The magic of maps


At this year’s November NAWE conference in beautiful Stratford-upon-Avon I was lucky enough to take part in a workshop run by writer Jennie Bailey entitled ‘Everyday Magic and Mythical Maps’. We started the workshop by making up spells based on everyday items. I chose a pen (predictably, perhaps) and most of the participants picked ordinary household items like mugs or buckets… all except one who, enchantingly, chose an oar. Here’s my spell:

Pen for writing
Pen for art
Pen for magic
Make it smart!

Next, giving us each a ‘real’ map of the town to play with, Jennie encouraged us to look afresh at the landscape’s features, the roads and buildings and bridges, and create our own ‘mythical’ version, thinking about smells and sounds as well as sights. There were no rules, Jennie explained: our only task was to go right ahead and create a new version of a very old place, just for our selves.

Soon, I’d made up new names for towers, bridges and streets. I turned an innocuous-looking field into a swamp and decided who (or what) might live there. For me, the boundaries offered an especially rich source of inspiration and I soon found I’d conjured up two entire communities, the Stone People and the Swamp People. The A3400 became a vast barrier between them called The High Divide,  with three ways through: the First Door, the Last Door and Terror’s Tunnel. The gentle River Avon took on a more sinister feel, renamed The Washaway. In just a few minutes, a whole new world started to unfold before me.

A space to play – even if just for ten or twenty minutes – is, I discovered, hugely valuable if you’re a writer who is creating a fictional setting, or space, for a story.

If you’d like to find out more about Jennie and her work, you can follow her on Twitter @wildwrites or take a look at

A story inside a story


The novel I’m writing for 8-12 year olds, The Stone Feather, is set in an imaginary world not so very far removed from medieval England. Much of the action happens in the hero’s home village, Greenoak. As well as imagining what the village looks like, I’ve been thinking about the songs, poems and rhymes that Ethon and all the other the characters in the story would know and recognise – everything from lullabies to jokes, riddles to recipes – and it’s great fun sprinkling these ‘cultural treasures’ throughout the chapters. Hopefully, it will also make Ethon’s world feel rich and real.

The Little Birch Boy is a cautionary tale that sits inside the main story. It is intended to stop adventurous children from straying out of bounds (which, of course, is exactly what Ethon does right from page one!):

Every child in Greenoak knew the story of the child who, disobeying his mother, wandered into Viper’s Wood after dark and came face to face with a huge, silver-eyed wolf. The boy died of fright before the creature could open its jaws. The wolf, blind from birth, simply blinked her shining eyes and padded past, leaving the little body to fade, season by season, into the earth. The boy’s mother, bent with grief, found her only comfort beneath the gently rustling leaves of the young silver birch tree that sprang up, forever beautiful amongst the pines. The tree sang to her, she said. But it was a song that only she could hear.