My father bought me my three-volume copy of Lord of the Rings in Sevenoaks Bookshop in the late-1970s. They were the first hardback books I can remember owning. These were Allen and Unwin editions – the copyright page suggests my edition came out in 1978.
Anyone who had those editions will remember the Easter Egg of all Easter Eggs that sat at the back – a beautiful fold-out map, on impossibly flimsy paper and with a complicated folding pattern which always confused me and did again this morning. The artist was Pauline Baynes, and when I picture Middle Earth, I picture it the way she drew it.
When my first book, The English Monster, was published, we used a map as the background image for the cover, but I’ve always wanted an actual map in one of my books – not the expensive fold-out kind that Tolkien’s publisher could afford (not yet, anyway, a man can dream), but a map that was part of the story, that informed the action and, hopefully, added some resolution to the description.
My next book, The Detective and the Devil, is published on April 21st 2016. Part of the book is set on St Helena, an island I have never visited and maybe never will. It’s an island that lives vividly in the words of others, however, not least because St Helena was the ultimate prison (in all senses of the word) for Napoleon Bonaparte. So I had to use my imagination to go there – for me, St Helena was in a sense Middle Earth.
There are maps of St Helena, of course (though surprisingly few from before Napoleon’s arrival), but I wanted a map that had some of what Pauline Baynes added to Tolkien – a little bit of cartographical myth, perhaps. I contacted a few illustrators, but when I came across Neil Gower – who has illustrated Bill Bryson’s new books, who provided a beautiful cover for one of my favourite books of the last few years, Lissa Evans’s Crooked Heart – I knew I’d found my mapmaker.
So here it is – Neil’s map of St Helena, situated at the front of The Detective and the Devil. My dad’s not around to see it, but I know he’d have found it magnificent.