Ask the Expert: Maps and Rhys Davies

Edith/Maddie here, awed to have book map artist Rhys Davies as our guest. Yes, he is the person who drew the famous map of Three Pines! He has illustrated many more author’s towns, too, including Nether Monkslip in the Max Tudor books written by our friend G.M. Malliet and the 17th century London of Susanna Calkins‘ fabulous Lucy Campion mysteries. He agreed to let me ask him some questions today, and he has a special giveaway for one commenter.

When and how did you get started drawing maps for authors?

As an artist and designer, I’d done a variety of creative things over the years. I’ve always had a real interest in maps since I was a kid back in Wales and can remember unfolding the huge OS maps (Ordnance Survey) we had in the house and spending hours looking over them. They were so beautiful and detailed. My dad and I did a lot of hiking in the Welsh mountains where an understanding of maps and how they related to the land was crucial.. and fun.

It wasn’t until years later when this came back into focus again and merged with my creative life. A lucky conversation with a friend who’s an art director at St.Martins/Macmillan in New York started me off in this new direction. It suited me right away and I’ve been fiddling with real world and fantasy maps ever since.

How do you work with authors? Do they send you a sketch and you elaborate it? Or do they describe the town in words, you mock up a map, and you both revise?

Projects usually come from art directors at various publishing houses though more and more self published authors are requesting maps these days which is great.

I usually get a pretty basic scribble of an idea (sometimes very rough:). I’ll have an initial stab at general shape and some features and send it back to the art director. I don’t usually get to have direct contact with the author (poor, sensitive things ! :):).. and work through the art director and editors in endless e-mails. It seems the bigger the author, the more the layers of input. I’ve just finished a high profile book where there was a committee of people giving input 🙂

But usually it’s a back and forth ‘tennis match’ between myself and the art director. Basically ‘ nudge that over’.. ‘change that label’ ..’make that mountain larger’ kind of thing. 

Until we get the finished piece. Pretty straight forward.

Do you use mapping software or do it all by hand?

I don’t actually use specific map making stuff, but I do most of my finishing work in Photoshop these days. Photoshop feels a little more organic than hard edged programs like Illustrator etc.

A lot of the time I start a map off by hand and scan everything into the computer. It’s also much easier to make adjustments in Photoshop with something as fiddly as a map which needs adjusting all the time, rather than doing so by hand. Having said that I still do most illustration work on paper, certainly initially. It depends of the project and the style we want to go for.

Do you ever revise a map? I’m thinking of the two fictional villages I write about. With each book, I often add a new business or residence. Do authors ask for updates with new books?

I often do revise maps. Some maps are used again and again on well established book series and it can be quite straight forward and fun to go back into a map and add or change something. This has also happened a lot recently where books have been picked up in other territories around the world. One particular example is a three-book series called ‘Caraval’ by Stephanie Garber, which was a big hit over here and has been picked up all over the place. I made a different map for each book in the series, and since then I’ve had to make dozens of changes and translations for markets all around the world. Great fun.

You landed the Three Pines map, which must have been quite the coup. Can you tell us how you came to draw Louise Penny’s internationally beloved fictional town?

It was great fun working on the Three Pines map. Despite having said that I don’t usually talk to the authors, Louise, myself and the editor chatted on the phone several times about how to get the town just right. Louise is lovely to work with. It seems there had been film adaptation of one of her books (which didn’t quite get it right!), and since then she’s been batting away the idea of having a visual reference for her world. Thankfully, it seems we got it right with the Three Pines map.

…And I just finished a new map of Paris a few weeks ago for Louise. It shows all the places that come into play in her new novel All the Devils Are Here. Lots of illustrations and fiddly Parisienne streets. We think it came out OK.

That’s so exciting! What’s the difference between making maps for large publishing house books and those for smaller presses or self-published authors?

As I mentioned earlier, there are more and more self published authors and smaller publishing houses writing to me asking about making maps. This is great and a little different from working with the ‘big monsters’ in New York! :). 

The process is pretty much the same but it’s fun to be more hands-on working directly with an author. 

The other difference between the two worlds can be the budget. I think smaller profile authors can sometimes be put off, imagining that a map will be very expensive. It’s mostly true that the big house often have larger budgets for art work, but I really try to bear in mind that writing your own book can cost a chunk of change. Over the years, I’ve developed a bunch of ideas and schemes to make having a cool map in your book do-able and affordable. That is, don’t be put off!

