Sunday, March 20, 2016

Interview & Review: Sophie Masson

Faerie Recommendations

"The Golem and the Djinni" (Harper Collins), which recently received a change of spelling from Djinni to Jinni, was so compelling that I felt like a genie trapped in a flask, utterly captivated for all 644 pages.

Another recommendation is "The Keeper of Tales trilogy" (Atria Books) by Ronlyn Domingue, of which so far I've read the first volume, "The Map Maker's War" and purchased the second, "The Chronicles of Secret Riven". I discovered her books when Ronlyn contacted me about my music. I love her novel "The Mercy of Thin Air". Read more about her books at the author's homepage.


State fairy tale rings of The Australian Fairy Tale Society are currently exploring the theme of Bluebeard. Amid the rich resources available via AFTS membership, comes an old folk tale "Mr Fox", and a recommendation by The Monash Fairy Tale Salon: "Secrets beyond the Door" - The Story Of Bluebeard And His Wives" by Maria Tatar (pictured right).

Interview with Sophie Masson

Sophie Masson, photo by Zoe Walton


Born in Indonesia of French parents, raised in Australia and France, Sophie Masson is the award-winning and internationally published author of over 60 books for children, young adults and adults. Fairy tales have inspired many of her novels; among them “The Crystal Heart” (2014), “Scarlet in the Snow” (2013), “Moonlight and Ashes” (2012), “The Green Prince” (2000) and several others explored in this interview.


L: Having garnered such acclaim, you are a boon to our fledgling association, The Australian Fairy Tale Society. Thank you for launching your new novel “Hunter’s Moon” at our conference in the New South Wales Writers Centre, 2015. Our small but deeply attentive circle reminds me of how The Velvet Underground played to tiny yet influential groups, spawning an entire movement. How did you discover the AFTS, why did you join and what are your wishes for it?

S: I discovered the AFTS first through seeing posts about it by fellow author, fairytale aficionado and friend Kate Forsyth, who was the keynote speaker at the 2014 conference. And then I had the great honour of being asked to be keynote speaker myself, at the 2015 conference! My wishes for the AFTS are simply that it keeps going, and continues to help to  bring the beautiful, nurturing, light, deep timeless tradition that is fairytale, to more and more people. 

Australian Fairy Tale Society
L: “Hunter’s Moon” is a captivating re-spin of Snow White, which in a review I’ve described as a “crepuscular pearl”. 
Full review here
I relate to your outlaws, outcasts or outsiders, and more generally the sense of Otherness. This theme also manifests in your earlier novel “The Tyrant’s Nephew”, from The Chronicles of El Jisal, albeit in a very different cultural setting. (Read the full review here or at the end of this interview.) How do you relate to eccentricity and exile in fairy tales? 

S: Thank you so much for your lovely words about my book, and the fabulous review! That is a really interesting question, you know, about eccentricity and exile, and now you mention it, those are themes that occur again and again in not only fairy tales, but in my own writing. And that in turn comes from childhood experiences; as the child of French parents who felt like exiles (expatriates), separated from their country of birth; as a child shuttling constantly between French and Australian cultures, so that at times I felt like a changeling; as a child growing up in a family—not only nuclear but extended too--that was unconventional, or ‘eccentric’ in many ways. And as a highly imaginative child who took refuge from many things in the deep woods and fresh springs of fairy tale! I think that when you look at fairy tales, very often you’ll find that the main character is somehow different, or eccentric; and that exile from the world they’ve known previously is also often a theme—even if that exile is psychological as much as physical.

"Hunter's Moon" (Random House)
L: “Hunter’s Moon” demonstrates your dexterity with sustained metaphors, particularly those of the lunar variety, along with your artful use of language as a dance between sound and image: between such musical devices as alliteration or assonance (on the musical side) and similes or other metaphors (on the visual side), forging a sensual alchemy. Who were your early literary mentors?

