One of the most enjoyable phases, during the production of The Slave Prince, was having two maps cartograph-ed by my author friend, John Robin. Now, if you’re an author, having your fictional world realised on paper is an amazing feeling. It takes the publishing experience to a whole new, fantastical level. It makes your work feel legit, as though it’s ready to play with the big boys! So truly, I am very grateful for the work John has done. And today, I’m giving him the spotlight.
Having worked with him, I believe John can give great insight on world building from a writer/cartographer standpoint. As a writer himself – authoring A Thousand Roads – he is able to approach this facet of ‘creation’ from a unique perspective. So whether you’re a writer, an artist, both, or neither, what he has to say will certainly make an interesting read. But… before we get to the Q&A, let’s take a look at what he has done for the realm of The Slave Prince.
FROM DOODLE TO ART
*Click image to enlarge*
CHATTING WITH JOHN ROBIN
Me: So John, let’s start with how you begin mapping a universe?
John: This is actually the hardest part for me. I always need a starting point. Usually, when it is my own world, I will begin one map by expanding another, or drawing beyond the boundaries of others where I have been curious about what lay beyond them. I just need a starting point, then my pen tells me where to go.
I find it much easier to draw someone else’s fantasy universe because I can always ask for a sketch. In your case, with The Slave Prince, the two sketches you provided me were excellent because I was able to begin translating your vision into something produced by my own hand.
Me: Do you incorporate your own imagination into the maps?
John: Absolutely. Most of the flourishes that end up in the final map are discoveries that happen in the process of doing. For instance, the forest south of Alpenwhist on the kingdom map wasn’t in the plan, but our work developing the world map beforehand reminded me there are woods south of Alpenwhist. So, I drew the woods. I didn’t expect there to be so many details in the forest, but the process of drawing revealed surprises, as it always does for me when trees are involved.
I cannot explain how this happens. It’s a bit like writing a book I suppose: one might see many plot points, but there are the surprises that come a few paragraphs from when you write them, and they radically change the story. Aragorn in Lord of the Rings was a character like this, apparently – just walked into the story, but what an important player to the whole trilogy! This is much like how I’d describe my imagination at play when I draw a map. Be it my universe or someone else’s, the map is a drawing and it has a life and a story, much like a book. The lines are the storytellers, and I am their obedient scribe.
Me: What do you find challenging in each project?
John: The hardest part for me is usually the final touches, especially the labeling. I prefer to write my own labels in a styled script by hand, but as I learned in our work together, these don’t translate well in a smaller map on page. I learned a lot about incorporating fonts and spaces in Photoshop after the drawing was complete. However, I do want to develop my own fonts based on my handwritten letters for future. It was liberating working on the second map (Alpenwhist kingdom map) knowing I could draw it without placing any labels. In the case of the world map, which I drew first, I wrote in all the labels by hand, then had to meticulously erase every one to replace them with a font. The advantage of this was that the space for the label was created. What this taught me was to leave space for labels on future maps, and hopefully begin my own carefully crafted letters for future use.
Me: What do you enjoy about cartography?
John: Drawing a map tells me the story of a world. Seeing how mountains span, rivers bend, forests arise, coast lines bend and shape, lakes appear on empty page, islands dot the seas – all these things tell me a story. Not just in the shapes. Often I will see a stand of trees and know it has an important history or should have a name. Or, I will label a territory and the story behind it comes to mind just in how the name sounds once I write it down. Drawing maps is what, for me, makes a fantasy world feel truly alive. In fact, when I go to the fantasy section and look for new fantasy books, it’s the maps that I turn to right away and tell me whether I want to enter this new world or not. It was, after all, the map of Wilderland in The Hobbit, on my grandmother’s bookshelf, that I would flip to many nights before I knew how to read, that eventually pulled me to fantasy and my own map-making.
Me: Does cartography help you in your own writing endeavours?
John: Yes! There is a storytelling that augments the narrative form I experience when writing. It sharpens world-building in ways that listing details alone would not do. In a way, drawing a map is a third level of engaging with a fantasy world beyond writing and world-building. A bit like M.C. Escher’s drawing hands, one feeds the other, and the other feeds it, and it circles on and on into deeper levels of imagination.
What did I say – it takes someone who can channel both of his amazing gifts to be able to build worlds from a unique perspective. I’ve found myself trusting John in the decisions he has made for my world and I have no regrets. Thanks again John, for playing such an important role in the production of The Slave Prince! You the man!
I hope this post has given you some insight on cartography and how it can build a fantasy world. I’ve learned a lot from working with John, and I’ve learned some more just from this ‘interview’. If you’d like to know more about John and his works, take a peek below! I’ve included some extras for those who’d like to give this man and his talent a chance.
MORE ON JOHN ROBIN
John runs a blog at TheEpicFantasyWriter. He’s also the senior editor of Story Perfect Editing Services and founder of Dreamscape Cover Designs. If you’d like to get in-touch with John on social media, he’s on Twitter and Facebook!
A Thousand Roads
Release Date: October 31, 2018 (eBook) / January 19, 2019 (Paperback)
Genre: Dark epic fantasy
Azzadul, the god-king, the Lord of Light revered by many. When the darkness corrupted him, he became the Dark Lord, feared the world over. His magic, once a gateway to immortality for his people, delved instead into horrors as he sought ever deeper levels of mastery. Children were stolen from their beds, coveted for his blood-rites. When he vanished, it all ended, and the people of the world tried to forget, to move on…
Jak Fuller has always wanted a home. An orphan born ten years after Azzadul’s disappearance, he has wandered far and wide, trying to forget the memory of a burning woman. When he comes to Fort Lasthall, on the outskirts of the Dark Lord’s former kingdom, he hopes to finally settle into a peaceful life. Instead, he finds himself unnaturally compelled by a dark, terrible voice, a voice that knows him, calls to him. A sense of destiny that fills him with fear.
New powers are rising in the dark places of the world. A master of fire-rites called Talamus the Red, arch-foe of Azzadul, seeks to enslave the world with a magic he has been developing for the many centuries of his life. Ready at last, there is only one weakness in his plan, an obstacle he is determined to destroy: a boy, bound to an old magic that just might resurrect the power of Azzadul.
The very power bound to Jak, before he was even born…