Cover Reveal: The Pickpocket, a Rory Origin Story

Guys, I have some exciting news!! For those of you who have ever wondered about Rory and where she came from, I’ve just finished a novella that covers a significant part of her childhood. This is the story of how she came to be who we know her to be. It’s a story I’m really excited to share with everyone — I’m really proud of it, and I hope you’ll like it!

It will actually be available for free for those on my mailing list, so if you were thinking of joining then now’s a good time! You can find it here:¬†http://celinejeanjean.com/newreleaseslist/

For now, here’s the cover for a little taster, and in a few days the novella itself will come out ūüôā Exciting times!!

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Deconstructing Damsport: a round the world tour of the research and inspiration behind the creation of the city

bloodless Assassin EbookPicasso famously said: “Good artists borrow; great artists steal.” I won’t go as far as to say that I’m a great artist, but one of the things I love to do is to steal — and I steal a great deal, from all over the place. So I thought it would be fun to take you through a tour of all the influences and steals that went into creating Damsport, the city in which The Bloodless Assassin takes place.

It’ll come as no surprise that I stole from Victorian London, and I purposefully gave a little nod to Dickens in creating Pip, a cheeky chappy urchin. I won’t discuss the Victorian influences though, as I think they’re quite obvious.

The less obvious steals come from all over the world: Hong Kong, Istanbul, Constantinople, Mumbai, Japan, Cambodia, general 17th century Europe, sort of from Colorado, and Macau, at the current count. Often what I stole is utterly random and I doubt you’d be able to spot the inspirations on your own (if you can, bravo!)

Let’s start with the biggest influence: Hong Kong. I live in Hong Kong and grew up in London, so the first thing I did in creating Damsport was to take Victorian London and push it through a Hong Kong sieve. Hong Kong is the banyan trees that grow everywhere, the humidity, the storms, the crookback streets, the smells, the food, the crush of people in the streets. Regarding the banyan trees, the photos below are taken in central Hong Kong. The top one in particular is in Mid-Levels, one of the most modern and built up parts of Hong Kong. Banyan trees can grow anywhere — including out of walls it seems — and the top photo was the inspiration for the rundown house Rory and Jake¬†lived on top of.

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Hong Kong is also part of the inspiration for the Wet Market. Fruit/veg/meat/fish markets in Hong Kong are called Wet Markets, partly because the produce for sale is fresh, partly because the floor¬†is always wet, and it’s best not to think too much about what is in the murk on the ground. Especially when you see the gusto with which fish are eviscerated!

(I have a particular walk when wearing flip flops — apparently — which means that with my heels I flick up any mud/sludge/dirt/etc up the backs of my legs. Yes, I’m that ladylike. My many visits to wet markets over the years have made me far more familiar with the wet filth¬†of the ground than I would have liked. It’s grim. Which was why when I had to describe a market I immediately thought of¬†how wet the floor would be.)

We¬†also went to a Wet Market in Cambodia (in Kampot to be precise) that was covered with a hodgepodge of tarps and bits of plastic stretched overhead. It caught most of the rain (it was summer and rainy season) but the water still dripped through the gaps, so that the entire market seemed to be dripping — you could hear the water drip above the chatter of voices. That gave birth to the ‘dripping’ description of the Damsian Wet Market.

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The woman sleeping in a hammock among her cuts of meat in the Damsian Wet Market is real — I stole her¬†wholesale:

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The book maze¬†at the edge of the Great Bazaar was stolen from Mumbai book sellers, and I still regret that so little of The Viper and the Urchin takes place among the maze of books — stay tuned, this might be the scene of part of a future story! We discover Damsport’s library in The Black Orchid, and I have a bit of an idea for a story featuring scheming librarians, so it’s very much a possibility.

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I stole the Old Cistern from Istanbul, and of course I bastardised the Grand Bazaar name, although the Damsian Great Bazaar is nothing like the Istanbul version. I also stole Istanbul’s Blue Mosque to make the baths in Spirepass, and while I was at it, used that kind of architecture to inspire the entire area of Spirepass including its name.

From Wikipedia – the Old Cistern

From Wikipedia – Blue Mosque — inspiration for the Damsian baths.

