I have a special treat for you today, an interview with Celine Jeanjean, author of The Viper and The Urchin. I loved the book, and will be reviewing it next Sunday. But first, let’s find out a little more about the author herself. Please welcome Celine to WR101.
Celine Jeanjean is French, grew up in the UK and now lives in Hong Kong. That makes her a tad confused about where she is from. During her time in Asia she’s watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat, lost her shoes in Vietnam, and fallen off a bamboo raft in China.
Celine writes stories that feature quirky characters and misfits, and her books are a mixture of steampunk, fantasy and humour.
To find out more about Celine or just to chat, visit her on:
interview with celine jeanjean
Mel: Do you have any strange writing habits (like writing in a lucky pair of socks? Or using a special pen?)
Celine: My strangest writing habit is that I write best when I listen to one song on loop, so I tend to go for weeks at a time listening to a single song (through my headphones, or my husband would have been driven crazy by now). Basically, the way it works is, rather than listening to the song, I almost immediately stop noticing it (the longer I’ve been listening to it, the quicker this happens), and it becomes a kind of white noise that blocks out anything going on around me. It does wonders for helping me focus.
One of the songs that works best for this is Radiohead’s Creep. I do worry a little what it says about me that Creep is the song that gets me in the zone, but I figure that as long as it works, I won’t question it too much. I’ve also noticed that I’ve kind of conditioned myself so that, as soon as I put in the headphones, and Creep comes on, my mind switches over to thinking about whatever story I’m working on.
Once I was out in a bar that played 90s music and Creep came on. About halfway through the song I realised that I’d completely drifted away from the conversation and I was daydreaming about my book. Good thing it’s not a song that’s played much these days!
Mel: That sounds like an excellent way to focus your mind, and allow the inspiration to flow. Do you set yourself time limits, or a schedule, or do you snap on your headphones whenever you have the time to write, and crank up Radiohead?
Celine: I set myself working hours, but one thing I need to get better at, is taking regular breaks. I’ll work for a couple of hours without stopping or moving, all hunched over on my computer, and then my back and neck end up being in absolute agony. I’m trying a new approach where I set timers and when that goes off I have to get up and move around. I’m not very good at sticking to that though if the writing is going well. On the other hand on those days where writing is about as fun as pulling teeth, I spend most of the hour checking on the timer to see when I’ll be able to take a break.
But I definitely like having set hours. I’m a creature of routine and habits. I tried writing as and when, and I didn’t get anything done.
Mel: We’ve all been there, when the characters refuse to play ball and drive us crazy! And speaking of characters – who would play your favourite characters in a movie?
Celine: Ooh, good question, but a very tricky one to answer! All my characters are non-white, since they live in a hot tropical place, and I came up with a blank as to non-white actors that would be suitable for Longinus or Rory. Makes you realise how saturated our screens are with white actors, doesn’t it!?
The closest answer for now would be for Longinus to be played by an Indian version of Benedict Cumberbatch, while Rory would be an Indian version of Arya in Game of Thrones – but with dreadlocks obviously! There’s nothing similar to India about the setting of my story, that’s purely based on how I imagine the characters look.
Mel: Longinus is an intriguing name. How important are names in your books? Do you choose based on the sound of the name, its meaning, or some other method?
Celine: I chose my character’s names based on how they sound, and the general ‘feeling’ they generate. So, for example, for Longinus, I wanted something that sounded both a bit old fashioned and that brought to mind someone a bit fussy and pedantic. Whereas, for Rory, I specifically chose a name that’s a bit ambiguous in gender because that suits her personality.
Mel: If you had an endless budget, describe the trailer for The Viper and The Urchin.
Celine: If I had a limitless budget, I would definitely get someone to do a CGI backdrop of Damsport — it would be amazing to see the city come to life! The trailer would start with Rory and Longinus separately: Rory picking a merchant’s pocket, Longinus working out what adjective best describes his nose. There’d be a voiceover throughout, outlining the story.
We’d then see the moment when Rory saves Longinus and blackmails him into teaching her sword fighting, followed by the discovery of the copycat’s first kill. After that, we’d get a quick montage of scenes from the rest of the book: aboard a giant steam-powered spider, a pool of blood creeping along the floor, lost in an underground maze, a sword fight at the top of a mast, running through the Great Bazaar, and then Rory, bleeding, leaping off a high place and into water, at which point the screen would go dark and the title would appear.
Mel: That sounds awesome – I want to see that movie!
But let’s move on to you, and more about your writing process. List five adjectives to describe you or your writing habits.
Celine: Impatient, Obsessive, Imaginative, Bookworm, Silly.
Mel: Tell us about your next project.
Celine: I’m currently working on the sequel to The Viper and the Urchin — The Black Orchid. Without giving too much away of the first book’s story, in the sequel Longinus and Rory are still working together, and they find themselves having to figure out why people in Damsport are disappearing and turning up completely emptied of their blood.
I’m having a lot of fun writing this one. So far, I’ve gotten to play with smugglers; I’ve created a mysterious place called the Black Orchid, and I got to write yet more capering aboard the steam-powered spider. It’s also been interesting to develop some of the more minor characters, and look a bit more into what makes them tick.
Mel: It does sound as though you’re having a grand adventure! What has been your greatest challenge as a writer so far?
Writing first draft material continues to be the biggest challenge for me. I love edits and rewriting, but writing that first draft is like pulling teeth. Most of that is due to the voices in my head telling me that what I’m writing is the Worse Thing Ever Written. Once the first draft is done and I read through it, it’s never as bad as I imagined. For me, it really is all about hammering out that first draft as quickly as possible so I can get to the edits.
Strangely, I find writing The Black Orchid harder than when I worked on The Viper and the Urchin. I’m now conscious of having set a precedent, and I keep second guessing myself, wondering whether what I’m writing is as good as book 1, whether people will find it a suitable sequel… With the first book it really was just me writing, as Stephen King says, ‘with the door closed’, and I got to make the story up without worrying too much about what people would think. I’m finding it much harder to keep that door closed this time around: I’m a lot more aware of having an audience.
Mel: Thank you for the candid reply. I can relate to these feelings, the times when my inner critic gets a bee in her bonnet! All authors experience doubt, and we push through it to get the story out there, because we believe in our characters. There’s a reason writing is described as opening a vein!
Are there any other genres you would love to explore?
Celine: Definitely! That’s the great thing about being an independent writer, we’re completely free to explore stories and genres that interest us, without needing permission from anyone. I have ideas for novels coming out of my ears, so the issue for me is more figuring how to tell these stories, and finding the time to write them.
I have plans for a more traditional epic fantasy story, following the traditional quest format, but with very unusual characters. I also plan to retell a classic Victorian gothic novel but adding a fantasy/steampunk twist to it, to write my version of a fairy-tale, and to do a cross between dystopia and dieselpunk (which is like steampunk but modelled on the Twenties and Thirties, and featuring diesel-powered technology, rather than steam-powered).
I don’t know that I’ll ever venture too far out of the general Fantasy genre though: I absolutely love taking readers to new worlds, whereas writing about the real world we live in doesn’t interest me very much. I would be interested in trying historical fiction though, or possibly alternate history — although I don’t have any plans on that front yet.
Mel: I agree with you. It is great to have the freedom to go in whichever direction we choose, and I wish you the best of luck on your upcoming writing adventures. Thank you so much for agreeing to the interview, Celine. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with you.
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.
Thanks for stopping by. I will be reviewing The Viper and the Urchin (a tale which definitely lives up to that wonderful blurb), on Sunday the 26 August.