How many miles to Babylon?

rocksAnd what’s that in kilometres?

Or in leagues?

There’s no avoiding the grim reality that I have to nail down the details of the world for a soon-to-be first draft. No more faking it – it’s tipped 99000 words now, so I can’t avoid it anymore.

Don’t worry, I have a map. (Come on, it’s a fantasy world, of course I have a map!)

So far, so easy, I hear you thinking.

But it’s one thing to look at a map, and know where things are in relation to everything else, and it’s another thing to have a sense of the scale of those things. Anyone who is used to driving in a country the size of Australia (or Canada, or the USA, I’m sure) who has found themselves five villages, or a whole county, past the town they wanted , when driving in the UK, knows what I’m talking about.

And then, my questions start: how long would it take to get there by horse? What about in a boat? Or on foot?

Each question has a whole subset of additional questions: what are the roads like? How healthy is the horse? Is there a convenient bridge or ford? Is it a sailing ship or a row boat? What are the currents like? What is the season and how does that effect travel? If a Roman soldier could do 20 Roman miles (not our miles) in five summer hours (not our hours) with a 20 kilogram pack, then how many kilometres could someone reasonably cover in an unloaded, forced march? By what margin would a messenger pigeon beat a horse rider carrying the same message? What exactly is the airspeed velocity of a European swallow?

All I can say is thank goodness for the internet. All the answers to my questions are there – it’s just a matter of pulling them together and making sense of them. I only need to do a little loin girding, and get on with it.

Good luck with your current challenge, whether it is writerly, editorial, or otherwise. Mine is utterly cartographic – Carpe charta!

Oh, and if you ever wondered, the average cruising airspeed velocity of an unladen European Swallow is roughly 11 metres per second, or 24 miles an hour (or, perhaps, only 20 miles an hour – the maths is here. )