Every gift tells a story...
May 15, 2015
‘Why can’t you leave things alone?’ I am sometimes asked, as I make yet more tiny changes to something that seems to be selling perfectly well as it is… OK, I apologise: I’m a terrible tinkerer. Each time I reprint this, I add someone, take someone else out, re-do one or three names.
I think I only started because the first 500 copies (back in 2010) had a spelling mistake. In Northern Ireland, the poet Robert Greacen was spelt ‘Greacon’. If any of you have one of these, I will happily come round to your house with my pens and correct it! But in doing so I also took the opportunity to add a couple of names that I had forgotten (Angela Carter and Louis MacNeice).
At the fourth edition stage I decided I was happy with the name selection, the lettering and so on, and thought I would leave it there. By this point it had sold several thousand copies, and I was both used and resigned (maybe also flattered) to answering a steady of trickle of queries as to why this author was there, why hadn’t I included someone’s favourite, and so on. It would be impossible to satisfy everybody, of course, and I make no attempt to be canonical or definitive; the map is just one person’s selection.
But once we had done our Literary map of Ireland in late 2013, the Northern Ireland section of this map began to look odd to me. The Irish map represented the whole island as a physical geography, not a political one, and so I decided to recast what was originally a map of the UK as one of the physical Britain instead. So it has a new name, and this meant resizing the artwork too. Whilst only one of the Ulster names seemed to be needed within Britain (C. S. Lewis moves from Belfast to Oxford – with Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker he has a place on both maps, as T. S. Eliot appears on the USA map too) I decided to redraw the whole thing from scratch.
My original outline had been drawn freehand, so I also reproportioned the island a little more accurately – the Lake district and East Anglia were too big and Northumberland too small, and I set about re-evaluating all the names I had included. A couple of obscure ones whose inclusion had been for personal reasons dropped out of sight at this point, and others have arrived: Joe Orton, for example, George Orwell, Caradog Prichard, Ted Hughes and others.
I made alterations of emphasis – Rupert Brooke was larger than John Milton, and whilst both deserve their place, I diminished the former and puffed up the latter – and of geography too: in Pembrokeshire, Waldo Williams and Lynette Roberts, two undervalued modernist giants, seemed to represent the Welsh-speaking north and English-speaking south perfectly. Why had I put them the other way round at first? I have no idea; they are now inverted.
The complaints I sometimes get are almost always about the absence of Dickens, and I am afraid he remains absent. I did think that we could find room for another Victorian novelist alongside George Eliot and Wilkie Collins, but the place went to Anthony Trollope; placed where he is upon the perhaps slender assumption that Barchester seems to resemble Salisbury. Dickens fans, I apologise if you think I am undervaluing your hero but please do not worry: we are preparing a Literary map of London, and be assured, he will feature very strongly in that.
I intend to leave it at this now and stop tinkering. I anyone prefers the earlier look, let me refer you to the tea-towel which still reprints the second edition; I don’t think anyone has noticed or thought to change it. And finally, I hope you like it! I have been amazed by the warmth of the response this poster has had, and continues to receive. Thank you all.
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