I purposefully made Damsport a port city so that it could justifiably have a real melting post of influences in terms of its architecture and culture. But in working out its political situation, I turned to Constantinople, another port city. And while there’s nothing actually recognisable from Constantinople in Damsport’s architecture, I used it as inspiration to work out how Damsport would be defended. This led to the¬†creation of the Bottleneck Wall, which led me to the Three Day Battle and to Damsport’s current political situation.

Two very random steals came from Japan. I very much doubt anyone will be able to guess where the Japanese influence is, though. The first is the cats in the Damsian cemetery. I was in Tokyo, wandering about on my own, and I chanced across a cemetery. Now I¬†love cemeteries — I find them fascinating. I went walking¬†around the tombs, and I kept coming across these fat cats, most of them white, bathing in the sun and regarding me with that hostility particular to cats. And I thought there was something delightfully creepy about a hostile cat lounging across a tomb and glaring at me as if telling me to leave.

The fun thing about Fantasy is the ability to take something real and twist it into something fantastical — so these cats became the¬†cats in the Damsian cemetery who are voiceless and who appear only at night.

I also stole an old street sweep from Tokyo. I came across an old man with a broomstick that had to be 2 meters long that he wielded in a semi-circle around him to push dead leaves away. Sadly I didn’t take a photo of him but I thought he was too perfect not to steal. I added the vapour lamps hanging from a pole stuck down the back of his shirt to create the Damsian street sweeps. The sweeps are actually one¬†one of my favourite little details of Damsport.

Closer to home — at least digitally — I¬†stole from a fellow blogger’s blog post: from Sammy over at Bemuzin, which technically means I stole from Colorado, I guess. Back in 2014 she wrote about an exhibition she went to see: the stunning¬†Chihuly Garden Cycle show featuring incredible glass sculptures. I thought glass sculptures was such a wonderful concept that I decided to feature glass sculptures as part of the Revels towards the end of the book.

Speaking of the Revels, another act comes from The House of Dancing Water, an incredible show that I saw in Macau. I stole the¬†masts rising from the water from that show (I won’t say anymore to keep the post spoiler-free). If you’re ever in this part of the world, this is one of the most amazing shows I have¬†ever seen.

I also stole and embellished on 17th century European currency. There was a real problem back then of people shaving or clipping the edges of coins, and then melting all the shavings and clippings and making new coins. This problem is what led to our modern coins having edges with writing or patterns on them, so that if the coins were clipped, it would immediately be obvious. I thought that was a fun detail to steal and I decided that Damsport would have the same problem but would deal with it differently. Since the city has both clipped coins and a quantity of foreign currency flowing through it, the logical thing to do seemed to have them deal in coin weights rather than coin values. The expression ‘making change’ then became a fun literal interpretation: Damsians go to smiths to make change by cutting coins up into smaller pieces.

That said I don’t always realise when I’m stealing, and some steals I can’t identify even now. Crazy Willy and his steamcoach, for example: I have no idea where that came from. Likewise for Susie’s coffeehouse and the butterscotch coffee. I detest coffee, so who knows why that idea popped into my head!

Not all steals are successful, either. My most extensive piece of research came to absolutely nothing. I read a large biography of Isaac Newton’s life when I was thinking about how to develop the science of alchemy for Longinus. Newton didn’t just discover gravity, he was an incredible polymath, but he sadly wasted a lot of his time looking into alchemy and I thought I’d find useful inspiration in his life’s work. Turns out Longinus’ alchemy has nothing to do with Newton’s (not a shocker, in hindsight). Not wanting the time I spent reading Newton’s biography to be a complete waste,¬†I put a little nod to him in the form of the prism found in Dr Corian’s place. It has absolutely no bearing on the story, I doubt anyone noticed or remembered it, but it was a nod from me to me, referring to the research I’d done so I could tell myself that I got at least something out of that book.

I don’t actually think reading that book came to nothing — I got some other stuff from it which might be useful some day. Maybe one day I’ll write a new post like this and tell you one of my characters is partly stolen from Newton’s life. Who knows.

So there you have it, all the steals that went into creating Damsport — at least the ones I can remember. There’s bound to be a great many steals that I’ve forgotten about, and a great many more that I can’t figure¬†out. If you’re curious about any other part of Damsport feel free to ask me in the comments and I’ll see if I can figure out where the inspiration for it came from.

