Shadowbox: The Maps I Used In 1832

SHADOWBOX takes place in two cities which have very different characters, even in 1832.

Paris, and London.

Both cities are long-established national capitals. Paris has a head start on London, having been absorbed into the Roman Empire earlier by sheer geographical proximity. Over the course of a couple of millennia, both cities were shaped by their landscape, their people and by their wars.

La Bièvre, by Charles Marville c.1865

La Bièvre, by Charles Marville c.1865

While I’m acquainted with the streets of central London (to a very limited extent) from the time I worked in Southwark, as well as visiting for shopping or the odd night out, I have next-to-no knowledge of Paris.

The only time I visited the city for any length of time, other than passing through, was in 1990. At that time I was on a budget that makes austerity look positively decadent.

The other few times I’ve been through Paris, it’s been a short trip on the Metro from the Eurostar at Gare du Nord to one of the other international stations. Not much time for dawdling when you have a sleeper to catch…

On the other hand, my knowledge of London also consists of traversing the city from modern transport hubs to specific other places – museums, offices, a friend’s house, shops. I haven’t the innate knowledge that someone has when they’ve lived in a place all their life, or even just taken the time to explore their neighbourhood on non-motorised transport.

Street Scene in London with Saint Paul's Dome. by Samuel John Hodson (1836-1908)

Street Scene in London with Saint Paul’s Dome. by Samuel John Hodson (1836-1908)

So…

I needed maps.

And guidebooks.

And possibly a trip to visit Paris, although I haven’t made it so far.

In the event, mainly to stop using the lack of a Eurostar ticket as an excuse to stop writing, I made do with a number of online and offline resources that I hope have given me enough flavour of the city to paint its details in words for the reader without affecting the story. For example, is it essential to tell you that:

  • Belleville and Montmartre are in their own respective arrondisements, when those parts of the city don’t feature in the novel?
  • the Ile de la Cité is covered with telegraph wires (which it wouldn’t have been in 1832)? and
  • semaphore towers stretched across the country from Marseilles to Cherbourg, hubbing at Paris Montfaucon (an early technology abused to such devastating effect in The Count Of Monte Cristo)?

Readers only need to know details when they act in service to the story. While factoids like those above are fascinating, if they don’t help me paint you a picture or tell you a tale, I’ve left them out.

So, to the maps.

How far back did I have to go? And how detailed?

First off I found a very basic map of Paris, showing the Ile des Cignes. One of the Seine’s smaller islands, downstream of the heavily-fortified Ile de la Cité, by 1832 this had pretty much been joined to the mainland.

While the Ile des Cignes has some nice supernatural echoes, it isn’t significant in the city’s cosmopolitan circles – the circles within which Charles Lyell and Louis Beauregard mingle, along with Adolphe d’Archiac, Garibaldi and other notables.

Then I took a download of the Plan de Paris en 1787 par Brion de la Tour, and examined the basic street layouts. Much of the streetage in the centre of Paris was laid out by Henri IV in the early 1600s, and wasn’t significantly disturbed until the reforms under Hausmann following the revolution of 1848.

The French revolution of 1848 at the age of the sage site

Lamartine in front of the Hôtel de Ville, Paris, on 25 February 1848, refusing the red flag, by Félix Philippoteaux

But there’s a huge gap between 1787 and 1832 – 55 years, in fact – during which the political landscape changed significantly in France. Did it affect the geography of Paris?

Then I found the highly useful oblique projection of the Plan de Turgot, which shows what sort of farms and houses and river traffic to expect in Paris in 1832. You can see how much detail the map-maker has included, although the scale of this map isn’t great.

The map that gave me much more was the Picquet map of Paris 1814. The link takes you to the wikipedia page for the the full map, which is a massive 89Mb. It’s closer in date to the time of SHADOWBOX. The file is larger, which means you can see more detail. For example, look at the little trees and furrows of the market gardens in this sample:

The tributary rivers of the Seine are clear, and the barrieres across each major road. I originally mistook these for the barricades of the revolutionaries, but after a bit of rootling around I realised they were more like the turnpike gates of Britain.

