I’m lucky in having a pretty reliable sense of orientation. It’s in my DNA, along with my inherent skepticism and my susceptibility to sunburn. I’ve always been able to find my way; even as a little kid I had an uncanny sense of direction for someone who didn’t drive. I learned early on how to navigate by the sun and to know where my compass points were at all times. Of course, I can get lost with the best of them if I’m in the dark and get turned around in a place I’ve never been, but that notwithstanding, my mental maps rarely let me down.
I’m not sure whether my enthusiasm for maps is a cause or a consequence of this attribute, but I’ve always been drawn to them. I love books with maps, and I refer to them constantly. Growing up, all my favourite books had maps (and not just the fantasy novels either), so it was a bit of a no-brainer that I’d develop a map of my fictional town of Ferguston. There was no shortage of reasons.
First, it was critical that the spatial relationships, distances and features in my novel were completely logical, realistic, and (most of all) consistent. It had to seem REAL. What does a town of this size look like? Is the scale correct? Does the layout of the town make any sense? Is it in keeping with existing towns of the same size and general region of the country? Also, the movements of my characters are extremely specific: head down this street, make a right, continue for two blocks, make a left, that kind of thing. Is the time allotted to get from A to B realistic, and how is this affected by the geography?
The importance of these considerations was something I understood intuitively (one of the few upsides of an obsessive personality), and I referred to the map continually as I was writing, adjusting and fine tuning it as necessary. But there was more to it than that. The Perpetual Now contains a lot of detail related to setting, detail that is at once historic and geographic. In fact, Ferguston is as much of a character as any human being in the novel, with its own past, its own personality, its own idiosyncrasies, and I wanted my readers to recognize it, connect it with actual towns they know or have been through. In creating Ferguston, I was looking for more than mere believability; I wanted familiarity.
Finally (as Toni Morrison once said) I wrote my novel because I wanted to read it, and it was therefore going to have a map, if only for my own selfish pleasure. There’s a deep satisfaction in creating a world, even a small one, and drawing a map of a fictional setting is the most immediately tangible aspect of worldbuilding, otherwise known as playing god.