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The sequel to The Bloodless Assassin,¬†The Black Orchid also takes place in Damsport, and I’ve added a few more steals — more from Hong Kong (I’m milking the place dry!) a very obvious one from Morocco, and I stole from one of my uncles.

Book 3 in the series is already in the works, but it will take place in a new city and I’m currently creating it (oh such fun!). So far I have influences from Indonesia, more from Hong Kong and Cambodia, a very random steal from Beijing, and an unexpected one from Brittany of all places (a place in France. Papa et Maman — it is indeed from Perros-Guirec). I’ve also taken inspiration from the¬†eyebrows of a singer I really like. I’m hoping to have the third book ready and out by the end of the year, so keep your eyes peeled! In the mean time, if you want to check out The Black Orchid, you can find it here on Amazon. I hope those of you who read it will enjoy it!

PS: I know not everyone reads on Kindle. If you have another kind of e-reader but you want to read The Black Orchid, you can buy it on Amazon, email me the receipt, and I’ll send you an epub instead ūüôā you can find me at celine (at) celinejeanjean.com

Celebrating a Little Milestone

I have reached a little milestone in my publishing author’s journey:¬†I have hit 25 reviews on Amazon, and I wanted to stop and celebrate. Now why 25 and not 20, or 30? I don’t really know — maybe because it’s a quarter of 100, but it seemed like a good time to stop, take stock and enjoy this little success.

In his brilliant commencement speech, Neil Gaiman shares the best piece of advice he ever received, which was from Stephen King. Gaiman was in the midst of the early Sandman success and King told him: “This is really great. You should enjoy it.”

Gaiman then confesses that he didn’t follow that advice, too focused on worrying about the next book, the next deadline…He never¬†really stopped to enjoy that early thrill¬†of success.

Now, I’m not exactly surfing waves the size of Sandman’s success, and yet¬†I can see how that could happen. Even as only a budding published author, I’m already getting caught up in worrying about the next book. Will it prove a satisfactory sequel? Can I get it finished to the level I want in the time I want?

So, remembering Gaiman’s speech, I thought I would take an official pause (and in these days of the internet, what better way to make it official than by writing a blog post?) to stop and enjoy this little milestone.

I’m very aware that in the grand scheme of the literary world, 25 reviews is too small to even be considered paltry. I know¬†of¬†other indie authors who have had more reviews than that by the end of their book’s second month. I also know of authors who’ve had less reviews than that. Each to their own pace and we all have to celebrate our own milestones, such as they are.

Knowing that my book is being bought and being read is such a¬†thrill and I don’t want to risk that sensation diminishing because I’m rushing through everything to get to the next step,¬†or because I’m comparing myself to other writers. Sometimes, it’s important to stop and enjoy the moment. 25 people who are not related to me by blood or shackled to me by matrimony chose to take the time to¬†write reviews about my book. That is¬†such a wonderful thing!!

Of course I’m aware that not everyone will enjoy my book¬†(maybe you, reading this right now didn’t enjoy it), but that’s ok.¬†I love Vonnegut’s take on this: ‘If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.’ You can’t please everyone, after all, and there’s no point trying. Knowing that not everyone will enjoy a given book makes finding those people who have enjoyed it all the more special. It’s like building a tribe, in a way.

So a big thank you to everyone who read and enjoyed The Viper and the Urchin, and who took the time to write those reviews, it really means a lot!

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A Round Up of Books I Loved

Of late I’ve been lucky to read some amazing books, and I thought I’d share a few that really stood out for me. I don’t do reviews normally — I’m just not very good at writing them, so I tend to stick to ratings. Review writing really is an art — and one that I do not possess! But I think these books really deserve both mention and reviews, so here they are, and for each I’ve included a quote that I really enjoyed.

In the Night Garden — by Catherynne Valente

This is a must for any mythology and fairytales/folktales lover.¬†In the Night Garden¬†starts off with a little girl who has been cast out into the Palace Garden of a sultan. Around her eyes are two large, inky stains, which are in fact made of tiny writing — said writing containing magical tales that coil¬†around her eyes.

