Coming up to the official release date of Jack of Spades on April 3, we’re bringing you some fascinating words about the book’s creation from its author Sophie Masson and illustrator Yvonne Low. Enjoy!
Something from Sophie Masson:
Jack of Spades is set in Paris in 1910: a city and a period I’ve always been interested in. My family is French but we come from the South, and though we often went back to France for family holidays when I was a child, I only got to know Paris as an adult. That happened over several visits, and particularly in 2010, when I spent six months as a writer in residence at the Keesing Studio in the heart of the city, thanks to an Australia Council grant. 2010 was the centenary of the great Paris floods of 1910, when the Seine River waters spread around the city’s streets and even lapped around great landmarks like the Eiffel Tower! And so in 2010 there was also a great deal in Parisian museums, exhibitions and in newspapers about 1910. The novel is set several months after the flood, of course, (it lasted about a week, in late January-early February 1910) but that concentration on 1910 and what was going on in France then helped me to visualise settings for the novel later.
1910 is part of the period known as the Belle Époque (literally meaning ‘Beautiful Times’) in France, which ran from around 1871, which marked the end of the Franco-Prussian War, to 1914, which marked the beginning of the First World War. In Paris, it was a time of glamour, prosperity, optimism, great artistic achievements and technological innovations, but despite its happy name, it had a dark side, of course, and some of that comes out in Jack of Spades. It was also a time when the European secret services were beginning–for example, in Britain, MI5 and MI6 were formed in 1909.
I used a lot of primary sources in order to recreate the background and atmosphere of Paris in 1910, and to really immerse myself in it bought old postcards, old newspapers and also a fabulous old Baedeker’s Paris guidebook from the time. The Baedeker’s really helped with details such as how the Metro system worked back then, how much a cab ride would cost, where hotels were situated, where you could send telegrams from, and so on, and there were great maps which made it easy to plot journeys. Linda carries that guidebook, of course!
From my reading of the novel and the title itself, I realised the most important elements of the novel were Paris, 1910, playing cards, Jack of Spades and danger, all of which needed to be brought out in the illustrations.
I researched images of Paris in the 1900s, including the fashion, art and architecture of the time. This was the era of long dresses, almost everyone wore hats (straw hats, bowler hats and top hats), the horse and carriage and steam engines, impressionist painters such as Monet, and grand and ornate buildings on wide boulevards and mysterious narrow lanes. Contemporary photos were often sufficient for building and street references, as Paris has hardly changed since the 1900s, which is what makes it such a charming and beautiful city to visit!
The playing card (and Jack of Spades specifically), is an important reference to the title of the book and a continued motif in the book, so the ‘spades’ or pike symbol was used on the back cover, spine and inside the book as chapter headings. Art Nouveau was still popular in 1910 Paris, so I came up with my own version of this elaborate and decorative style to use in these elements.
The internal black and white image for the novel was created to portray two of the most important characters’ first interaction, along with some suspense and action in the scene – a grand railway station with steam engine, full of bustling passengers and an escaping street urchin.
I used pencil and watercolour with some ink pen to create the finished pictures.