Thursday, 24 April 2014

Only ten guineas - fee for the original London Underground Map

I've been thinking about the design and layout of my book, and whilst mulling over things like where to put the biography, (front or back in the e-book?) and which side of the page the recommended reading list should go and so forth, I came upon a book which told me about the design of maps. (More about that book later.)

I was immediately taken with the London Underground Map, and reading about it made me realise that good design (in maps and in books) is more about functionality than attractiveness.

The first London Underground Map was groundbreaking because it did away with the ideas of scale, and showing features that might be above the ground, because they were unnecessary and invisible to the travellers. Instead he just evened out the stops to make them fit on the circuits or lines, and kept only the essentials, ie the actual stations. The only feature remaining is the river Thames which gives a pleasing aesthetic appearance and shows whether you are north or south of the river.

And I say 'circuits' with inside knowledge bnecause the map was designed by an electrician.Harry Beck who designed it worked as an electrical draughtsman the Engineers department of London Trasport, and applied his knowledge of circuitry to design this map in 1933.

Now it is an icon and has changed little since then.
He was paid ten guineas for it - a guinea was one pound and one shilling - surely the bargain of the century!
1933 underground map
Harry Beck's Design
On his map above there are some ghost stations though, such as The British Museum station, Dover Road, and more recently Aldwych station, which  closed in 1994. This station is still used though - not for trains, but for TV companies needing to film inside a tube station.

And it occurred to me that designing an ebook is like designing this map - you have to think about what is really necessary and junk the rest.
So what groundbreaking thing will I have in my design? Well, it seems to me that nowhere in any ebook, once it arrives on my kindle, is there a trace of the blurb which originally enticed me to buy the book. Which is pretty annoying as I can't always just remember what attracted me from its title alone.The back cover blurb would be really useful.
So I shall probably try to have that in there somewhere - only question is, where? Front, so it is the first thing you see when you are looking for something to read? Or back, where it would go in a tradirtional paperback? What do you think?

And now - the book from which I gleaned this information about the tube map - 'Maps that Made History' by Lez Smart. Subtitled The influential, the eccentric and the sublime, this is a wonderful book which includes such catographic gems as the spa holiday resoprts in the Roman Empire, the location of Eldorado, and a map of the Battle of Culloden. Lots of maps and pictures and quirky information which I am sure would delight the QI elves.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Book brilliantly evokes the 1950's fear of Nukes

I remember when I was a child the fear of nuclear weaponry was so much more obvious than it is now. People joined CND, wore Ban the Bomb stickers on their car windows and bumpers, and wore the symbol around their necks to show their solidarity with the campaign for nuclear disamament.

CND Demo
According to one blog (click on CND picture for whole article)
'The CND emerged from a set of historic developments, which cumulatively worried many British people. One of these key events was the mass publication of America’s official photographs of an earlier thermonuclear test in spring 1954. Several newspapers reverted to religious language to describe the bomb. The Daily Mirror’s star columnist, William Connor, adopted an apocalyptic tone in his ‘Cassandra’ column. He wrote:
WELCOME, Dear Bomb. Welcome and bless you.

Bless those who made you. Bless those who set you roaring and flaming and vaporising the face of the earth.

Bless the hellish heat of you. Bless the bursting heart of you (29 March 1954: 7).

Australian women marching in 1954
Since then, I've grown up, had my family, and these concerns seem to have gone away into the background, no longer part of the current Zeitgeist. And it was only when I picked up 'Red Joan' by Jennie Rooney and began reading that I was taken back to those days. Red Joan is a fantastic book, taking as its central premise the idea that a woman who has access to the secret of the making of the atom bomb might be pressurised to reveal that information, and how her allegiances might shift as political events unfold through her life.

Red Joan is loosely based on the real life spy Melita Norwood, who was only rumbled once she reached the ripe old age of  87 years, Red Joan takes us from the 1930's at Cambridge university to the later years of Joan's life, by which time she is living a perfectly ordinary suburban existance in Sidcup in Kent.

Melita Norwood
Melita Norwood
In an interview with the Telegraph, in which you can read more, Mrs Norwood said:

"I did what I did not to make money," she told me, "but to help prevent the defeat of a new system [Communism] which had, at great cost, given ordinary people food and fares which they could afford, a good education and health service. I thought that perhaps some of what I had access to might be useful in helping Russia to keep abreast of Britain, America and Germany."

Very rarely do we consider what might motivate a person who sells our secrets to a foreign power, but this book conveys it brilliantly - all the grey areas, the atmosphere of fear, the personal and romantic relationships that exercise an inexorable pull on our choices. And very rarely do we consider that a spy might be ulimately altruistically motivated.

For those of you that remember this era, and those who do not, I heartily recommend this gripping and insightful book.