Hmm. Rubbing my hands! What have been your favorite books to work on?

I’ve been lucky to work on all types of books in different genres.

I do get a lot of fantasy maps to do, which are fun and fantastical, and allow me to get back into my Tolkien map mode (the Middle Earth maps are still my favorite book maps). 

I recently finished an interesting fictional map for the YA novel Hush by Dylan Farrow. I gather it’s a world where people are infected by ink while they read and write..! 

Real world maps are technically a little more challenging as all the details need to be right on. I recently worked on the map for American Dirt by Jeanine Cummings which caused quite a stir. It became part of the whole Oprah book club thing, but I must admit it was fun seeing a video of Oprah looking at a map I made.. ha!

Illustrated maps. These are fun to do because they combine illustration and map making. Louise’s map is an example of that, as is the one of Nether Monkslip from G.M. Malliet’s Max Tudor series.

Another example of a hand drawn map/illustration was for Susanna Calkins‘ Lucy Campion series. I’ve done a number of books showing London at various stages in its history. I really enjoy working on London images as I went to art college in Wimbledon… always fun to draw historical places that you’re familiar with. This map was a combination of a more traditional overhead London map and an illustration of the area around Covent Garden. We had to try and capture that old style of drawing where the perspective is slightly off. Enjoyed it.

Another favorite was a recent map of Yale/ New Haven for Leigh Bardugo’s novel Ninth House. Probably the toughest map I’ve worked on.. .tons of changes and tweaks and endless back and forth. In the end we had to work with another illustrator who the author wanted involved as well. But it came out really well, thankfully.

The Alexandria map, on the other hand, was much more fun. It was for the historical trilogy ‘ The Shards of Heaven’ by Michael Livingston. There were some historical references to go on, but as far as I could find, there wasn’t a similar 3D image of how the old city looked in Roman times, so it felt like I was breaking new ground to some extent. These ‘ flyover maps’ are fun to do but do take a lot of time to do…quite fiddly.

Readers: Do you pore over maps in books? What are your favorites? And…do you pay attention to the artist’s name? (Now you know you should!) You can ask Rhys questions, too. He will send one lucky commenter a signed map of their choice, and possibly a bit more swag, too!

Rhys Davies is a freelance cartographer and illustrator. Originally from Wales, Rhys studied Fine Art in London before moving to the US some twenty years ago. He spends most of his time illustrating maps for books, amongst other creative projects. Rhys lives in Amherst, Massachusetts with his wife and two children. You can find him on his website at:  http://www.rhysspieces.com  or he can be contacted directly at rhyscgd@gmail.com

80 Thoughts

  1. I love maps in books! The one of Nether Monkslip is one of my favorites, so it’s great to hear from the creator. It would never occur to me to use Photoshop for something like this.

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    1. Thanks Michele..delighted you like the map. The Nether Monkslip was fun to do, though took a little while with all the details. Photoshop’s just the best. Lots of flexibility.

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    2. Thanks Michele. The N Monkslip map was fun to do though took a while with all the details. Photoshop’s just the best !:)

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  2. Yes, I love maps in books, too! I am a geographer by training and I remember collecting hand-drawn maps during my first trips to Europe. I still have them: one of Oxford, UK, and two from Paris.

    My favourite series of maps are in Deborah Crombie’s books. I think the same artist drew all of her maps: Laura Hartman Maestro.

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      1. Yes, I agree that Laura’s maps are a nice combo of local maps and illustrations related to the story plot.

        BTW, the copy of the Plan de Paris hand-drawn map took 17 YEARS to complete! All those hand-drawn buildings and streets are so detailed. The other two maps were also so nicely done. I had them mounted and framed to hang up on my walls for many years.

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  3. Yes, I love maps and even have a topographical map of Mount Desert Island on my guest room wall. Maps in books are such special illustrations! The Wildwood series for young people has terrific maps, several per book. My favorites book maps are the village maps in the (adult) Brittany Mysteries from Minotaur Press written by Jean-Luc Bannelec.

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  4. I have been fascinated with maps since childhood. The maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth series absolutely delighted me. I have tried to draw maps for some of my own writing and they’re never as good as I’d like. The map of Nether Monkslip shown here is one type I really love, and the map of The Island of Moth is the type I’ve attempted to draw.

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    1. The Tolkien maps are where it all started and finished for me. My daughter is having her ‘Harry Potter books summer’ at the moment and I’ve told her that I had a ‘Tolkien summer’ at about the same age. The maps were a big part of that..Still love looking over them.