For London, I used a WikiPedia download of the 1848 Crutchley Pocket Map of London (again, another large file).

This was one of the maps I used in 1888 when I was editing THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN, but there was more in common with 1832 than the later period.

In 1848, for example, there was still an open square of parkland in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which had mostly disappeared under buildings by 1888. The railway stations had yet to be completed in 1848 – but in 1832, they didn’t exist, so where they do appear on the map I had to ‘imagine’ them away, or avoid the area altogether.

Goodmans Fields

What I do find rather interesting is how both London and Paris developed most strongly on their northern banks. The Tube map of London shows this most clearly. The map of the Paris Metro doesn’t have the same projection.

But the reasons for that development aren’t found on any maps.

“London is a riddle. Paris is an explanation.” ― G. K. Chesterton

I adore maps. I’m grateful to my childhood geography teachers for showing me the language of maps, how to read within their folded sheets the secrets of cities and landscape and geology, developed over centuries.

I like being able to see the history of a place laid out in its streets and gardens, the names and patterns of all ages mingling to bring each town and city a flavour of its own.

And in 1832, both Paris and London had very distinctive spirits, as well as similarities.


Next: The 5th post in the SHADOWBOX series: Rivers of Paris, Rivers of London, a supernatural and physical journey across time and faith.

Join me on the trip by subscribing to the RSS feed or sign up in the form on the right to receive posts by email. And bring a lantern.

P.S. If you want to find the rest of the posts in this series so far, click on the link to the SHADOWBOX page. When the novel’s available I’ll add links there too.

Shadowbox: Germinal 2

In Germinal 1 I described how the story of SHADOWBOX developed from its earliest beginnings to the point where I knew what I wanted to write – what story I wanted to tell. But still I held off, unwilling to start writing until I had a framework – a storyboard – a script for the action.

In THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN, in keeping with the novel’s theme of a Sacred Kingship attuned to the tidal waters of the Thames, I deliberately set the action against the schedule of a complete tide cycle, 24 hours from high tide to high tide. The constriction set the pace for a novel that dealt with action, adventure, peril.

SHADOWBOX is different.

Night: Seaport by Moonlight (1771) by VERNET, Claude-Joseph Oil on canvas, 98 x 164 cm Musée du Louvre, Paris

Night: Seaport by Moonlight (1771) by VERNET, Claude-Joseph. Oil on canvas, 98 x 164 cm Musée du Louvre, Paris

The overwhelming emotional drive of SHADOWBOX is the grief cycle, the adaptation to change and how different people deal with that in different ways. Grief takes time to manifest itself. I couldn’t cram the action of SHADOWBOX into a single day, nor even a weekend.

I needed more time.

Tied to this was the simple fact that Louis Beauregard travels from England to France. In 1832, this wasn’t as easy as hopping on the Eurostar. Dickens describes the journey in near(er) contemporary terms in A TALE OF TWO CITIES, and on that basis I knew that, again, I needed more time.

Then I remembered the elemental nature of the world I’d created.

The Sacred King – Le Roi Sacré – is attuned to the tides that affect the River Thames in London. The events of THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN take place over one tidal cycle, at the Spring Equinox. The one overarching, controlling factor in all this was clear:

The Moon.

Instantly, I grasped that a full month was the timescale I needed. My characters would have time to experience all the stages of the grief cycle in the 28 days, even if the timescale was too short for their grief to run its course.

From Full Moon – when madness stalks the earth – through the utter blackness of New Moon, when the night sky is darkest. A time of spiritual descent into shadow. Of light diminishing, of darkness, of utter annihilation.

But New Moon is also a time of renewal. A time when ideas, like seeds, sprout and grow, culminating in fruition at another Full Moon.

A month – a lunar cycle – gives my characters the opportunity to live for a little while with the consequences of the novel’s founding action.

A month is long enough for Louis to travel to Paris and for Godfrey to develop a life beyond his youthful parameters.

A month is long enough for grief to work on them both.

And thus, with this structure in place, I began to storyboard the novel which became SHADOWBOX.


Next: The fourth post in the SHADOWBOX series: The Maps I Used In 1832.

