When I was at school, this was how one of my teachers defined Geography and History. Of course, the scope of both subjects expands far beyond this narrow definition (what about Chapesses?) and neither are they mutually exclusive. I don't know about other History Girls, but I spend an enormous amount of time poring over maps. I have them in my notebooks, pinned to my noticeboard. They allow me to track my characters' journeys and to get to know the places where they are living.
In Sovay, the journey was from the English Midlands (it was possible to us a modern map for this - avoiding the M40) to 18th Century London and then to Revolutionary Paris.
The Agas map gives a unique bird's eye view of the Elizabethan city and the Vissher Panorama is just that, a panorama in almost photographic detail. A magnifying glass reveals tiny, accurate visual details, not just of landmarks but of the everyday life of the people going about their business, where they would be going, what they would have seen and witnessed, all this is a priceless resource to the writer.
Useful as maps are, there is really no substitute for visiting a place, following the streets and alleyways of the old cities makes it much easier to imagine your character there, to bring the place and the period to life. Much of what was marked on the historical map will have been swept away by the intervening centuries, by fire, war, continuous and continuing development, but some things remain. When I'm walking a town or a city, or travelling though a landscape, I remember fellow History Girl, Adele Geras' advice to write about what is still there, rather than what has disappeared. It is always possible to find an old building, a cobbled courtyard, a narrow alleyway that holds something of the period that you are hoping to discover.
In Peter Ackroyd's London: A Biography, he describes a continuity of use that can stretch back for many centuries. A walk along modern Bankside won't show much that is left from Shakespeare's day but there are pubs, theatres, restaurants, street performers and beggars, the vibrant life of the river, different vessels on the choppy waters, the rubble strewn foreshore, a cormorant drying its wings. Much has gone, but some things are still there.
|A page from The Fool's Girl Notebook|