesbooks/. I’ve worked with her now on several books, including the maps and ornaments for Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air series (The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King, and Queen of Nothing), but most recently she was the art director on Samira Ahmed’s new middle-grade fantasy (and science adventure Amira & Hamza: The War for the Worlds, and I worked with her on the map.

She very kindly agreed to be interviewed about putting maps in books (generally, and specifically Amira & Hamza) — and to interview me right back! So halfway through this post the roles flip…

Kathleen 1: What do maps do for you as a reader/art director? Do you have a favourite map (literary or otherwise)? 

Karina: Typically we place our maps at the front of the book, and they are very useful for instances where the reader is being introduced to a new world, and/or where the sense of place and space is very important. We often think of fantasy books since you are entering lands unknown, often built from scratch by the author, and the characters move through a large space, multiple kingdom’s etc. But some are more unconventional. I recently commissioned a map for April Henry’s upcoming book, TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE, which is a thriller that takes place entirely within a motel. The motel map clues the reader into the entrances, the exits, the dead ends–which creates a really interactive experience where the reader can follow the map to chart the action, or try and guess escape routes for themselves! I also love the maps for the AMIRA & HAMZA series because they deal with time and space in such an unconventional way.

Kathleen 2: How do you decide when to put a map into a book? What do you look for in an illustrator, when commissioning maps? 

Karina: When I commission a map, the first thing I think of is the purpose of the map. Does it need to be highly literal? For non-fiction books, or perhaps a book where we are following a war, etc.—we often want to be very exacting about scale, relative positioning, dimensions, landmarks, etc. Or is this one where we can take more artistic liberties? Is this one where we can add more decorations and fun tidbits? Where we can choose which places to emphasize in scale/detail based on significance in the book, and not literal size? For very literal maps, I look for artists that have a cartographer’s approach. If not, I cast a wider net—including some artists that may never have done a map before—but that match the tone and feel of the story (and the art created for the cover). Or perhaps the map is an opportunity for contrast. One thing I found really fun about working on the FOLK OF THE AIR series is that we had these hyper-modern 3D covers, but were able to use the map and interior art to add a softness and whimsy that we needed for a more complete package.

Kathleen 3: Why did you want maps in this book? Did the particular requirements of this map give you any pause? 

Karina: The maps for AMIRA & HAMZA posed quite a unique challenge in that we were not just looking for how to move north to the mountains, or east to the ocean, let’s say; but we are dealing in different dimensions and moments in history. In all honesty, I conceptually understood what Samira wanted, but I did not have the vision for how to execute it in a way that was digestible as a map. But I knew Kathleen is so fantastic at fantasy, and maps, and also in giving extra special care and detail into everything she does, that I knew if she took it on, she would figure it out. And it was truly perfect.

Kathleen 4: Thank you!
Do all maps in books need to do the same thing? Or what are some of the purposes a map might serve? Have there been any Unexpected Moments in Maps in your career? 

Karina: All maps “set the scene”; but I think that can be literal, or more for the purposes of feel/tone. I do my best as an art director to avoid surprises! And really it is out of respect for the time and energy that artists are bringing to the work. So I try to start by seeking out as many details and as much information as possible. Though I have to admit that I was thrown for a loop when it was decided that FOLK OF THE AIR would need different (but similar!) maps in order to adapt to a changing landscape—and our artist works in ink! Series pose the most surprises since it can be the author’s prerogative to introduce change at many points in the process. That said, we were lucky that Holly and Kathleen are both so flexible, and such pros, and we were always able to make it work. ;)

Map for The Wicked King, by Holly Black. Little, Brown 2019

Kathleen 5: What’s the process you follow when you’re commissioning a map? Are there any surprises in that process? Has anything ever gone hilariously wrong (that you can talk about)? 

Karina: First we determine whether we need a more literal or artistic map, and then we look for artists that would complement the style of the art we are pursuing for the jacket. Typically we share some options with the author so they can have a say in the art style too. Then I pose what many authors consider to be a big challenge: Please doodle the map for me. It can be incredibly rough and amateur, but it is very important that we are all on the same page about the relative positions of the different landmarks and locations. And I promise that everyone has been more than capable of providing what we need. I also ask for a list of the landmarks and locations with written descriptions and/or visual references so that the artist has something to work with when adding all their great details. We’ve been lucky to work with so many fantastic artists and authors, that the rest of my job tends to be easy on my end! It mostly entails shepherding and clarifying feedback. But the artists are really the ones working their magic. I am just a gopher. ;)

Kathleen 6: What would be your favourite thing to find in a map? 