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Shadowbox: Germinal 1

I had the idea for SHADOWBOX in 2010, after I’d finished the second or third draft of THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN. The character of Louis Beauregard fascinated me – here was an elderly man, still vigorous, in an unusual situation. Questions began to from in my mind.

Who was he?

Where did he come from?

How had he become the head of the shadowy organisation known as the Cuckoo Club?

As I’d written THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN, some of those questions were answered – briefly, the way you’d refer to Ian McKellen’s Richard III to put his Gandalf into context, or Christopher Lee’s Saruman in the shadow of Dracula, and Scaramanga, and Lord Summerisle.

Ian McKellen. Richard III.

I knew Louis was sprightly. I knew he’d had a long eventful life. When I wrote ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE RIVER I shaped him up to face his future, to make him become the man of THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN. And there I saw a glimpse of the man he’d been before.

So SHADOWBOX became a story of the young Louis Beauregard, when his position as the Sacred King was a fixed part of him, but he’d yet to fully adapt to the challenges of his destiny. He had to have a life, and I already knew he was privileged. So I asked more questions of myself:

– what was he like, this young rogue?

– what makes a character roguish?

– how would this express itself in its period? How does one become a rogue of the 1830s? When all around is excess?

In order to find out, I had to investigate the times. My notions of the 1830s were way out. I had to remind myself that this wasn’t Pride & Prejudice bonnet-land, nor the preRaphaelites, nor Restoration. Deciding the time period was just one element of the story.

And then there was the conflict within the story. Conflict forces the action. It’s the trigger event that makes things happen, that gives us a story to follow in the first place, that keeps us turning the pages until The End.

This is where Godfrey Woolverham comes in. He started out as Pawel Czerczy, a goldsmith, a man who was wronged by Louis Beauregard. The conflict at the heart of SHADOWBOX was always there in my early plans. But it took a while to work that conflict into a shape I could write a novel around.

The key to this was the Amber Room of Peter The Great.

In THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN, Sylvester de Winter roams London in an amber-lined coach. Something about the material properties of Baltic amber had a pivotal impact on the world I had created, and this conflict and impact could be used as a plot device.

And thus the amber carvers arrived in SHADOWBOX, to give the story a point of intrigue, a hook, or maybe a MacGuffin. The real story began to spin off, away from a simple tale of supernatural mystery and into a deeper analysis of the conflict both main characters suffered as a result of the novel’s founding event.

Godfrey and Louis were set on a collision course of death and murder, and nobody could stop them.


Next: The third post in the SHADOWBOX series: Germinal 2, deciding the timescale of the novel and other matters.

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Shadowbox: Bienvenue

This is the first in a month-long series of posts about my forthcoming novel: SHADOWBOX (currently in pre-production for release by the end of June).

Set in 1832, SHADOWBOX is a story of loss and revenge. Excess and obsession. The damage a man does to his soul by refusing to accept change.

In this series of posts you’ll find the story of how the novel came about, the historical research that hopefully found its way onto the pages of SHADOWBOX, and links to places you can discover more. Remember to subscribe to the blog if you want to read the latest updates.


SHADOWBOX: An Introduction

One of the joys of being a historian is the ability to time travel. To go back in time, shedding the veneer of centuries, picturing people much like those we already know in situations very different to our own.

SHADOWBOX could be classified as historical fiction, but the elements of myth and magic within the story produce a Gothic flavour, a gaslit fantasy of Greek tragedy and exuberant adventure that mixes fiction with real-life characters in the usual speculative tradition.

The novel deals with a number of themes – death and revenge, excess and obsession, lust and hatred and fear and grief. It wasn’t an easy story to write. At times I wondered whether I should give up and go write something happy, with sunshine on every page.

But I realised there were important things I wanted to say in this novel, not just because the story forms an early, formative part of the life of Louis Beauregard – one of the protagonists in THE LAST RHINEMAIDEN. Sometimes you have to ask a lot of questions before you understand what your real problem is.

1832 was a strange place. Looking back almost 200 years, much has changed in Britain. For one thing, the UK had a king and an Empire that started with Ireland, something odd to those of us who have grown up knowing only Elizabeth II as monarch and a British Commonwealth.