When the sultan’s youngest son encounters the girl, she begins to tell him the stories imprinted on her eyes. The stories coil and¬†flow in and out of each other, until they weave a magnificent tapestry. Valente was a poet before she wrote novels, and it shows: her writing is as breathtaking as the sheer range of mythology and fairytales she creates, but there is humour and self-awareness to these tales too. These are, by the way, not fairytales for the faint of heart, but they are as beautiful and dark as those collected by the Brothers Grimm.

I couldn’t decide between these two quotes, so you get both! From the start of the book:

Once there was a child whose face was like the new moon shining on cypress tress and the feathers of waterbirds…

Now this child had a strange and wonderful birthmark, in that her eyelids and the flesh around her her eyes were stained a deep indigo-black, link ink pooled in china pots. It gave her the mysterious taciturn look of an owl on ivory rafters, or a racoon drinking from the swift-flowing river.

And from within one of the stories etched on the girl’s eyes:

“Well,” the Marsh King pursed his beak politely, “at any rate, your manliness need only last for a relatively brief period. I have already discussed this in detail with some of the lower Stars‚ÄĒwhite dwarfs and the like. I shall bundle you up tight as a mitten in a human skin until,” and here he cleared his long blue throat dramatically, “the Virgin is devoured, the sea turns to gold, and the saints migrate west on the wings of henless eggs.”

“In the Stars’ name, what does that mean?” I gasped.

“I haven’t the faintest idea! Isn’t it marvelous? Oracles always have the best poetry! I only repeated what I was told‚ÄĒit is rather rude of you to expect magic, prophecy, and interpretation. That’s asking quite a lot, even from a King.”

The Rosie Project — by Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman is a professor of genetics¬†with Aspergers. When he turns his sharp intellect to the problem of finding himself a wife, he goes about this with his customary precision and scientific know-how: he creates a sixteen-page questionnaire to help him identify the perfect partner. Enter Rosie, a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, a late-arriver. Rosie is entirely wrong — she is in fact immediately struck off the list as potential mate.

When Don agrees to help her search for her father using DNA testing, an uneasy but touching friendship blossoms between the two. I’m sure you can guess where the story is headed. This book is brilliantly written, it’s laugh out loud funny at times, tear-jerkingly touching at others, but most of all I think Simsion did a fantastic job in¬†finding the humour and emotion in a delicate subject matter, without it ever being unkind or overly sentimental.

There was only one bar of that name, in a back street of an inner suburb. I had already modified the day’s schedule, cancelling my market trip to catch up on the lost sleep. I would purchase a ready-made dinner instead. I am sometimes accused of being inflexible, but I think this demonstrates an ability to adapt to even the strangest of circumstances.

I arrived at 7.04pm only to find that the bar did not open till 9.00pm. Incredible. No wonder people make mistakes at work.

Railsea — by China Mieville

In true Mieville style, this is beautifully written, wonderfully imaginative, and full of weird and wonderful creatures and people. In the world of Railsea, the ‘sea’ is made of soil and covered with a complicated network of rails. The soil crawls with giant moles, man eating worms, giant rats, and all sorts of other scary creatures that would make an easy meal of anyone stepping onto the soil.

Our story beings aboard a moler train (a train whose crew hunts the giant moles), whose captain is obsessed with catching a giant albino mole ever since it took her arm a few years ago. Sound familiar? Our hero, a young lad called Sham, finds a picture in a train wreckage of something that should be impossible and as a result soon finds himself hunted by pirates, train-folk, salvagers, not to mention the monsters that roil beneath the soil’s surface.

While Railsea does make references to Moby Dick, it’s nothing like the classic. It’s fast paced and exciting: I think I read it in a couple of days. My favourite aspect of this book is in a very Mieville-like detail: the word ‘and’ spelled out never appears in the book. Instead it is represented by an ‘&’. A symbol that makes perfect sense in a world centered around rails.

The ground & rails were grey as the sky. Near the horizon, a nose bigger than him broke earth again. It made its molehill by what Sham thought a dead tree, then realised was some rust-furred metal strut toppled in long-gone ages, up-poking like the leg of a dead beetle god. Even so deep in the chill & waste, there was salvage.

