Literary Maps

Beautiful Hand-lettered Literary Maps

“The idea for these maps was my wife, Dani’s, and I created the first one (the United Kingdom) in November 2010 without thinking all that carefully about the selection. I just trawled my own bookshelves. I have to defend myself almost weekly against angry emails about the absence of Dickens (whom I have never rated); no one seems to have noted that Pope and Orwell aren’t there either. I admire both and would have included them had I been more thorough. The first 500 copies of the map have a spelling mistake (Robert Greacen, in Ulster, is spelled ‘Greacon’); I corrected this on the second printing and added a couple of names – Angela Carter and Louis MacNiece.

I drew the map freehand, and it is somewhat distorted, in order to take into account the concentrations of writers I admire: Kent and Sussex are larger than they should be; Northumberland compressed, and the Lake District grossly inflated. On the fourth and latest edition I altered Kent a little, and relettered a handful of names. I think I should probably stop tinkering with it now!

We were surprised by how well the United Kingdom map sold and straightaway set about a map of the United States. This time I worked with an American editor, Bridget Hannigan, to attempt to get slightly better coverage, particularly of those parts of the United States I know nothing about. I also spent quite a while finding a projection that cinched in the northern parts of the United States, so that I could fit it onto a standard paper size, and then laid out the names state by state. You can see still see the state boundaries in a number of places; try tracing the outlines of Texas or Idaho. New England was incredibly dense and hard to do; California too, but at least that had space to spill over somewhat into the rather emptier Nevada. The solution I came up with for the New York/Boston logjam was eventually to include a spray of American writers who made their names in Europe off the East Coast and a number of Jewish writers who came in during the 1930s.

The next map that I did towards the end of 2011 was a real labour of love. While Scotland had a good amount of space on the United Kingdom map, for Wales I had had far too many good names to try to pack into a tiny area, and we set to work on a dedicated Welsh map, working with Gwyn Davies (from the National Library of Wales) on the name selection. We decided together to restrict the selection to dead writers here, as the Welsh tradition covers 1,500 years and three languages; with the United States it had been 250 years at most; 90 for the West Coast, and all in English. Wales was probably the most aesthetically satisfying for me in terms of the quality of my own lettering, although its sales remain quite modest compared to the others.

And so to the newest map, ‘From Neverland to Wonderland: A Map of Children’s Literature in Britain’, just out this week: this one was entirely Dani’s idea. She did an MA in Children’s Literature at Roehampton a few years back and is passionate about the subject. Here I decided to use slightly brighter colours than the fairly muted palettes I usually favour, and a few more visual jokes; Spike Milligan, for instance, would have been hard to fit into Sussex, where he lived, as it is stuffed already, so I put him walking backwards across the Irish Sea.”

– Geoff Sawers

Order your hand-lettered map of
Literary Britain and Northern Ireland.

Order your hand-lettered USA Literary map.

Order your hand-lettered
Literary Map of Wales/Map Llenorion Cymru.

Order From Neverland to Wonderland: A Map of Children’s Literature in Britain.

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gifts and treats.

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