SHADOWBOX takes place in Paris too. And Paris, in late 1832, was a much more peculiar place (to this author at least), its population repressed after a notable uprising and a disastrous cholera epidemic, ruled by a Bourbon king, the city as prosperous and lively as London.

I did a lot of historical research for this novel. Some of this has already appeared, before I wrote the story, in posts such as Giovanni Belzoni Gets A New Assistant and First Steps On The Journey – 1842. As well as (hopefully!) finding its way into the novel without overwhelming the reader, the historical research was great fun.

As I said at the start of this post, one of the joys of being a historian is the ability to time travel.

One of the joys of writing historical fiction is the ability to take other people with you.


Tomorrow: The first post in the SHADOWBOX series: Germinal 1, covering how I came up with the idea for the novel and the first steps I took in laying out the story.

Join me on the trip by subscribing to the RSS feed or sign up in the form on the right to receive posts by email. And bring a lantern.

Death Of A Novel

Yesterday, I decided to kill off a novel.390px-Brooklyn_Museum_-_Portrait_of_Genghis_Khan

Project RC, begun in late 2011, abandoned mid-edit in February 2012, has been officially retired.

Ninety thousand words, a bundle of characters, settings, challenges. A plot that wove between them all less like a hessian sack and more like a bucket of beansprouts. I even had a cover. One I was pleased with.

Deciding to abandon all thoughts of reviving the story has lifted a weight off my writing wrist, freeing my creative mind to look for other stories. Better tales. Fascinating characters, some of whom I like.

I feel like I’ve made a big step in terms of writing progress.

I’ve learned that I’m better at writing novels when I have a structure, and characters I know, and a definite sense of time and place.

When I went back to review this project all I saw was another six months of editing the story, staring at maps of Eurasia, finding better places to set the story and blending those into the words I already had, and trying to work out who my characters thought they wanted to be.

Sure, there were some beautiful passages, some ‘darlings’ I was pleased with:

His little psalmbook had become pulp in the humidity and was no use for even lighting fires, yet he kept it, squeezing the water out occasionally and wondering if he should drink the liquid to save the ink, which had so recently told God’s words, and perhaps maintained some element of holiness within.
At that point, he realised he was growing mad.

And:

In midsummer the nights seemed endless and when he travelled with the monks into the blue-topped mountains on a pilgrimage he saw the stars disrupted by some shimmering, shifting wave that shook pale green across the sky, drifting like sand across a dry riverbed in the deserts east of Aleppo, rippling like the dusting of snow that skittered over the steppe and sung of desolation.

RC Nestorian_Mongolian_BishopEnding it here, like this, is a little like ending a friendship which didn’t quite work.

Perhaps the story of a nomadic monk caught between the Black Death and the Mongol Invasion of Europe will resurface at some point in the future, but if it does, as the old joke goes it won’t start from here.

In the meantime, I have other work to do.

Look out for a novel in June.

Published in: on April 2, 2014 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  
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We Were Not Alone

It’s one of the great themes of storytelling: We Are Not Alone.

All over the world – in literature, mythology, folklore – is the idea that humans share the Earth (the Universe) with some other sentient being or beings.

Gods, nymphs, daevas; fairies, leprechauns, kelpies; trolls, yetis, dwarves.

Others.

There are eversomany much more than six billion of us on the planet now. Some of us read – and write – stories where humans explore the depths of the Universe in search of intelligent life. Some of us follow religions that suggest we are the progeny of divine beings who walk amongst us. And some of us are exploring the inner workings of what makes us human – DNA, the chemical building blocks of life – to come up with some surprising answers.

Hot on the heels of the earlier announcement that a Mesolithic person in northern Spain had blue eyes and a darker-than-modern-European shade of skin comes the revelation that Neanderthals live on.

Neanderthals look like rich westerners after all! Is there no end to our cultural appropriation ;-)? Eh?In us.

Some of us, anyway.

For me, there’s something special about looking at another type of human being and knowing that, unlike mammoths, they did not die out at the end of the last Ice Age.

I’m Scottish, with the traditional features described by the Romans of the Picts. The notion that I’ve got the genetics of another species of humans in my blood, well, that’s just fascinating.