Here — by Nobel Prize winner Wislawa Szymborska

It’s a small collection of poems, translated from Szymborska’s native Polish.¬†The poems are beautiful yet very human and approachable. Each one is like a little treat, like a square of chocolate, to enjoy with a cup of tea — imitating Szymborska on the cover basically!

My favourite is¬†An Idea, about a writer who is visited by an idea, dithers and faffs and reasons why she can’t write the idea, suggesting instead that¬†the idea visit more talented poets, until eventually the idea fades and vanishes.

A few other favourite lines, first from the poem Here:

I can’t speak for elsewhere
but here on Earth we’ve got a fair supply of everything.
Here we manufacture chairs and sorrows,
scissors, tenderness, transistors, violins,
teacups, dams, and quips.

And from Non Reading:

We live longer
but less precisely
and in shorter sentences.

Remains of the Day — by Kazuo Ishiguro

A small, quiet book set in the late fifties about an ageing butler who goes on a road trip and down memory lane, looking back on a life spent in service.

The book is quiet, contemplative, and as with all Ishiguro’s writing, incredibly subtle. The sadness of a life that passed Stevens by, regret at what might have been is only ever hinted at. He is unfailingly proper and never so much as thinks of indulging in self-pity.

 

I do not think I responded immediately, for it took me a moment or two to fully digest these words of Miss Kenton. Moreover, as you might appreciate, their implications were such as to provoke a certain degree of sorrow within me. Indeed- why should I not admit it? – at that moment, my heart was breaking.

The Drowned World — by J.G Ballard.¬†

In a future where the ice caps have melted, the water has risen, and temperatures are soaring, London has become half submerged swamp-land in a new Triassic age. Prehistoric reptiles swim through lagoons in front of the now abandoned and inundated Ritz, the walls of which are covered by creeping tropical plants.

It’s an interesting, dark tale, exploring both what has happened to the planet and how this has affected the human subconscious, slowly changing their behaviour back to something more primordial. There’s also (for me as an ex-Londoner anyway) an incredible sense of excitement and discovery in exploring a half-submerged London through Ballard’s writing.

In the early morning light a strange mournful beauty hung over the lagoon; the sombre green-black fronds of the gymnosperms, intruders from the Triassic past, and the half-submerged white-faced buildings of the 20th century still reflected together in the dark mirror of the water, the two interlocking worlds apparently suspended at some junction in time, the illusion momentarily broken when a giant waterspider cleft the oily surface a hundred yards away.

The Sleeper and the Spindle — by Neil Gaiman.¬†

I’m developing a bit of a thing for beautifully illustrated children’s books. This is one gorgeous book that most definitely deserves to be bought in hardback. The illustrations are by Chris Riddell, in ink with gold highlights.

And the story is very different from the story you think you know. There are no princes. There are no damsels in distress. It’s a clever and modern take on some well known tropes.¬†For this book you get a quote and some pictures (click on the images to make them larger):

 

The queen called for her first minister and informed him that he would be responsible for her kingdom in her absence, and that he should do his best neither to lose it nor to break it.

She called for her fiancé and told him not to take on so, and that they would still be married, even if he was but a prince and she a queen, and she chucked him beneath his pretty chin and kissed him until he smiled.

She called for her mail shirt.

She called for her sword.

She called for provisions, and for her horse, and then she rode out of the palace, towards the east.

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Leave it to Psmith — by PG Wodehouse

I came to Wodehouse (the creator of the infamous duo, Jeeves and Bertie Wooster) rather late, but I am making up for lost time. Wodehouse is brilliantly funny, manages to capture a certain aspect of britishness superbly well, but more to the point, the writing is absolutely delicious. It’s the kind of book that makes me want to stop every few sentences to read a line aloud.

While the Jeeves/Wooster series is what Wodehouse is most famous for,¬†Leave it to Psmith holds a very special place in my heart, in part because it was my first Wodehouse read. The quote is the opening sentence of the book. When I read that, I knew I was going to have a very, very good time reading that book, and indeed, it didn’t disappoint.

At the open window of the great library of Blandings Castle, drooping like a wet sock, as was his habit when he had nothing to prop his spine against, the Earl of Emsworth, that amiable and boneheaded peer, stood gazing out over his domain.

