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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Behind the Scene: the ethnicity of Damsians and the building of Damsport.

Today I’m answering a reader question about Damsians and Damsport, and specifically the ethnicity of Damsians and how Damsport was built. One thing that was important to me was for Damsport not to feel like it was based on a real world place ( you know, like alternate Middle-East, or steampunk India, that kind of thing) and I did a few things to make sure Damsport got its own sense of identity, which I go over in the video ūüôā

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

An Interview with Ravven ‚ÄĒ Steampunk and Fantasy Digital Artist

I’m really excited about today’s interview. Most of you will remember my book cover (it’s in the sidebar for anyone new to the blog), which was designed by the wonderful Ravven. Well today I’m interviewing her about her creative process.

As someone who has¬†is utterly unable to do anything visual, be it digitally or otherwise, I found it really interesting to¬†dig a little into what goes on behind the scenes when creating digital art. Before we get stuck into the interview, I wanted to showcase one photo in particular that really struck a chord with me. It’s called Medusa in the Boudoir:

Medusa in the Boudoir

Medusa in the Boudoir

Isn’t it wonderful? I saw it and went *wow* — and immediately contacted Ravven to see if she’d be free to do my book cover (lucky for me she was.) This is by far my favourite piece. It’s not just that it’s beautiful, or that it looks like a painting — it’s the story and the emotion that emanates from it that I really love. Anyway, enough of my gushing. On with the interview!

Thanks for taking part in the interview Ravven, and for being on the blog today! Now obviously you do book covers, but you also create pieces of digital art that are unrelated to any book. How do you start working on these kinds of project? Do you already have a full idea in mind of what you want to create and how it will look, or do you get inspired by coming across a particular photo/object/model and build the art work around that? 

I am usually inspired by images, which is why the personal art is easier. When you’re working on a cover you are usually working to a very defined brief, so of course it isn’t as free-flowing. On the other hand, it is when you work within a set of constraints and requirements that the challenge becomes really interesting – sometimes you end up with something very special that you may not have come up with on your own. At its best, a cover is a collaboration between the author’s ideas and the vision of the artist. It’s why I love this work!

At times I need to take a step back and just let the creative batteries recharge before I begin doing commercial work again. It’s nice to have the freedom to do that and I feel very fortunate! This feels like the best of both worlds.

In relation to your question, personal pieces usually start with a central stock image that I fall in love with. Sometimes I want to do something around a concept (loneliness, etc.) but usually I just fall in love with a stunning image and want to create something with it.

The thing that really struck me about your art is that there’s such a sense of story to it (such as in the Dollmaker photo on the left). Of course, cover designs will have that element of story, but even projects that are unrelated to any book seem to be a moment in a story. When I look at them I want to sit down and write the story I can see lurking behind the artwork. Is this something you set out to do? Do you try to create a story or characters, or is it purely visual for you?

 

 

For me it is very visual, but the image won’t work unless it develops a story. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it feels as though it unfolds as you work on it and becomes something more – often something that you didn’t originally intend it to! It’s probably a lot like a writer pantsing rather than plotting. Unless it becomes something much deeper than you originally intended, it won’t be as successful. It may be a pretty image, but won’t have any emotion to it.

That makes perfect sense. I think that happens with any creative process, even if there is a plan or outline beforehand. Art in whatever form always seems to take on a life of its own after a while.

Do you only work in digital, or do you also work with more traditional / analog methods? If you work with more than one medium, which is your favourite and which is the most challenging?

Currently I work almost exclusively in digital. I used to do all watercolour (actually, pen and ink overlaid with watercolour), but currently I only work digitally. My drawing skills aren’t at a professional level and never will be, so I can’t satisfy my love of photo-realism. ūüôā Years ago I worked in the art department of a high-end photo studio in Los Angeles and I learned a lot about retouching and subtly enhancing or changing a face. I still use a lot of those skills now, but the work is done in Photoshop with a Wacom tablet. Much easier than working with photo dyes or working on negatives!

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Do you take inspiration from other art forms, like film/books/music/video games?

Always. I think that as creatives of any kind we always take in inspiration from everything that we see and experience. Books, movies, games, art – everything goes into the subconscious hopper and becomes new ideas. There are a lot of movies that mean a great deal to me because they’re so gorgeous visually, such as the Jennifer Lopez movie The Cell. Admittedly not the best film ever (more of a guilty pleasure), but such a dreamlike gorgeous movie!

 

Could you give us a very quick walkthrough of the process of creating a piece of digital art?

On a book cover project, I’ll normally start with models first. I do quite a lot of mockups for all the models that I think might work, but usually only a few backgrounds/environments. The models are composited with the background to give a feel of what the overall cover will look like, but usually they don’t all have the correct hair or clothing – piecing that together is very time-consuming and I don’t do it at this stage. I have text on the image mainly as a placeholder so I’m not tempted to fill that area up with detail, but it will all be changed later on.

Once a model has been chosen, I’ll do a much more finished version with the correct clothing and hair. This goes back to the author for approval before I start the final paint layers – this will give all of the detail, highlights, shadows, etc. Then we have a final round of mockups with different fonts and text treatments, and we’re close to done. I covered this in more detail here:¬†http://www.ravven.com/blog/2012/08/rainbird-birth-of-a-book-cover/

Thank you so much for being on the blog today Ravven! I really enjoyed chatting with you. 

Desert Warrior - Ravven

Desert Warrior – Ravven

If anyone’s looking for book covers, I can’t recommend Ravven enough. She currently has a selection of beautiful pre-designed covers that you can find here. Even if you’re not a writer looking for a cover, you can have a browse through her art portfolio here. Finally, you can find out more about Ravven’s custom book covers here.

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