Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Wonders of Google Maps!

Since the art of research has been bandied around Type M recently, I wanted to add my two cents.

I love Google Maps.

Although controversy continues to rage about the invasion of privacy—and I have to admit to feeling a bit alarmed when I googled our cottage on the north Cornish coast and saw an image of myself and my sister enjoying an early morning cuppa—who can deny it’s a great resource for an author? No more jumping into a car, getting on a plane or wearing out shoe leather pounding the pavements—unless you have an expense account or a good CPA.

My Vicky Hill mysteries are set in Gipping-on-Plym in Devon, England, and obviously it doesn’t exist. I like to take various slices of England and create my own ideal town. Since Vicky is a newspaper reporter, the Gipping Gazette is located at the top of the High Street in Tiverton. Actually, it was where I started out my newspaper career—the name of the newspaper has changed many times but I still get a thrill when I drive by. The ancient Pannier market serves as the locale for Gipping’s own market; The Grange is a private country estate where I used to keep my horses and, had I not had Google Maps, I would never have discovered an adorable folly nestled in the woods that became a key setting in my second book, SCOOP!

Like Donis, only a fraction of what I research ever reaches the page, but I absolutely have to know and “see” my world inside out before I can write with confidence. When I do reach the odd roadblock, it’s always because I don’t know a character or a place well enough to bring her, him or it, to life.

A friend of mine was reading The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors chronicling the astonishing battles between the US and Japan in 1944. He told me he kept Google Maps handy so he could follow the course of the campaign, saying it made him feel as if he was physically there.

Of course Google Maps can become a tempting tool for procrastination. Since my protagonist Vicky Hill, claims that her parents were eaten by lions on safari in Africa, I must just transport myself to the Masai Mara to see if I can pinpoint the exact acacia tree where it was supposed to have happened.

7 comments:

John R Corrigan said...

Great post. And some nice ideas the rest of us can steal. Thank you.

Rick Blechta said...

I use Google all the time for this sort of thing. Since my next novel is set in Paris, I used it a lot to set scenes and refresh my memory after our research trip to The City of Light.

As for your Gipping-on-Plym, I think Britain has the best place names anywhere. Someday, I'm going to set something in the hamlet of Roast Beef-on-Kimmelweck (a food delicacy found in Western New York State). I've always thought it sounded like a place in Dorset or Gloucestershire.

Rick Blechta said...

And John, what in God's name are you doing awake at 4:48 AM?

Hannah Dennison said...

Yes John, what are you doing awake at that time? As for strange names in Britain, I have this hilarious pocket book that I should have mentioned on yesterday's post - it's called "The Meaning of Liff." It lists place names in England and gives them a meaning - if you want a laugh, have a peep.

Rick Blechta said...

I was told by Simon Wood that Slough (meaning swamp — it's on the edge of one), the town west of London from where he comes, was long ago given the option of being renamed Royal Marsh...and the good citizens turned it down!

Only in Britain...

hannah Dennison said...

ha ha -- love it! Slough sounds so grim. Actually, it is grim (no offense to you Sloughians)

Donis Casey said...

I tried to use Google maps to have a look at Alafair's farm - a real place! - but it's so far out in the sticks that it isn't mapped. I check out the town of Boynton every once in a while, though. It's never any less depressing.