I do have to admit, I wish the publishers did a better job with the covers — they’re pretty poor. If you haven’t tried Wodehouse, apply the old adage and don’t judge those books by their cover. They are well, well worth a read.

And that’s it for now. If you have any books of your own that you¬†really enjoyed, I’d love to hear. I’m always on the lookout for books to add to my ever growing reading list and bookshelf!

Amazing Art made of Books

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Today my book comes out of its pre-order bubble and goes out into the big bad world (at Amazon US and Amazon UK). Woo hoo! If you read it and enjoy it by the way, please tell someone who you think might also like it — word of mouth means life for a new book. So please share¬†the love!

In the mean time I thought I’d celebrate my book news with a post on amazing book art — that is art made of books, not art put in or on books. Here are a few of my favourites:

This is my absolute favourite — looking past the fact that an antique book has been used (which I really don’t agree with). But the idea of making a book into lungs and blood vessels is a beautiful way to represent how important books are to life.

Giving a whole new meaning to tea and books! This would be right at home in Alice in Wonderland….

This one is achieved by carving out parts of every page.

This one reminds me of Petra, Jordan:

A whole new way of losing yourself inside a book!

Aren’t they beautiful?¬†If you want to find more, you can see the full page here.

One of the artists calls this a way to¬†‘remix’ a book — like many musical artists remix old songs into something more contemporary. I love the thought of turning something as traditional as a book into something cutting edge and modern.

It makes me wish that big publishers would find a way to send unwanted books to artists rather than pulping them. Wouldn’t be amazing if unwanted books were given a new lease of life in the form of a sculpture or some other kind of 3D art?

Incidentally for anyone interested, the practice of bookstores returning books to publishers can be traced back to the Great Depression of 1929. In light of the economic crash bookstores were (understandably) nervous about ordering new books. So, to keep business going, publishers put together arrangements whereby the stores could return any unsold books, therefore passing the risk of a book not selling to the publisher.

This practice continues to this day, and it is in part why so many books get pulped (somewhere around 77million a year – that number never fails to upset me). Large book stores can place huge orders without¬†worrying too much because they’ll be able to return anything that doesn’t sell. Which is crazy when you think about it: no other industry allows that kind of setup in this day and age.

This is why I think the advent of the ebook is the best possible thing to happen to physical books: I firmly believe physical books will eventually reach the same status as vinyl, or even these days, CDs. Slightly niche, and bought by deeply committed book lovers to add to a carefully curated personal library. Which would mean the end of huge book orders and returns, and therefore the end of or at least a massive decrease in book pulping. Books being treasured and loved can surely only be an improvement on the current model of mass order and mass wastage.

In the mean time, I really hope that one day one of my books will find its way to an artist who will make a piece of art out of it. That would be just magical.¬†So if you’re an artist and you like to make beautiful things out of books, come say hi!!

Some Incredibly Exciting News!

My book,¬†The Viper and the Urchin is finished! It is now a Thing That Exists, and that Thing (or rather the ebook copy for now) is available for pre-order on Amazon¬†at the very bargain pre-launch price of $0.99. It will be properly out in the world late July. To say that I’m excited is an understatement of epic proportion, and likewise about being nervous.

D’you want to see the cover? Here it is in all its full-sized glory:
assassin_fullWhat do you think, do you like it? It’s by Ravven,¬†and I’m so pleased with it! And not just because of my very childish excitement at seeing my name on the cover.

The story’s steampunk but set in a world of my creation — the tropical city of Damsport. There’s a bit of mystery and humour thrown in there for good measure too. Here’s the blurb:

The Viper and The Urchin

Being Damsport’s most elegant assassin is hard work. There’s tailoring to consider, devilish poisons to concoct, secret identities to maintain… But most importantly, Longinus has to keep his fear of blood hidden or his reputation will be ruined. So, when a scrawny urchin girl threatens to expose his phobia unless he teaches her swordsmanship, he has no choice but to comply.

It doesn’t take long for Rory to realise that her new trainer has more eccentricities than she has fleas. But she’ll put up with anything, no matter how frustrating, to become a swordswoman like her childhood hero.

What she’s not prepared for is a copycat assassin who seeks to replace Longinus, and who hires Rory’s old partner in crime to do away with her, as well. Rory and Longinus must set their differences aside and try to work together if they’re to stop the copycat. But darker forces than they realise are at play, and with time running out, the unlikely duo find themselves the last line of defence against a powerful enemy who seeks to bring Damsport to its knees.