Karina: I think all great art for books brings its own level of storytelling. For example, when I think of a good picture book, there is always a little something more being said in the image. It is in conversation with the text, but not just a literal representation of the author’s words. And I think the same can be said for maps. I like finding the hidden characters, the specific flowers that would grow in that forest, the pearl or mermaid in the ocean, etc. I look for all the things the mapmaker brought to the art in order to make it feel vibrant and alive.

Kathleen 7: What would be the worst/funniest book to have a map in, if you could only get away with it? 

Karina: I imagine that any book with a map that would travel through the human body could have a hilarious and also totally gross component. A book like EVERYONE POOPS or TRUE OR POO? Or if there were some non-fiction book about how cities work, you could map some poop or dead goldfish making it’s way through a sewage system. And honestly think some kids would love maps like that. Kids can be totally weird! But that said, maps are always in conversation with the text, so I don’t think it would ever be any weirder than the story the author and publisher have already agreed to put out there!

Kathleen 8: Any questions you’d like me to answer?

Karina: Yes!

Karina 1:  What is your process for taking an author’s words and doodles and giving them an actual shape/drawing/form?

Kathleen: Obviously it depends a little on the final shape. Usually I sketch out the basic layout on the first page of my folded sketch paper, just to keep it in mind. But after that, I like to start by first just reading the manuscript or extracts, and taking notes. Where possible, I take make the notes in pictures. That way I’ve already solved (or identified!) a few problems, and can see at a glance where I might need to do more research — for example, whether certain creatures should be drawn with or without shirts, or whether something “appears” because it becomes relevant or because it magically comes into being (both of these on maps I worked on with you!). That’s where I might play with style, make little wishlists of things I’d like to draw, and so on. 

Sometimes this is like reading through the pencil — it goes straight from the book to the page and I just follow along. Sometimes it is a very complicated logic puzzle — sentences that seem to make sense can be tricky to turn into an actual picture, especially with fantasy! And then I have to get the tone right — what am I doing to the words. A picture can make something more grim, more whimsical, austere, warm…

After that I get more mechanical. I rule up several boxes with the shape I have to work in. Often I’ll make a cardboard template — I have a few standard ones already in my pencil case. They might be only a couple of centimetres/an inch tall. Then I start sketching the strongest ideas into them, very tiny.  I choose the best of those and send them to the art director, so you can consult and choose or suggest variations.

Tiny sketches from developing the map for Amira & Hamza

Karina 2: What is your biggest challenge when creating a map? Or, is there any map you have worked on that has been particularly challenging?

Kathleen: The biggest general challenge, apart from sometimes drawing more trees than I bargained for, is fitting the map into the page. Worlds are very rarely written to exactly fit two open book pages! And that’s working with just one world, and not the multiple tilisms of Amira & Hamza. But I have to fit the world plausibly into that space, and then fill the rest of that space pleasingly, accounting for margins and the area that risks disappearing into the gutter (fold).

Specific challenges vary. Amira & Hamza, with its map that’s more of a conceptual representation of the links and progression between spaces, made me pull right back and ask what a map could and should look like. For Folk of the Air, I had to think about real-world vs fairytale geology in designing the islands — and then fit new details into the sequel maps (splendid fun, but some spatial tinkering!). In two maps I have coming out next year, I had to deal with a lot of unexplored space, and ask how the characters who might have made the maps might have filled those areas up. 

I like to draw maps which capture the feeling of a world, rather than precise distances. But there’s still challenges there — with Folk of the Air, for example, you and I had to consider the ideal balance of whimsy and ominous elements, which led to me adding (among other things) some tiny skulls. But still I need to think a bit about geography — what flows where, or if it’s a slightly 3-dimensional map, what might be obscured by mountains or buildings.

Karina 3: What is the most fun part of working on a map?

Kathleen: The fact that every map is so different! I really do love these little puzzles — and then, once I solve them, getting to fill all the blank spaces with simurghs or mermaids or skulls or ominous toadstools or stars. And getting to put tiny stories and jokes and reinterpretations into the design. And I love how much people who see them get excited about having a world unrolled in front of them.

