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Book of the Road

Project Summary

Road atlas to Britain and Ireland, with a guide included and numerous extra features.

As a staff editor for Reader's Digest General Books, I worked for over a year subbing copy to accompany the long-established road atlas, the Book of the Road. This 528-page edition was revolutionary in that it had a totally new feature whereby each map spread was printed in such a way that the fold opened in the middle to reveal text about the area and places to see. Each spread of text included on the left-hand side an introduction, a long caption about a man or woman connected to the area, and a piece highlighting a particular aspect of the locality; on the right-hand side of the spread was an alphabetical gazetteer, with photos, and listings of lcoal information such as tourist information cenrres , sports venues and annual events.

It was as one senior editor called it 'a masterpiece of compression'. Certainly an extraordinary amount of information squeezed into a single spread. The authors invariably wrote way overlength, and - it must be said - whoevever commissioned them didn't brief them that well. In the end, I ended up writing about half of the spreads, and got the other subs to edit them. We agreed this system worked a lot more smoothly.

So, for example, the map area of the Cumbrian Fells and Hadrian's Wall folds open to feature an introduction on the area with a piece about Hadrian's Wall and a long caption on local historian Thomas Carlyle. The right-hand spread features text on Annan, Carlisle, Ecclefechan, Gretna Green and 18 smaller places - from Abbeytown to Talkin Tarn Country Park, plus listings of such events as the Alston Sheepdog Trials and Haltwhistle Carnival, local radio frequencies and much more. This was in the pre-internet era when access to information of this kind was a lot harder to get hold of. Every fact was meticulously checked by phone researchers, and maps were produced inhouse by the Reader's Digest's own cartographers.

A civil servant from the Department of Transport came down to discuss the (surprisingly complex) topic of road signs with me - we featured them all on five pages and worked closely with the DoT in finalising the content.

Copyright © Tim Locke. All rights reserved.