All very exciting stuff!

I actually wanted to ask you all for some help at this point. One of the most important things for a new book is word of mouth and early reviews. With that in mind I’m looking to give away a number of free advance copies of the ebook in exchange for¬†an honest review. If you like the look and sound of the book, or if you’re feeling generous and want to help me out, I’d really love to send¬†you a free copy. Just let me know in the comments or at cfjeanjean@gmail.com

You can also read the first chapter here if you want to get a better feel for the story first.

Or, if you’d rather wait for it to come out next month, here are the links where you can find it:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

I have to admit writing this post really wasn’t easy – it’s an uncomfortable thing to put yourself out there and ask for help so publicly.¬†I fretted and fussed over writing it, and then I remembered a piece of advice Carrie mentioned a while back: “you have to put on your big girl pants and get it done” (or something along those lines – I’m paraphrasing here.) So I put on the big girl pants and wrote the post. If you must know, my big girl pants aren’t that comfortable, but I’m slowly getting used to them…

U is for… Unauthorized

*The theme for my A to Z is Childhood Stories. Some are real, some are embellished, some are downright fictional but are based on the kind of things I imagined when I was younger.*

A very quick forward before this story: this one is entirely fictional, and is based¬†on¬†an old English folktale which I found in Neil Philip’s wonderful¬†The Penguin Book of English Folktales. It’s sadly out of print, but if you come across it in a second hand bookshop I’d highly recommend it. Some of the tales are amusing, some sad, and some very dark and gothic¬†(including a great story¬†that Dickens’¬†Nanny¬†told him growing up, and one that terrified him as a child).

***

“Now remember, don’t play over on the Main Road,” said my mother. “You stay on our street.”

I sighed. “Yes mum, I¬†know.”

“I mean it now. If you go on the Main Road, Mr Miacca will come get you.”

I rolled my eyes — I’d heard the warning hundreds of time.

“Yeah alright, I’ll stay on our street.”

I headed out into the early summer sunshine. There was plenty to get on with on our street, but of course, none of it was as interesting as the forbidden Main Road. I looked over at it. There was a sweet shop across the road and a newsagent next to it. I wanted to go have a look.

Mum was in the kitchen so she couldn’t see me out of the window. Maybe if I was quick,¬†she wouldn’t know.

I ran.

When I stepped onto the Main Road, I was surprised to find that the cars on the road and the people on the pavement vanished. I looked around to find the shops were empty. I walked on, puzzled. It was darker somehow on the Main Road, the colours looked different, and there was a faint tinkling in the air, as though tiny bells were ringing in the distance. It made me want to run back home, but I brazened it out.

I’ll just go as far as the lamppost and then I’ll turn back.

I walked quickly.

Behind me, the sound of bells intensified. I turned to find Santa’s¬†carriage flying down towards me — except that it was drawn by dogs and instead of being a sled, it had wheels. At its helm was a man wearing a¬†waistcoat and trousers, with the head and tail of a fox.

Mr Miacca.

“Well, well, little girl,” he said. “Welcome to Unauthorised. Into the bag you go!”

I tried to run but the dogs were faster than me. Mr Miacca grabbed me by the collar and bundled me into the bag. The carriage clattered away and then fell silent: we were flying.

“Where are you taking me?” I shouted from inside my bag.

“To Mrs Miacca.”

A few minutes later I felt the carriage land and Mr Miacca picked me up with the bag. A¬†door slammed. I was dropped out of the bag, rolling out onto a large wooden table. I shook my head to clear the dizziness. We were in a sun filled kitchen with window boxes full of plants I didn’t recognise, and there was a blue mixing bowl in the sink.

“Petunia¬†dear! I’ve brought dinner.”

“Good, good.”¬†Mrs Miacca entered the kitchen. She was a heavy, fleshy woman wearing a flowery pinafore, and she had the same head and tail of a fox as Mr Miacca.

“What’s this?” she asked. “I specifically told you to get a boy.”

“That’s a boy,” said Mr Miacca.

“Er, excuse me,” I pipped up. “I am not a boy, I’m a girl.”