When I was studying prehistory back in the late 1980s none of this genetic information was available. Archaeologists speculated on the fate of the Neanderthals with only the physical evidence of bones, and stone tools, and their utter absence in the modern world, to guide their hypotheses.

Maybe we were more able to take advantage of the changing climate and food resources and simply pushed them into marginal areas where the food supplies were scarce, much like the early pastoral farmers of southern Africa did to the !Kung San.

Perhaps we fought wars with them over the north European plain, the differences between us not being great enough to permit both types of human to live in peace alongside one another (they wouldn’t be the first or last species on the planet to be eliminated by the ingenuity of Homo sapiens sapiens).

Or did we outbreed them, or hunt them into extinction? I don’t think we can truly say, except that if we are still 20% Neanderthal there was a lot more than hunting going on ;-).

I just wish the artists who make up reconstructions, or Photoshop images, let them smile a bit more often…


(Read more of the original report at Science magazine – click on the hyperlink or cut’n’paste http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2014/01/28/science.1245938 into your browser)

First steps on the journey – 1842

It seems like an age hence that I was using up spare leave from the Day Job to swan around Georgian England. April, in fact, and the weather was balmy – one day we had rain, and when I was in London it was sunny.Dodwell & Pomardi party on the Peleponnese. No, I'm just making this up...

The museum visits – Belzoni’s sketches of Seti I’s tomb, the drawings of Dodwell and Pomardi – are still fresh in my mind. I can picture the roads they walked on. I see their own depictions of their clothing. Prosperous men, making a slash in the world’s perception.

Of the houses from that time, I saw the Georgian House in Bristol, and was reminded of the tenement flats of Turin and Glasgow, large rooms with tiny fireplaces and high ceilings.

Ornate plasterwork on the cornices. Chinese or Japanese fabrics on screens, on lacquerwork furniture, on fine bone china.

Silk, embroidered, the work of tiny hands, a nation’s wealth in fabric sheer against lined paper walls and painted wooden balustrades.

Homes built on slavery and trade of other sorts.

Small piano-type instruments, keys of ivory not yet scarce; books the size of a card-table spread open at hand-painted birds of paradise from the Indies. Animal products from far-off lands where the people are different from us.

Wigs to be powdered, pearls to be worn by the maid before the lady of the house entertains.

Pero.

The wealth of merchants and the asceticism of Methodists, the freshness of plantation sugar and the new industrial works roaring beside canals dug by Irishmen on government subsidy through newly-enclosed land.

Books, the rare stories treasured, the poetry mad-bad-and-dangerous-to-know.

The loss of the New World still stinging.

Since then, I’ve read a little of the period’s surviving literature – Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield – and boned up on history. I’ve developed a feel for the society on the cusp of a new age: leaving behind the excesses of the Georgian period and setting forth on the fecund part of Victoria’s reign. A transition from one form of the British Empire to another. A rise in mercantile power, in global reach, in ebullient confidence.

A formative part of the national psyche, in fact.

I’ve explored modern perceptions of the period too, between the pages of Queen Victoria’s Book Of Spells and Mysteries Of The Diogenes Club, and social history such as the Chartists, to bolster my earlier reading of Robert Louis Stevenson and The Coral Island and The Water Babies and a bundle of other books that all squidge together in the memory. I know I’ve missed out a lot. That will come, as it’s needed.

In doing so, I’ve built up a picture – a landscape not unlike those sketched by Dodwell and Pomardi. A schema, similar to that Belzoni made of the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs for touring Europe, raising funds for his next expedition.

I’ve created a background against which a story can take place.

This is the world of the young Louis Beauregard.

And he has just begun to stride across it, heading for his destiny.

Ice Age Art

The effects of the last Ice Age on the North Sea and its tributary rivers are the keystone to the alternative history I created for The Last Rhinemaiden and the Cuckoo Club stories.

But the Ice Ages which covered much of northern Europe with glaciation has been a minor fascination of mine since I learned about them at school. (Scottish geography lessons about the Würm glaciation tend to be very simple – “here’s what it says in the book, now go look out the window and spot drumlins“).