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  5. I have always loved maps, especially those related to novels.

    I even have a beautiful large framed version of Rhys’ Three Pines map signed by Louise Penny hanging in my home library. I look at it often and try to figure out who lives in which home.

    Another favorite of mine is the map included in the original edition of THE PRINCESS BRIDE.

    This was a wonderful interview and Rhys seems like a fascinating man. I’m thinking we should get him to attend one of the crime fiction conventions for a panel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your kind words. Crime fiction conventions.. sounds fun.
      I’ll have a look at the Princess Bride maps.. never knew there was a map:)

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  6. How interesting. I don’t generally read books with maps in them, but it’s always fun to find one. It definitely gives you a better picture of the setting.

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  7. I love looking behind the scenes of maps and books. I love maps in books — the maps really make the book come alive for me. My favorites are the maps in Louise Penny’s books and the ones in Deborah Crombie’s books.

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    1. Louise’s world was very interesting and fun to do. As I mentioned in the interview, I’ve just finished another map for her next book which is set in Paris. Gamache is on holiday I believe and ‘gets involved’..surprise surprise!

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  8. I too enjoy maps. I always have a map open on my lap when we travel. Thanks for the interesting insight into maps in books.

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  9. Good morning!!
    I love maps in books! You do a wonderful job!!! All the detail you put in your maps are amazing! To me it can make the book come even more alive. I have always enjoyed looking at maps . Excepectly older ones. They have so much history. Do you collect maps? I have picked up old maps from garage
    sales.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words. I don’t collect maps per se but do have a number of old maps around the house. Coming from Wales, I do have a number of old Welsh historical maps which are wonderful.

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  10. I love looking at maps especially in books but also calendars, natural history museums, travel history (or real life hiking) or use them in art history as a docent when I’m doing a tour (which I sadly can’t do right now). Jan Karon’s books have delightful maps of Mitford and I always found the street and home of each character!

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    1. Just looking at those now.. very nice. I love the way the names ( or labels as we call them) of the featured places are placed in the back gardens.. Cool idea.. I might pinch that techniques..don’t tell anyone!

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  11. I really enjoy your work Rhys- it’s so detailed and articulate! My favorites (so far) La Merced (Dinosaur Lords), Deadman Walking and Memoirs of Lady Trent maps… you really hit them out of the park!
    Cheers-
    Kelly Braun

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  12. What a fascinating post! I’m ashamed to say that I don’t think I have ever looked at the artist’s name of a map in a book. Now I will make sure that I always do! Such an interesting process. I adore maps; my two favorites are the illustrated maps and the ones that look hand drawn but still cartoony. I love the appearance of the trees in the Island of Moth map. Thank you Rhys, for explaining and displaying your work for us all.

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    1. Fantasy trees and mountains.. I do tend to spend hours and hours drawing small trees and dramatic mountains… so here and there I do sometimes cheat a little..which is another reason photoshop is so wonderful…
      The stylized trees in the Moth map are, I guess, my pathetic attempt at Tolkien trees..:)

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  13. These are wonderful; such beautiful work.
    We are really map people here. I still prefer to read a good map to travel by, and I love maps in books. We always have maps hanging in our home,(sometimes, many). In fact, when my husband taught history and social studies, his classroom had so many maps, the headmaster would refer to it as ‘the war room’ and his students added Tolkien and other fantasy-world maps to the walls.
    I congratulate Rhys.

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    1. Thanks Tonette,
      Maps really can be beautiful images in their own right. I particularly love some ancient maps which can have an real abstract quality. Also in recent years I’ve become a total Google Earth fanatic. I do use it a lot for the real world maps I make, but can then get lost for hours scanning over landscapes and cities. Some of the shapes of field systems and cities are just fantastic. Distraction central!

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  14. oh my gosh, I love this so much. Thanks Rhys for sharing your thought process, especially around the maps for my Lucy Campion mysteries. I always thought you did a wonderful job! Thank you Edith for doing this interview.

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    1. Hi Susanna….nice to finally get a chance to chat to you…we weren’t allowed to ‘meet’ while I was doing your map…. Can’t possibly have artists and writers writing to each other..:):)
      Really enjoyed working on your map..I’d always wanted to do that sort of map of London, so was delightedfor the opportunity. Strength to your writing elbow in the future..and maybe have a chance to work again in future.