S: Thanks again—so glad you feel that about the language of my books! That is a very important part of creating a work for me, along with story and characterization. I was very lucky in that my very first literary mentors were oral, in fact, the very tradition fairy tale comes from: for I was told stories from a very early age. First by my paternal grandmother in Toulouse, who brought me up from the age of nine months to four and a half years--after I got very sick in Indonesia, where I was born and my parents were working, my parents took me back to France and left me with Mamizou, my beautiful grandmother, and my two lovely aunts, dark-haired Betty and blond Genevieve.  Mamizou told me fairytales and family stories; my aunts read to me; and then later when I was back with my parents, my father used to tell us fabulous stories—adventure, ghost, mystery, magic—and he’d also read to us from great classic books, such things as The Three Musketeers, or Cyrano de Bergerac, while my mother told us pithy, sharp tales of her childhood and wrote beautiful letters. Once I could read, I never stopped! I remember that the very first book I read in English was a beautifully illustrated Little Golden Book called The Blue Book of Fairy Tales, which included Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, and Toads and Diamonds. I found a copy of that book in a garage sale a few years ago—and as soon as I clapped eyes on it, I was instantly transported back to that childhood reading experience! I knew the stories already, having heard them; but to decipher them for myself, in a language that wasn’t my native tongue, added an extra dimension of magic...

Sophie Masson, Australian author
Afterwards, as a child and then teenage reader, I read all kinds of books and was influenced by many different kinds of writing and writers: from Shakespeare to Greek myth; Russian novels to swashbuckling French writers like Dumas and Verne and Gautier; Ancient Irish poetry to Norse sagas; Narnia to Moomintroll; Agatha Christie to Charlotte Bronte—and many many too numerous to mention! Such very different literary influences--all they had in common really was the kind of writing that gripped at your heart and didn’t let go. 


above: two editions of "Snow Fire Sword" (Random House / Harper Collins) 
& "The Curse of Zohreh" (Random House)

L: Your upbringing provided exposure to broad cultural influences, apparent in your choice of settings. For example, your novel “Snow Fire Sword” is set in Indonesia. How has being multi-lingual helped you as a writer? Would you like to extrapolate on this topic?

S: I am truly bilingual, in that my French and English are equally good; but I know smatterings of various other languages, including Indonesian, Russian, German, Spanish, Italian and even Irish and Medieval Welsh (which I studied for a little while at university!) Being bilingual from a young age—I learned English at the age of five—confers a large advantage to a growing child’s abilities with language. You hear different sounds clearer, I think, you can distinguish small inflections more easily. Your ear is ‘tuned’ as it were, by that early exposure As a writer, it has helped me immeasurably-it broadens linguistic range and possibilities with image, because you know different ways of expressing something. I’m also very curious about languages and even with those I haven’t been exposed to, I like to explore them and the concepts within them—I have a lot of phrase books and dictionaries on my writing shelves, which I’m always dipping into for inspiration! If you’re interested, I’ve written an essay about what being bilingual has meant to me, as a person and a writer, and you can read it for free here

L: I am impressed by the calibre of authors endorsing your work. They include Lloyd Alexander and Philip Pullman. Who else has recommended, supported or mentored you?

S: Isobelle Carmody, Garth Nix, Juliet Marillier, Kate Forsyth and Anthony Horowitz have also been kind enough to write very nice quotes for books of mine, and other wonderful writers like Hazel Edwards and Adele Geras have written beautiful reviews of my work. I know lots of other authors and am good friends with quite a few, including the ones mentioned above, and many others. I have experienced great support, generosity and comradeship with many fellow writers and illustrators—it’s very rare indeed that I’ve run into anything negative (though it’s happened, like it does in any field of course!) And in my most recent incarnation as a publisher as well—with Christmas Press, which specializes in retellings of folk and fairy tales, retold by well-known authors and gorgeously illustrated—I’ve once again been struck by the generosity and warmth of my fellow creators, who have encouraged and supported us-- both by understanding the financial restrictions such a small press has yet still being keen to write and illustrate for us; and also by reviewing and spreading the word.  

L: In which avenues do you interact most fruitfully with other writers: in cyberspace or by handwritten letters, mingling at book launches or festivals, one-to-one cafe chats, or in some other capacity? There’s a store in our city that stocks old seals, parchment and materials for calligraphy. Would you like to be considered “a woman of letters”?