Scotland didn’t have much in the way of human habitation during the Ice Ages. Most of the country was covered in a thick layer of permanent ice, many metres deep. The slate (and granite) wiped clean.

There were no Neanderthals in Scotland. Far, far to the South, in the Perigord region of what is now France, they lived in caves in limestone cliffs along the rivers which run out to the Bay of Biscay and never saw the need to travel north.

And then, modern humans arrived in their valleys. Was this a shock, or did they know in advance, and retreat ever westwards until they ran out of land at Gibraltar, leaving little trace behind?

I’ve just finished reading The Mind In The Cave by David Lewis-Williams. He postulates that the prehistoric artists who painted cave art had the same brains as modern humans – because they were modern humans.

So while we don’t know the stories they told to accompany their illustrations, we can take a good guess at the reasons why those people painted their fabulous paintings on the deep cave walls.

And tucked into the sheltered caves south of the great ice sheets, modern humans left art.Cave art from Lascaux, France - giant prehistoric deer

What does this have to do with writing?

The history of Science Fiction is shot through with stories about the search for other intelligent life, in space or in the far future or in a parallel universe.

The search for life on Mars has propelled spaceships to the red planet and beyond, to where telescopes point to planets in distant galaxies with the potential to support life.

Folk tales of the “Little People”, Trolls, Elves, man-apes, Yetis, the Orang Pendek, and myriads of other names for not-quite-human peoples which might still walk the Earth are abundant in every culture.

How much of a Big Deal is this?

We have been looking for another intelligent life form on the planet since the first creation myths were invented.

In the last ten years or so, evidence has been found that modern humans aren’t the Big I Am we thought we were.

The humans who came before us had quite a bit of what makes us special.

If the research can prove that Neanderthals made art – even simple art forms like hand prints and shapes which might have been a language of sorts – what about their ability to tell stories?

Makes my brain sizzle.

6 books about books (and libraries)

Books about books (and libraries) have a special place in literature. Here’s six of my favourites.

The Name Of The Rose – William of Baskerville and his novice travel to a monastery in Northern Italy. As they arrive, the monastery is disturbed by a suicide. As the story unfolds, several other monks die under mysterious circumstances. William is tasked by the Abbot of the monastery to investigate the deaths. The protagonists explore a labyrinthine medieval library, discuss the subversive power of laughter, and come face to face with the Inquisition.

The Shadow Of The Wind – Daniel’s father takes him to the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a huge library of old, forgotten titles lovingly preserved by a select few initiates. According to tradition, everyone initiated to this secret place is allowed to take one book from it, and must protect it for life.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld – the librarian is an orangutan, and some of the books are so dangerous they have to be chained shut.

Jasper Fforde‘s books – Thursday Next is a detective who works for Jurisfiction, the policing agency that works inside fiction. They are a series of books based upon the notion that what we read in books is just a small part of a larger BookWorld that exists behind the page.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Norrell has a library of all the magic books in England and hoards them in his house in remote Yorkshire.

and the anti-book:

Zardoz – In the distant future Earth is divided into two camps, the barely civilized group Sean Connery in an orange loincloth in Zardozand the overly civilized one with mental powers. Zed, one of the barbarians, who worships the stone head Zardoz, comes upon an old library where a mysterious stranger teaches him how to read. When he finds a copy of a well known book, he sets out to learn the secret of the god he worships in an orange loincloth…

Published in: on March 20, 2012 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on 6 books about books (and libraries)  
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The maps I used in 1888

One of the best parts of writing the sort of historical fiction I write is the research. I love reading about history – I’ve got a degree in ancient history, for goodness’ sake – and I also love the geography of the past.

Anyway, this post is about MAPS.

The internet is a brilliant source of maps. Online, I can find images of maps from ancient times to the most up to date of Google earth.

Writing “The Last Rhinemaiden” sent me researching not only the historical facts around which the story is based, but the details of where events in the story take place. I didn’t write the book with that in mind – too much distraction when pouring words onto the paper to go away and look at a visual resource – but when the act of refining and adding details is required, out come the maps.