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  15. I enjoy the maps. It’s those little details that lend something extra to the story and really helps with the visualization. And I definitely admire the artist who can bring a story to life that way.

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  16. Thanks so much for visiting with the Wickeds, Rhys! I have always found maps in books to be so charming! They always add another layer of pleasure to the experience.I also love the floor plans of country houses at the beginning of many Golden Age of Detective Fiction novels like those by Agatha Christie. A map or a floor plan is sort of a mood setter, like a visual “Once upon a time” for me. It is as though they provide an acknowledgement that the reader is about to go on a journey and thus should be well prepared.

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    1. Hi Jessie.. you guys are such fun and full of energy aren’t you! 🙂
      I’ve always wanted to do a sort of floor plan of an old mansion type map.. though just remembered I did one for Gin’s Demon Summer book which was cool. I’d love to do more though.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I love maps of all types, but especially those maps in books that convey not just the detail, but the feeling of the place the author has written about. Your maps are invariably wonderful and absorbing to study.

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  18. How interesting to know what goes into the maps.

    Unfortunately, the maps I look at never get it right. 😉 My vision always differs from the maps, which I’m sure are closer to the author’s vision than mine is. But it always throws me off when it isn’t exactly what I pictured.

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    1. Ah Mark… you’ve nailed it there. That’s the challenge and as you say I have to go with how the author sees a place in their mind. To be honest I don’t often read the books I work on (hmm..shock! horror! disgust!), though I do often get copies of the manuscript and copies of the books. It’s all down to the authors vision and me trying to get as close to that as I can.

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  19. What a fascinating post today, thanks! And I enjoyed the rhys’ pieces website, too. I’m not an artist by any means but I love maps in books (and the National Geographic map inserts as well). It’s fun to locate the characters in a story to the map. Such a lot of work to get it right. One big drawback of e-books is trying to see the maps. Great post!

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    1. National Geographic maps..yep.. you said it!
      They were another early obsession of mine. I loved those..with the little descriptions in boxes of what was where and the huge fold out maps. The map I did for ‘American Dirt’ was based quite a lot on those maps. My parents had a vast amount of books around the house and I can still clearly see the blocks of yellow NatG’s squished in with rows of those green and white and orange and white Penguin books. Way better than any kindle collection :):)
      Thanks Sally

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  20. OMG, this is a dream come true for me! I had my daughter draw a map of my little Cajun Country Village, Pelican, Louisiana, but she really was just doing me a favor. The second version, she mostly cut and pasted. I salivate to think how Mark might bring my fictional Cajun Village between a bayou and the Mississippi to life! I must find a way to afford him!!

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      1. Now Edith,..I wasn’t going to say anything !:) I’m more than happy to go by Mark..:) ha

        Ellen.. that sounds great. I’d love to see what your daughter did..and to chat about a next step if and when that’s what you’re thinking.. trust me, I’m a push over 🙂
        Love, Mark xx

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  21. I love maps of the places in books. And I do pore over them. I have occasionally learned who an artist is, but sometimes it is not credited. I also love floor plans, even when they don’t do a thing as far as solving the mystery. It just adds something more interesting to a book.

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    1. Yes, I’m always excited if there’s a map or two in a book. The more maps the merrier, but I’m slightly biased there
      I’ve even got carried away with a story I’m working on where I’ve written a fair bit but also have a pile of maps that I spend more time fiddling with. So that would be a book of maps with a bit of story in there..I think that’s the wrong way round! Maybe I need a proper writer to ‘inhabit’ the map.

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  22. RHys, how lovely to hear more about the process. That map of Lucy’s London stands out in my mind because I have not been to London, and really enjoyed being able to flip back and forth between Susanna’s pages and your map to walk the streets with Lucy. And the Nether Monkslip maps are a true delight. Fingers crossed for a map in my next book. Thanks for telling us more about it!

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    1. Always excited with new projects, so bring it on 🙂
      I probably do enjoy working on maps of London mostly, or any places that I know well come to think of it. It’s great doing historical maps and seeing how areas and roads etc. change dramatically. I did a book a few years ago about Boston in the late 1700’s ( Battle of Bunker Hill etc) and to see how the city was just a bunch of islands in a swamp almost was fascinating .. that was great fun to pull together. Another one was a map about Berlin where I had to blend modern Berlin and medieval Berlin together into one single map. Fiddly but fascinating.