When I was little, I envied the characters who got to climb into books, and of all the jobs I’ve had, being an illustrator is the closest to that, and of all illustrations, drawing maps is like parachuting in.

Karina 4: What are your favorite maps? Literary or otherwise?

Kathleen: The Muppets travelling by map!

Well, my least favourite is the big wall map I have which is centred on Australia, because it turns out there are good design reasons not to do that: vast oceans on either side, and all the other continents squished around the edges. It’s rubbish for reference, and has made me feel so much further away from everyone all year.

Favourite… Hmm. I love so many — I’ve previously posted links of some of my favourite books of maps. Pauline Baynes’ maps were my first fantasy maps and she was the first illustrator who made me realise what illustration could do. And the maps always make me taste salt air and smell pines in the snow… When I walked into the Tolkien exhibition and saw her maps of Middle Earth — right there, in gouache! — I gasped. And my father used to build 3-dimensional maps out of blankets and cushions, to demonstrate historical events or how our property was laid out. That was when maps first made sense to me, as objects you could — almost — hold and touch and turn to see how the world works. More recently, I really like Elisabeth Alba‘s work, especially her map for Henry Lien’s Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword.

Finally:

And do check out Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds, a rollicking, thrilling middle grade adventure through science, mythology, poetry, and more worlds than you usually get in one map!

New map! Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds

Photo pinched from Samira Ahmed. Cover illustrated by Kim Ekdahl and designed by Karina Granda

New map just dropped!

I was thrilled to do this slightly unusual map (involving multiple worlds!) for Samira Ahmed’s Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds, from Little, Brown.

I’ll post more about the process soon, but in the meantime, please admire the cover art by Kim Ekdahl.

On the day of a rare super blue blood moon eclipse, twelve-year-old Amira and her little brother, Hamza, can’t stop their bickering while attending a special exhibit on medieval Islamic astronomy. While stargazer Amira is wowed by the amazing gadgets, a bored Hamza wanders off, stumbling across the mesmerizing and forbidden Box of the Moon. Amira can only watch in horror as Hamza grabs the defunct box and it springs to life, setting off a series of events that could shatter their world—literally.

Suddenly, day turns to night, everyone around Amira and Hamza falls under a sleep spell, and a chunk of the moon breaks off, hurtling toward them at lightning speed, as they come face-to-face with two otherworldly creatures: jinn.

The jinn reveal that the siblings have a role to play in an ancient prophecy. Together, they must journey to the mystical land of Qaf, battle a great evil, and end a civil war to prevent the moon—the stopper between realms—from breaking apart and unleashing terrifying jinn, devs, and ghuls onto earth. Or they might have to say goodbye to their parents and life as they know it, forever.…

Observation Journal — three thoughts about maps

This page of the observation journal is about maps, as well as about a specific book: Mark Monmonier’s Cartographies of Danger: Mapping Risk in America.

It was a fascinating book (and dense — it took a long time to read and absorb). Also, it was published two decades ago and I HIGHLY recommend reading technical books (outside of your own field) that are 20 years out of date — it takes the pressure off having to remember details accurately and is very useful for conversations at parties, because you can usually find someone who is willing to fill in the gaps.

Three map-specific thoughts on reading it:

  • Every map is rhetorical.
    • I had a very invigorating argument with someone on a panel, once, about whether a particular map could be considered as absolutely objective, and they just CAN’T. Especially military maps, which I think was the focus of our debate.
    • Every map exists for a reason, and makes choices, and needs artificially constructed skills to create and/or read it, and presents views and is intended to accomplish (or enable the reader to accomplish) a purpose. That’s their whole reason for existence! And their fascination, power, and possibility.
    • I’ve made a note here to play more with the idea of maps for hyper-specific purposes, but I’ve already touched on this in a few stories (“Kindling”, in which maps suppress the fantastic, and “The Tangled Streets”, in which maps are an expression of the fantastic), as well as illustrated maps. I approach book maps less as tools for physical orientation than as a pool of narrative possibility into which the reader is about to be pushed.
    • Related to this, and equally subjective: I often enjoy introductory descriptions of the location of a story (separate from character action) when (and because) it plays the same role as an illustrated map (of the type I like).
  • All maps are maps of where the dragons are (or might be, or how far they have been pushed back).
    • This is a more lighthearted argument than the one above, but I’m still prepared to have it.
    • I don’t know why I compared this to applying for grants.
  • That maps (like books) are pins stuck in time.
    • For some reason this thought linked to both the Muppets travelling by map and Connie Willis’ characters’ reliance on maps of where bombs fell in the Blitz in Blackout and All Clear. There was also a splendid website that let you go back to maps from specific years of Brisbane’s history and find photos of or from those places in a given year, but I can’t track it down.
Trees sketched for a new map, in progress.

