Mapping reality

The nearest thing to a holiday for me this year was a trip down memory lane! ……  my childhood. den making fun in the ‘jungle’ close by our house, was recalled when I went to see the film ‘Moonrise Kingdom’. The above map is a  fictitious map created by the film’s director for his island setting of his story, which he chose to call New Penzance Island. The theme of the story is about two young teenagers who run away from home in New England to a nearby island, making camps with fires, plans and mapping is part of their adventure.

These memories probably influenced my choice to partake in the workshop, ‘Campfire on Wild Cat Island’ at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds, this being one of a series of free events currently running there.

Although I’m a bit of a kid at heart, and the event was advertised as suitable for all ages, I thought I might feel foolish among a bunch of kids…..there wasn’t even one! plenty of crayons!……love them!

Dr.Z.Reed Papp, the facilitator and events organiser at the gallery, was extremely knowledgeable about subjects related to her field of study: literature, history and cartography, she presented her material so enthusiastically, conveying the theme in a non ‘stuffy’ way.. .

We were shown a copy of the medieval Mappa Mundi from Hereford Cathedral and asked to consider that no map, even such as Google earth can be a true representation of an area, to do so it would require it  to be the same size! A massive scale globe has been created in British Columbia but to no practical purpose.

The speaker then focussed on mapping in relation to fictional literature. Authors often choosing to  first create a map as a setting before composing their narrative, among them, Ransome’s, ‘Swallows and Amazons’, the first edition manuscript which is part of the University’s, special collections, being made available for us to peruse and handle!; Milne’s, ‘Winnie the Pooh’; Tolkein’s, ‘Lord of the Rings’ and from more recently, the debut novel of Reif Larsen,  about a 12 year old boy cartographer, T.S.Spivet, ‘his’ web site with it’s sepia graphics, very imaginatively captures the setting in a US mining town called Butte,,_Montana. Holly Lisle writer of futuristic novels, is another current writer who uses map doodling as a preamble to writing her storylines, this idea appeals to me, however when it came to the practical part of the workshop, creativity eluded me. I went right back to the ‘frozen’ mode of childhood when asked to draw something, representing  reality was not my strongest point. Intriguingly it was during and following an episode of hospitalisation for an acute manic episode, I felt dis-inhibited enough to free up and produce something i was pleased with, this with the aid of the artist Bob Mills of Prescription Art.

My childhood reading was by design of my parents along more classical lines, not many children’s’ stories, although I had some exposure at school, I guess this explains my present desire to read them, maybe draw a few maps and stories of my own reality.

Mainstream attempts to ‘map’ other peoples emotional experience by using diagnostic tools such as the DSM can be fraught with similar limitations as attempting to build a  global map and could be seen as an exercise in defining reality. Medical diagnosis and treatment for emotional distress does not necessarily lead to the person’s well being.


10 thoughts on “Mapping reality

    • Thank you! our ‘team’ at the last round of Community Reporting training are so pleased to have feed back like yours, it interests us how people come across our posts! and encourages us to continue learning more about blogging. The link you posted is interesting, I have recently had the programme Inspiration recommended to me for a course of study I’m under taking, I was diagnosed as an adult with a SpLd akin to Dyslexia, but it’s good to see there are some free programmes available.


  1. Maps added to fiction works somehow make them so much more clear in one’s mind. Though, they may sometimes detract from developing a person’s own map by imagination. Interesting stuff!


    • Hi Sheraz,

      Thank you for taking the time to post your comment, it’s intriguing to me how the post interested you in Toronto and how you found us! I’ve just completed the last round of 8 week Community Reporting training, your comments will spur me to continue blogging.
      Maybe do some mapping as a preamble to writing something more creative.


  2. Su,
    This is really interesting and I love the picture of the map. I do find maps fascinating, especially old maps which tell a tale of their own. It is interesting to think about maps used in different contexts for example emotional experiences. We are such unique individuals with our own personal experiences and our own reactions to them that it’s clear that there are some limitations in DSM. Very thought provoking and beautifully written 🙂 Vicky


    • So kind as always! I am sorry you couldn’t get to the event that day, we could request another one! or borrow the ideas and do it ourselves?! as regards the ‘beauty’ of the writing, you’ll be able to see on the dashboard how many days and revisions it takes to get it something like presentable.
      I have serious reservations about diagnosis as you can tell and ‘treatment’.


  3. I also find fascinating your comment about the fact that creativity has often eluded you and when asked to draw you reverted to a frozen childhood mode, yet when in a different state which you describe as ‘manic’ – that you were disinhibited and therefore more creative. I wonder what this tells us, and what we can learn from this? Thank you for your honesty and insight 🙂


    • Hi, the terms ‘manic’ and ‘dis-inhibited are terms applied by professionals involved in episodes of whatever it was I experienced’ since 2001. Being honest and straight forward about these experiences has been and remains therapeutic for me, ironically as regards ‘insight’ it was an appraisal of an apparent lack of it that led to a diagnosis!, now where’s the sense in that!! which is what I guess I was inferring about others mapping our reality…….there was good reason for the flamboyant nature of my ‘performance’


  4. Great article about maps in last week’s Observer
    How Nicaragua invaded Costa Rica in 2010 citing a mistake on Google Maps which had mistakenly given them extra territory!!! And quoting Richard Dawkins, who thought that map-making is one of the things that first distinuished us from other animals. Good quote from Jerry Brotton says in his book ‘A History of the World in Twelve Maps’ – ‘maps rarely come without an agenda’. Terry


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