Mr Miacca threw me an annoyed look.

“Now don’t you try and pull one over on me, Algernon.” Mrs Miacca waggled a finger at him. “You know girls don’t agree with you.”

“Well I just thought –”

“I know what you just thought. You thought you could pass her off as a boy¬†because she’s wearing shorts and a T-shirt, not a dress.”

“But girls taste better.”

“You know what the doctor said: a boy only diet for the next month. More nutrients in boys — think of your anemia.”

“Why are there more nutrients in boys?” I asked.

“Boys tend to be more naughty. You –” Mrs Miacca gave me a good sniff — “Have a bit of naughtiness clinging to you, but nearly enough for me to make a full meal out of it.”

“You eat naughtiness?”

“Obviously,” she replied. “What else would we eat?”

I had no answer.

“But see dear, that why I grabbed her,” said Mr Miacca. “Since we need¬†to lose weight and all –”

“Who needs to lose weight?” Mrs Miacca’s tone had both Mr Miacca and I carefully looking in every direction but hers.¬†“Hmm? Who needs to lose weight?”

“M-me dear,” he replied.

“Yes, well, you have put on a few pounds recently.”

Mr Miacca and I studiously avoided making eye contact with her again.

“Now,” she continued, “did you at least get me the condiments I asked for?”

Mr Miacca’s head retreated between his shoulder as if he was trying to imitate a turtle. He¬†gave me a panicked look.

Don’t drag me into this, buddy.¬†

“Well?” asked Mrs Miacca. “Did you get the badger tears? The dreams of an old man? The mustard?”

“Ummmm –”

“I even wrote you out a shopping list.”

“I think I lost it on the way — must have flown out of my pocket. Anyway I didn’t have time: she just appeared in front of me, so I grabbed her and came home. We could –”

“No, we are not having that disgusting Brown Sauce you brought back last time. Even if there are badger tears in it. Why humans would eat it voluntarily is beyond me. Sometimes, Algernon, I wonder if you were born without taste buds.”

“Yes dear.”

“Now you will take the girl back to where you found her, and go find us a boy with sufficient¬†naughtiness. I’m hungry. And¬†don’t¬†forget the condiments this time — the mustard should be whole grain by the way.”

“Yes dear.”

“And hurry about it or we’ll be late for bridge¬†with the Toothfairy and La P’tite Souris.”

“Yes dear.”

Mrs Miacca wrote a new shopping list, thrust it at her husband, and swept out of the kitchen. With a sigh, Mr Miacca gestured for me to follow him and we headed to the carriage.

“Why is your carriage just like Santa’s?” I asked.

“He borrows¬†our winter carriage to get around at Christmas time. He’s not very organised, old Santa. Always coming to us in a bind at the last minute, to find out which kids have been naughty.”

“How do you¬†know?”

“All the Unauthorised places of the world belong to Mrs Miacca and I. We know as soon as child steps into one of them.”

“Are you going to tell Santa about me?”

“Absolutely. Especially considering the hassle you’ve cost me.”

“So what, that means I won’t get any presents?”

“I don’t know, it depends on him. Now get on.”

I frowned, a little worried this Christmas would be bare. Mr Miacca picked me up and slung me on the front seat, climbing on after me. The dogs wagged their tails and barked excitedly.

“Giddy-up!” called Mr Miacca, twitching the reins. The dogs ran ahead, pulling us behind, and then we lifted off. It was like being in a plane, only better.¬†We went so fast, my eyes were streaming from the wind, and the land beneath us was a blur.

In a few minutes we were over London, like a cluster of dollhouses beneath us through which ran a blue shoelace — the Thames. Mr Miacca brought us down and we landed on the Main Road, just outside my street.

“Go on then,” he said. “Off you trot.”

I climbed down. “Bye Mr Miacca!”

“Feel free to come back in Unauthorised again next month, once my boy only diet is over,” he said with a grin.

I thought about it. “Ok I will, but only if you don’t tell Santa about me — this time and next time.”

“Ok, you have yourself a deal.” He leaned down and we shook hands.

When I reached my street, I looked back over my shoulder. Main Road looked normal once more, with cars running through it, and people on the pavement. Of Mr Miacca and his carriage, there was no trace.