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      1. We have a 1916 Boston trolley/railroad track map framed and mounted in our living room. It is huge. It shows all the harbor islands before they were absorbed into the mainland. We lived in Boston from 1973 to 1992 and this map is fascinating.

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  23. Wow. This is fabulous stuff. I do love maps in fiction and in real life. As I child I always had the map when we went on vacation, and kept trying to get my dad to take alternate routes along old gravel roads (to my mother’s dismay, I’m sure — I think I was purposely oblivious). I have a map of London in about 1800 (which I have been meaning to frame since…forever), a book of old English county maps, and also a book called Smugglers’ Britain which has modern ordnance survey maps of all the coastal areas where smuggling was common.

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    1. ‘The road less travelled’..I always went for that as well. For some strange reason, I rather enjoy getting lost (within reason, of course), then having to find your way ‘back’. I like the mystery and element of chance in that..in the country and in the city. I guess that’s all about the journey and less about getting to the end. …which sort of explains why l draw maps…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! It’s so much fun to go another way (perhaps in the hope of a shortcut, or because of losing one’s sense of direction, or just because it’s different), encounter the unexpected, and wonder whether you’ll find your way back. :~))

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  24. The first map I remember was in Tarzan the Terrible. I love maps in books. That’s one reason I prefer regular books instead of e-books, since I flip back to the maps often. Stay safe and well.

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  25. My son and his wife are map enthusiasts. They read and play board games that have maps attached. Have you ever worked on a map for a game? I had no idea that gaming was so popular among the 30+ year old set, but they have groups of friends who get together to play these very involved and beautifully drawn games. It is nice to put a face to your name Rhys. I have enjoyed your work in books for many years. Thank you for being here on The Wicked’s blog.

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    1. Judy.. I haven’t actually worked on a map for game. I was asked one time, but I think they needed to be built in a certain way and the idea fizzled out.
      I’m delighted that you’ve seen a bit of my stuff in books along the way.
      This has been a fun day of chatting with people.

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  26. Hi, Rhys! So good to see you here and thanks for the lovely maps. In addition to the map of Nether Monkslip, you also did the map for Demon Summer—the abbey map. The maps are all on my website it anyone wants to take a peep. Under the Max Tudor tab.

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  27. Hi Gin,..nice to hear from you.
    I’ve had a great day and have loved reading peoples comments about my map work.
    Of course, the Nether Monkslip map holds a special place for me as it was the first real ‘flyover’ map I did I think. I remember mentioning to you that the village reminded me a lot of how I imagined The Archers village being looking like (…not sure if everybody knows that long running BBC Radio 4 series..)
    Hope you’re keeping well and that you’re still busy twiddling away at the typewriter:):)..

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  28. Excellent post and discussion! I had no idea that there were so many map enthusiasts. I thought that my husband and I were outliers for having a framed map hanging in our kitchen. Now that I’ve seen this post, I see that I’m in good company.

    I’ve always enjoyed maps and over the years I have gathered a fairly large collection of everyday maps. Plus I have several books with maps.

    I’m going to start saving up for a map from Rhys. That would be so much fun.

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    1. Nothing classier than walking into a kitchen that has a map on the wall..Outliers unite!
      Let me know when you need a little cartography of your own.
      Cheers!

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  29. Fascinating! I’m currently working on mapping the locations (some real, some not) in a historical I’m writing, using software. And dreaming of a day when I’d be able to have Rhys draw my map!

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  30. Hi Catherine,
    Would be delighted to get involved if and when I’m needed. Don’t be shy..I’m very user friendly. 🙂
    Cheers!

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  31. Count me in as a map lover! Maps make even the best book that much better! I had often wondered if you, the map maker was expected to read the book. Keep up the good work!

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    1. Judi…When I started doing this, I really tried to read every line of every manuscript that was sent to me. I felt like I wasn’t taking it seriously enough if I didn’t do that. I used to highlight every little description of the landscape or cityscape and make notes.
      Then it seemed that I could get a quicker, clearer picture sometimes from asking specific, mapp-ie questions about the world of the book from the author and editor.
      Also, there are often deadlines to hit and then…I just got lazy!:( Bad!..
      But, guaranteed.. I will totally read the whole book of any Wicked author friends who need a map.. I promise ! :):)

      Liked by 2 people

  32. Wow, most interesting! I always look at maps in books I read with a magnifying glass. I like the maps in the middle school age books/series, Warriors, by Erin Hunter. My 11 year old grandson & I read the series. Thanks!

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