I have been promised for some time that the finished versions of The Lightstep would be sumptuously beautiful. Copies finally arrived with me last week. And they are. They’re a credit to the designers and a vindication of those who looked at earlier proofs and said that “good” wasn’t good enough.
But nothing’s ever perfect, is it?
We had thought quite hard about the map. There’s some travelling in the story, and we knew that most English-speaking readers would need a reminder of the relative positions of Mainz, Frankfurt, the Rhine and so on. The problem was that the some of the geography in the book - the most important part, centred on the state of Erzberg, is fictional. To put it on a map, we would have had to plump this imagined state down on top of a real city somewhere on the upper Main. Granted, it wouldn’t have been difficult. I know exactly which city it would have been - I’ve visited it, of course. But whereas I was perfectly happy to create Erzberg in words, to do so on a map at the expense of something that actually exists seemed to me and to my publishers to be going too far.
The solution we hit upon was a compromise. We would put the map on the end papers, as if it were a piece of decoration. If the reader chose to glance it they would find Frankfurt, the Rhine, Mainz, Heidelberg and so on - enough to make them that little bit more comfortable as they read the story. But there would be no sign of Erzberg. And because the map would be presented as decoration rather than information, the reader would be less likely to feel cheated by that. It was a tricky balance, but the best we felt we could do. And a very handsome map was drawn up by the artist Neil Gower, for the purpose. Alas! It did not make the cut. When I opened the cover of my first copy I found that the endpapers were beautiful, maroon, and blank. I don’t know why the map was omitted. I suspect it got forgotten when control of the cover passed from one set of designers to another within the Random House Empire. Or perhaps some power on high decided that the balance we were trying to strike was just a little too tricky to work. (But if so, the power in question thought it unnecessary to inform the author). So that little blend of fact and fiction will not be presented to the public. Readers who want to know where Maria’s coach is taking her will have to put down the book and reach for an atlas. And putting down books is not something I like to encourage.