For example, at one point I make two of the characters walk from the East End of London to the South Bank of the Thames. I could have just let them take the journey as I’ve described it in that last sentence and many readers would be none-the-wiser. The detail doesn’t add to the suspense of the scene and it isn’t important in the overall outcome. So why did I bother?

Fabric.

My initial draft is like a plain warp-and-weft. It’s a canvas. Does what it says on the tin – covers what needs to be covered, and nothing more. But I like details. You like details. Readers like details. Otherwise, most stories would be nothing more than boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl turns into blob, boy gets blob back again. Or, bloke kicks ass in an empty warehouse and collects a few bruises while the bad guys lose.

The canvas has to be filled in with details. I’m a visual reader, and as such I’m a visual writer too. I see pictures when I read books, and my writing is a description of what’s playing in my head. I need to feel the blood trickling down my character’s ribs, see the sunrise over the river, feel the chill sandstone under my fingers.

So do you, readers.

Maps are part of this. It makes more sense to me that my two characters stop for a smoke in the shadow of a church on East Cheap, proceed to Cannon Street and when they cross London Bridge to the South Bank, they find themselves on Montagu Street, then Bankside. Don’t you think that makes for a more interesting journey?

Historical note: when the original idea for this story came into my head, I was working in Southwark on an HR/IT project with The Workmates From Purgatory (nowhere near as impressive as The Workmates From Hell – they at least sound lively). I had the initial image for a long time – years, in fact, until I wrote out a storyboard and started writing the novel.

I was quite surprised when The Last Rhinemaiden started to take those two characters down to the south side of the river and along to Cannon Street railway bridge. They were following a route I’d once taken, in reverse, to get to an Oddbins off-license in order to buy a bottle of whisky for a birthday present.

It helped, of course, that I could picture exactly the landscape of the street as it was in the mid-1990s. I can picture where they end up by the river, because I stood on that spot not far from the Globe Theatre and watched the sleet of a January lunchtime fall on the mudlarks working the shoreline beneath the embankment. I know instinctively how high the railway bridge is above me, how far and how clearly the dome of St Paul’s CAthedral is visible from the riverbank.

It’s not the same, of course, as it was in 1888. For that, I needed maps.

In the end I used two separate maps. My school geography lessons turned out to be more useful than my archaeology training. The maps I used were the 1848 Crutchley Pocket Map or Plan of London and the 1899 Bacon Pocket Plan or Map of London, and by cross-referencing them I was able to work out approximately what the picture would have looked like in 1888. I also had use of an 1888 Jack The Ripper map which I’d bought in 2001 (at Murder One on the Charing Cross Road, IIRC).

The changes are fascinating. Here’s two shots of the same place on both maps, for comparison. The earlier map is on the left.

See how Rosemary Lane becomes Royal Mint Street, even though the Royal Mint buildings were there in the early map and it’s only later that the name changes? See how the odd rectangle of Goodman’s Fields has been filled in with buildings in 1899?

In the difference between the two maps we see the explosion of industrialisation and its effects on London as a cityscape.

Green spaces are filled with housing.

Tower Bridge appears (although as recent pictures show its construction in 1892, it wasn’t there in 1888).

And the railway termini have brushed out parts of the landscape to become landmarks in their own right, bridging the river like Cannon Street Railway Station. On the early map, before the railways were constructed, there is no station, no bridge, no railway lines snaking out towards Kent. On the later map, there it is: Cannon Street Station, with a frontage on Cannon Street itself.

The railway bridge is now known as Southwark Railway Bridge and amongst the heritage venues under its shade is the Clink Prison, at the site of the old gaol in Clink Street, and the Golden Hinde, forever encased in a little berth of its own. I walked along there every lunchtime to buy sandwiches from the newsagent. I know what it’s like: the colour of the bricks, the ironwork on the bridge piers, the texture of the mud along the shore.

I don’t live in London, but since I started writing The Last Rhinemaiden I’ve come to learn more about the city than I thought I wanted to.

Here’s the modern map of London. And here’s the earliest map of London we have. You can still plot the outlines of the city under the flesh of the modern layout. It’s fascinating how much it has changed.

However, the most fascinating thing is how little has changed. And the most significant part of that is the river.