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

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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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…