Drawings from the QWC Map Workshop

A few weeks ago I gave an illustrated map workshop at the Queensland Writers Centre, for about 18 people in person and over 50 online (I bound around and build things on the floor, so a big shout-out to Sebastian for keeping up with the camera, and relaying online conversations and generally doing the hard work of wrangling me!).

Pen drawings with bits of maps, clouds, compass roses. A sheep on a solitary island with "Map of the Last Lonely Island". A stag running down a beach with a label that leads to "Elsewhere".

The map workshop was specifically illustrative and narrative rather than scientific. I am neither a cartographer nor a geographer, and do not claim to be! My own maps are pictures of the spaces where stories happen — not just the physical place, but the idea of it, and the sort of things that could happen there.

Francis Hardinge wrote beautifully about that in The Writers Map — you can read an extract here: Wizards, Moomins and Pirates: The Magic and Mystery of Literary Maps, but I also heartily recommend the (World Fantasy Award winning) book: The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands — Huw Lewis-Jones.

Here are a few of the books I referred to in the workshop (there are so many out there! and this isn’t including assorted atlases, books about place names, etc):

The workshop was a splendid mixture of ages and interests — a thoroughly enjoyable selection of people, because of how all those experiences and abilities and fascinations bounce off each other. I had a few epiphanies about my own work process, too (particularly in relation to written ‘maps’).

There were people who left with map designs to ink, and people who left with stories to tell, and a whole range in between who played with all sorts of skills — communicating through images and drawing tiny things and thinking through a physical space and looking at a world and breaking open a story.

Several attendees have very generously allowed me to post extracts from their sketched maps. I wish I could show you all of the designs that were emerging! While we started from the same story and landscape discussion, there was such a wide range of choices, solutions, storytelling, worldbuilding, linework…

Here’s a section of Meg Dunley’s map and notes (you can see more over in instagram.com/megdunley).

Meg Dunley

I do so love the “Far Away” label here — the way it frames the map, so that this is where the story is happening, but there is a larger world ‘altogether elsewhere’. It adds an extra level of framed-ness to the story (and a faint breeze of possibilities). The unmistakable little people, doing just what they need to (chopping, laundry), the house with its veranda, the receding perspective acknowledging that the high country is merely a backdrop to Events. Meg’s notes are also heavily drawn.

Consider this corner of Asia Ren’s map:

Asia Ren

The varying weight of the pencil lines here are great. Those mountains — scribbly they are, they are DEFINITE, and suggest a certain type of massive, aloof, mysterious horizon as they recede into the background. The boil of the waterfall, the distinct darkness (almost three-dimensional) of the lair, the specificity of the path being a cliff path…

Watching the class consider the different levels and dimensions of the landscape spins out so many questions and takes and stories.

Here’s a slice of Toni Risson’s map (the rectangle borders of this map are themselves on a skewed perspective, which also suggests many possibilities).

Toni Risson

What keeps catching me here are all those beautiful curls in the river — suggesting the flow of water, of course, but also making a distinct ornamental choice. The houses have two clear architectural types. The sense of action — the axe mid-swing, the wolf with its attention drawn. This is to be a world caught at a moment of suspended motion.

Megan Badger’s labels delight me:

Sketched trees, houses, gardens, paths, fishing village. Typed notes that say:
Map features:
mums wholefoods
fishing village
crossroads where deals are made
granny's apothecary
memorial meadow
and the washer woman's chant:
"beat the cloth
flow and froth
beat until the grime comes off"
Megan Badger

The drawings here are very clear and instantly communicative: those boats and that fish, the neatly fenced vegetable garden! This map is about the mechanics of the world, all the things that are going on alongside and behind the story — “mum’s wholefoods”, a crossroads for deals, the chant of the washer women (the possibilities of recording sound on a map).

(Also: If anyone else from the workshop reads this post and is willing to send me their map/thoughts, I’d love to look at some more of these details — and if you sent through your pictures but didn’t include a preferred link to your online presence, just let me know!)