A map, a map, my kingdom for a map

Well, all right, the title is a bit over the top, however, I wanted to tell you about one of the best gifts from our recent trip to Paris …

My husband and I were in Musee Carnavalet – a museum dedicated to the history of Paris – and very disappointed that the entire section on the 19th century was closed for renovation. I knew this in advance, but hoped there would still be some items on display. No such luck. In fact, Musee Carnavalet is in such a state of renovation, the entrance is currently free.

We did find some wonderful street signs, the kind retailers would post above the doors of their establishments to draw customers in – an early form of advertising used when there were no street numbers on the avenues and boulevards of Paris. You know, walk along Rue de Rivoli until you see the funky red rooster, turn left and look for the green tankard, the one with a large gold key underneath. That sort of thing.

1871-map-of-ParisWe enjoyed the section on 18th century Paris and took a lot of photos of furniture and household items, the sort of thing my characters might have had handed down to them by their parents or grandparents – relevant but not essential.

After our visit, we browsed the museum gift shop and on a whim, I looked through a series of posters placed in a large container, the kind you can flip through easily. And there is was, an 1871 map of Paris!

Absolutely essential for someone writing a novel that begins in 1870. And now it’s framed and hanging on the wall next to my desk.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET will be published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016.

Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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14 Responses

  1. Your trip to Paris paid off in so many ways, Mary. Having this map is priceless. When I was writing Go Away Home, a friend provided a map of the town in which I set the action used by the fire department at that time. It showed the name and location of every business in the town. That opened my mind to new possibilities for locations and actions, which I threaded through the story. I trust your map will be similarly useful.

    1. It helps me feel like I’m there, Carol. Which is another less tangible benefit!! Paris like so many cities has renamed many streets over the years so it gives me a chance to check that I’m accurate. And each of the newer streets (i.e. in the ten years preceding 1871) has a date printed to show when that particular street was built. Very useful 🙂

  2. What a find Mary! And I love that you have it framed and above your desk. Useful and beautiful. William Morris would be pleased. 🙂

  3. I love maps, particularly historical ones. And I like maps to be included in books I’m reading, although I understand there’s some controversy over this as some authors and readers prefer to conjure the locales without visual aids.

    On a related subject, I have discovered that contemporary maps seem to be on the decline. We recently moved to another city, where I was able to find only bare bones tourist maps. At the bookstore I visited I was told that detailed street maps of this city are no longer available. His explanation: GPS and Google Map.

    1. I love maps too, Christina. Something about them brings the land alive for me. Although I use GPS and Google maps, I prefer the tangibility of something on paper. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Aren’t maps wonderful? Happy for your great find, Mary. … Now here’s the question: Do you plan to include a (custom) map in your forthcoming book set in Paris? I find myself always referencing maps in HF books and am planing one or more myself.

    1. Interesting thought about including a map in my novel .. I shall have to investigate that and the implications. As a reader, a map often helps me situate and imagine the story. Thanks, Harald.

      1. Yeah, and also to respond to Christina above, a lot depends on the kind of story you’re telling. Here are some random examples of HF novels with maps that I’ve referred to over and over (as a reader). In fact, the first thing I do is put a big post-in note with the word MAP in bold on the map page before even starting to read (if a print book)!
        — Robert Harris’ “Pompeii”: that map was essential for me to visualize the locations and how the aquaduct hooked them together.
        — Michner’s “Chesapeake”: again, the maps (x2) really helped me see the relationships of the locations.
        — the Gears and their pre-history series (and the Contact series): I was constantly referring to the front maps to understand what was happening where. It’s much easier (and faster) to figure that out with a quick glance at a map vs. reading a whole paragraph explaining it.

        The mechanics of creating maps (line art vs. contone, orientation, etc.) is another subject!

  5. I write a lot of how-to and self-help books, but if I ever go for more historical non-fiction or fiction, I’m definitely going to use old maps. Great find!

  6. Lucky writer! I agree with the comment that maps are essential to show the whereabouts of our characters. Even places like Paris might not be familiar to many, let alone small villages or towns in the faraway past.

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