Mapping out a novel


maps

I love maps. Whenever, I decide to visit a place I aim to get a printed map and study it carefully. The map speaks to me of the layout of the place and how it has developed. This helps me to get inside the place a little bit.

On my desk at the moment, are five maps which are connected to my novel, Weaver of Words, which is set partly in Czechia and partly in Poland. When I first arrived in Český Těšín I used the map to orientate myself. I had in my mind the railway station and the border with Poland. Looking at the map, I could see that the whole of the original town centre had two railway stations at opposite ends, with the border in the middle. It gives an understanding of how the modern town developed – one railway line served the Polish side and one the Czech side. Every municipal building of importance was situated with that boundary. The two halves of the town seem, on the map, to mirror each other. The town halls of both sides of the river are on the right hand side of the main street which runs from one railway line to another, straight over the bridge on the Olza. This is clearly visible from the map but might not be so obvious from the ground.When I visited the town, the map gave me a greater understanding of the layout and feel of it. It also allowed me to see how I could have my characters interact with the town.

My three maps of Prague date roughly from the same era – the 1980s. The largest one, gives the layout of the whole city including suburbs. I used it when I went to live in the Czech Republic to help me get around. It still has some of my markings on it. When visitors came, I used the second map, to explain the history of the buildings. This map came with a booklet giving the provenance of all the buildings in the centre of the city.  By looking at these maps it can be seen when the streets were constructed and in which order as the building number and street numbers are both written down. (The building number is the order of construction). This allows observers to locate a building in the archives. The map has the names of streets, buildings and metro stations as they were called in the Communist Era.There are such delights as the Square of Soviet Tanks, which has probably been renamed by now. This is the city as my characters would have experienced it. When I used the maps to walk the city, I photographed the buildings and then located them on the street map. Would my characters have noticed this? Would they have visited the shops? Which pubs would they have sat in? The ones nearest their hostel?

The smallest map, is a tourist street map showing the areas the Communist government thought tourists should be interested in. It is a snapshot of a view of the city at a particular time in it’s history. It has the pubs, cafés and restaurants marked which has helped me to accurately locate places from the time and give buildings the name they would have had in that period.

When I look at the maps I am instantly transported to a different place and a different time. I look at the street names and wonder who are what they celebrate. I look at the buildings and infrastructure to see how the town planners envisioned their town or city. What were the important buildings and places for them? I see the out-of-date names and am reminded of times past. I look at the length and width of streets and wonder at their destinations. In maps, I see a country and I see dreams. When I can, I walk the streets with my map in my hand and experience the place from the ground. Then, I come to know the place.

Writer’s dilemma: laptop or notepad


electronics

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 challenge – taking notes on the road

When I was planning my recent research trip to the Czech Republic and Poland, I thought long and hard about how I was going to take notes on the trip, how I was going to store up any ideas and information and how I might actually revise the manuscript on the move. Having keyed in about 20,000 words, I thought a print out would be too heavy and bulky to take on the trip, especially since I was travelling by budget airline.I considered a proper notebook but that hadn’t worked well for me the previous year because I keep scratching things out and altering them. The result was a proper mess I could barely make head or tail of. I had not wanted to cart around the huge laptop because of the luggage requirements which is why I decided to invest in a tablet.

I equipped myself with a reconditioned Samsung Galaxy Note 10, set it up and downloaded a third party App to enable me to use my Apple keyboard. I did a dummy run with the pen and managed, with some difficulty, to get the machine to recognize my handwriting. I have long been aware that my handwriting is an issue for people being a mix of Central European 7s and Ts with old school penmanship. People not familiar with how things are written to the east of France appear to have some issues with it. Nevertheless, I thought the Samsung seemed to be coping.

With priority booking on Wizz Air passengers are allowed an extra small bag for camera or laptop and so on. I purchased a small carry bag just bigger that the Galaxy Note and packed it up.

As a back up, and because I like to read books on the Kindle App, I also packed my iPad Mini. This was fortuitous as once abroad the Galaxy Note decided it would no longer recognize either my writing or keypad. It also took issue with downloading my MS Word manuscript from my Cloud Drive. This was frustrating. After a wasted evening I put the Galaxy Note back in it’s carry bag where it remained until we returned home.

The solution? I received quite a few odd looks as I stood in the middle of Český Těšín bus station dictating the scene and notes into my LG Sprite phone. This method I supplemented with taking notes in a small notebook I had packed. It seemed to work.

