A map says up to here and no further. A map says this is all I’ve got to say. A map say there’s more, but not on my map. Like everything we put down on paper, we choose what gets left out, or rather we choose what to concentrate on, and because of the nature of focusing, things gets left out. Everything is connected to something else, stories have tangents, paintings don’t stop at the edges of the canvas, and a map has the world.
A map is a story. We come to maps because we want a story, we want the story from someone who’s been there, who knows. Even Google Maps are clearly created by people, lots of people. When I started Around the Park in 80 Days, I knew I wanted a map of my own., a map that would be linked to my story. The only problem was, I can’t draw. So I found an illustrator. The only problem was, he’d never been to Clissold Park. I like problems like that. It seemed like something interesting could come out of an attempt to collaborate on creating a map. From the start, I enjoyed seeing how someone else saw the Park they’d never seen.
When I first sent Ross, the illustrator, some images of the park for him to create a map, his first draft came back without the main roads that define the park, mainly Green Lanes and Stoke Newington Church Street.
When I imagine the park, my picture of it is bound up in the roads that frame it. The Park doesn’t exist without its framing device! I can’t imagine the park without the traffic on its periphery, more on the Green Lanes side than on the Church Street side, both, though, very different types of traffic. On the Church Street side it can sometimes feel rural, cars slow down and make their way into the self-contained village-y feel of Stoke Newington.
Green Lanes traffic is going places, just passing through, moving at a fast pace up and down the A105: down to Newington Green and on to Hackney or into town; upwards to Haringey, Palmers Green, Winchmore Hill. I had a lover once whose wife and kids lived in Winchmore Hill, so, for a while, Green Lanes, one of the longest roads in London, was the thoroughfare that connected my place to where he went back to. At some point he left his wife and for a while lived with me at this end of Green Lanes. I went only once with him to that end of Green Lanes, so in my mind it has remained blurry, not as distinct as the beginning, the rows of shops and restaurants just off Newington Green that I know well: the Tesco’s, the fishing tackle shop, the fish shop, the Turkish grill, the charity shop, the Turkish social clubs for men.
I asked Ross to put in the names of the streets, and I wanted the names of the gates, too, as if they somehow named the paths that branched out from them. Those paths are tributaries of the main roads; the gates – the mouths of each tributary. In terms of what was in the park itself, I didn’t get too caught up with scale and precision, though I wanted the paths to be more or less precise. I didn’t mind that the bowling green wasn’t really in the picture, or that the skatepark took up more space in the illustration than it did in reality, or even that Clissold House was facing the wrong way. Maybe there was something atavistic in what I cared about. Show me where the rivers are, the places I’ll need to cross, the places I can travel on. Everything else I’m happy to discover on my own.
A map is also an impression of a place. The story the map-maker chooses to tell. The map says use me to find your way. The map says I will show you the way. The map says beware of the swamp, the cliff, the crater. The map says go this way, take this route if you want to get safely from a to b. I like maps that tell a story, maps that encourage discovery, that make you want to get lost. It’s what I’ve been doing with the new Writing Maps I’ve been putting together with different illustrators.
A map of the Park in context won’t show the details of the park. It won’t show you the steps up to the cafe where you can sit in the sun and drink your coffee, it won’t show you the benches by the ponds, nor the running track, nor how lush and green the grass is in mid-summer. Even if you go to Street View on Google Maps you won’t see what’s in the middle of the park: the deer, the butterflies, the dog-free zone.
I’ve just had some postcards made of the more-or-less precise map of Clissold Park. If you want a copy, feel free to send me a message below with your address and I’ll pop one in the post to you.
You can also see more about my Writing Maps project here.