Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Quills, typewriters and Word

I had a brilliant idea while mulling over how to get more depth and layers into Rising Fire. I would draw a map! Several maps of the main cities, maybe one showing the three kingdoms! And not just boring old modern maps, I would make them look like something from the 11th century, with quaint thumbnails of dragons and palaces and swineherds. And I would write in medieval-style script.

I could post it on my website.

So I went on the internet and looked up medieval maps, illustrated manuscripts, and calligraphy.

Luckily I had some goose and swan quill feathers to make a pen. (Since you ask, they are used for laying down ground enamels before firing). I trimmed one with a scalpel, tracked down a bottle of ink that had been minding its own business quietly in a drawer for fifteen years, and got started. Several hours later I stopped.

Now I'm not saying I couldn't make a beautiful map if I tried. I'm pretty sure I could. I just can't spare the weeks it would take to get it right; learning along the way calligraphy and the application of gold leaf. I'll do it if I ever get rich enough to take time off.

But it got me thinking about the production of books. Scribes, writing with a coal fire below their desks to dry the ink as they worked; using feathers from the left wing of the bird, as they curved conveniently for a right-hander; devastated by any mistake, which could not be corrected, but only marked in red to indicate an error.

Then the invention of the printing press; but an author still had to write the manuscript by hand. The typewriter was a huge advance, but the enormous labour of producing a neatly-typed, revised novel meant that anyone who accomplished this was serious about it, and likely to be read by a publisher, and receive a two page letter explaining a rejection.

You know what I'm going to say next. These days, with the advent of personal computers and Word, it is child's play for anyone to produce something that resembles a book.

And an awful lot of people do.

I have great sympathy for the literary agents struggling with stacks of bad novels endlessly doing the rounds ('you've got to be persistent, look at JK Rowling') and even more sympathy with the unpublished good writers, unable to be heard above the cacophony.


  1. What a marvellous post, Lexi!

    Couldn't agree more.

    (Though when you do get a deal for RF I'd let the publishers look after the maps. They'll know someone who can do it while you concentrate on writing the next one...)


  2. Thanks, Nik.

    I'm often torn between the desire to do everything myself, so the end result looks just the way I envisage it, and wanting someone else to do the job, so all I have to do is make suggestions.

    If I ever get published, I'll be dreadfully exacting about the book jacket designs.

  3. I wouldn't worry too much about it. In my experience, and from what I've heard from others, publishing bods are very helpful and understanding when it comes to that kind of thing.

    I do know what you mean though!

  4. I suspect it's the map that's important for where things are in relationship to one another. I suspect it's similar to a character. Just as characters should not change eye or hair color, neither should the bakers that is next to the tea shop lift its foundations like a skirt and wonder over to another place in town.

  5. Yes, that was the reason I started with. But getting the layout down on paper turned out to be less helpful than I'd expected.

    Possibly because I can see the places in my head, not like a map but as if I'm walking through it...

  6. Well, I don't know about everyone else, but once I have my forty-second draft done I hand it over to Brother Maynard and he and the boys apply ink to vellum to make me a real copy. It's a bit pricey, and one needs to keep the stout hidden until the work is well and truly complete or the lines take on a humped back or sinking look, but when they are all done I've got a book worth four or five dollars (that's the real Canadian stuff, none of this US paper) on the retail market.

  7. What I always say, Alan, is if a thing's worth doing...

    And at four or five dollars, you can put me down for a copy (do I get a discount?)