The idea had been to have one tablet PC to do everything: take notes on the move using the pen, type up notes in cafes or on trains, make adjustments to the manuscript whilst in situ, use the on-board camera to take photos and videos to combine with the words and generally to reduce baggage and confusion. The Galaxy Note did not do it for me :(.

What have I learnt from this challenge? What can others learn from this challenge?

In the absence of any other solution (I think the Note was the third tablet I tried), I measured up my ASUS 15.5 inch laptop and discovered fits into a nice backpack along with its charger, mouse and IKEA riser. Therefore, it will go on future trips. The “smartish” phone came into it’s own as I was able to make recordings on it as I walked along the streets and even interrupt the recordings to add a snapshot of the scene. How good is that? Now, I have the updated Kindle App with white pages and everything on my iPad mini I don’t really need the old Kindle. I still bought another new notebook in Prague in the hope that I will one day fill it with thoughts. All the other stuff, I stuck into a small exercise book using glue tape I found in a small shop en route.

The Galaxy Note failed me and I am gutted. I had such high hopes for it. I hope it’s new owner has a better experience :).

Lynn

 

Making the most of a research trip


My novel-in-progress, Weaver of Words, has reached the point where I need to fill in some topographical, historical and cultural details. Luckily for me, this stage has coincided with the start of the summer holiday season so I can get out there and do the research in person. Much as I like siting at my desk, cup of coffee by my side, whizzing around the internet there are some things which are best experienced and researched in person.

For my novel, Stūra māja: In the Shadow of Fear, I walked the streets of Riga looking at the topography through the eyes of my main character. I had gained a good idea of the layout of the streets from printed maps, Google Maps and  the original television version of Henning Mankell’s Dogs of Riga  but I need to experience the places for myself. Having walked the streets, I then visited the Museum of Occupations and looked at photographs of the streets during the Communist period. I visited the KGB headquarters three times to be sure I knew the layout and experienced the building.

Whilst I cannot actually go back to 1968 and 1973 (the key dates when most of the novel is set), I can visit the chapter locations in person and visit museums and exhibitions. Earlier in the year, I paid a visit to Warsaw so I could visit a Polish block of flats from the era (it resembled a prison with narrow corridors lighted by low-output strip lighting  and metal doors to each flat), walked the streets and seeing the parks and buildings my characters would have seen and then went to the 30th of the Palace of Culture and Science  to experience it for myself. Now, I know the view my characters could have and how cold it is  up there. This is something I could not know without being there.

For my research trip to the Czech Republic and Poland I have to fit a lot in. Suddenly, seven days does not seem enough even though I used to know the locations quite well and am not seeing them for the first time. I will, however, be seeing them through different eyes. When I lived in the Czech Republic I was caught up in the experience and living though the transition from Communism to Capitalism. Now, I am looking as a writer and a historian.

I think careful planning is important when making a research trip. Think about what you want to find out, how you are going to find this information or experience, where you want to go and how much you can physically do in the time. As a result of trial and error, I have developed a series of Excel spreadsheets to keep all the information in one place.

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This image shows part of the sightseeing and research spreadsheet. I have broken the trip down into days and then into the places I need to visit. I have tried to group the locations in locations e.g. Chodov and Haje so I can visit the cemeteries and the remnants of Communist street architecture.Another day, I got to Havirov following the bus route of the two main characters. I have factored in a drink in the pub-restaurant (restaurace) they visit – that is a bit of pleasure as well as work.

I know some people think this is a bit OTT or even anal but it means I have a list of where I need to go and what I need to do. By arranging everything in my spreadsheet, I am trying to make sure I don’t miss anywhere out.

By taking the time to plan in advance, I have uncovered some exhibitions I did not know about before and which will provide useful background information. There is always so much going on in Prague that the variety of events is somewhat overwhelming and my spreadsheet is providing structure to the trip. It is something I recommend a researcher to do. After all, you have paid a lot of money to do this research so you need to make the most of it.

As well as planning the actual research, I have designed some new business cards. I am hoping that if I cannot find all the information I need some kind archivist will help me out. It’s just more professional to be able to handover a business card than to scribble your details on a post-it note. Just in case anyone is minded to Google me, I have also updated my website. I do want to look my very best.

As a footnote: I have saved quite a bit of money by booking all my travel online.

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If any of my readers has advice they would like to share be assured it will be gratefully received.

Lynn