S: Re the first question: all those ways, really! In person, whether that’s groups or individually, and in cyberspace; by letter and also by working on literary organisations—I am on the Boards of the Australian Society of Authors, the New England Writers’ Centre, the Small Press Network, and the New England and North West sub branch of the Children’s Book Council of NSW. I’ve also served on the Australia Council’s Literature Board, and the Book Industry Collaborative Council, and I subscribe to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Australian Crime Writers’ association, the Society of Women Writers, Sisters in Crime—and of course the Australian Fairy Tale Society! As well, I write reviews and do lots of interview with writers, illustrators and book industry professionals on my blog, so I interact that way as well. As to being considered a ‘woman of letters’ in the literal sense of the term, well I guess I am that—whether it’s actual letters or these days mostly emails…As to the wider meaning—well that’s a nice thing to be, if it’s not too pretentious!
"Moonlight & Ashes" (Random House)

L: You won an award from the Australia Council to spend six months writing in a Paris studio. Congratulations! I note that you have interviewed some other Australians who have had that honour. What are your favourite parts of Paris, or aspects of Parisian life? 

S: I had the residency in Paris in 2010 and it was brilliant—one of the best experiences ever, and I’m so grateful to the Australia Council for giving me that opportunity. As you know, I’m of French background but from the South—and my parents, especially my father, are very proud southerners and view Paris with great suspicion(though Dad has mellowed on that recently!) So I never went to Paris as a child, and as an adult, I only visited for short periods of time on holiday—my sisters at various times had flats there. The residency was different—it was six months of being ensconced in a Paris neighbourhood and living as a Parisian, and it was wonderful. It showed me first of all that the quintessential city that is Paris is really a series of villages, all with their own distinctive characteristics, and each with fantastic things to explore. Paris is a city at once both intimate and grand, laid-back and intense, beautiful and scary—it is a city you feel good in yet has such a frightening history—and which even these days throws up such terrible events! It’s a place full of joie de vivre, of beauty and imagination and pleasure, yet it can also be hard and unforgiving and so hard to make a mark in..All in all though it is both enchanting and enchanted—full of sensual beauty: food, buildings, parks, shops; and full of the dreams of people who have lived and loved and yes, died there too. And it has that effect on lots of people, not just writers: my husband is a real country boy who flees cities after only a few days; but he loved being in Paris six months and said it was the only city on the planet he’d ever consider living in! 

You can read more about my thoughts on it, and those of other writers, at my blog, in the Paris literary studio series which starts with my introduction here.

Musee de la Chasse et Nature - a museum in Paris

L: What is your view of such French novelists as Balzac, Flaubert, Laclos or Stendahl? Who are some of your favourite French writers, of any era?

S: Love Balzac, not so keen on Flaubert or Stendahl, and Laclos I’m not keen on at all. In the classics I love Chretien de Troyes (medieval creator of those wonderful Arthurian characters Perceval and Lancelot), Marie de France (medieval French female writer whose life and work inspired my Forest of Dreams trilogy) Charles Perrault, Madame d’Aulnoy (who wrote wonderful fairytales), Madame Leprince de Beaumont(the original creator of the story of Beauty and the Beast as we know it) . Then there’s Victor Hugo, Jules Verne (whose ‘Michel Strogoff’ was very much an influence on me), Alexandre Dumas, Theophile Gautier, Paul Feval—all authors of great romantic riproaring sagas that swept me away as a teenager..In more modern authors, I love the work of Katherine Pancol (very badly translated into English but wonderful in French) and the French-Russian author Andrei Makine (wonderfully translated into English but even better in French)—amongst many others! And I also love French children’s books: all the Tintin books, that I grew up on, and Paul Berna’s fabulous 1950’s mystery set in the slums of Paris, Le Cheval Sans Tete (Horse Without a Head) the books by the Comtesse de Segur, the Babar books, and lots more...

L: One of my favourite books is “Candide” by Voltaire. I smiled to find that one of your characters in the novel “Clementine” is called Candide, which translates as optimism. You strike me as being an optimistic person, Sophie, not only in your conviviality but in the happy endings I’ve encountered so far in your stories. How would you describe your disposition?

S: Yes—I am an optimist—but a realistic one. I would say that love, joy, courage and laughter are every bit as real as hatred, gloom, betrayal and tears. We are not angels or perfect beings—we are shot through with flaws of iron—but also golden threads of beauty. That is human nature—divided—yet indivisible at the same time. My happy endings always, I think, have an inkling of that. Some experiences mark my characters forever—yet they can still get the joy that can be found in life. That to me is an important thing to hang on to, even in the darkest time. 

left: 2 editions of "Clementine" (Hodder Childrens Books)

L: Another device for evoking optimism in “Clementine” is your abundant use of present tense. It occurs to me that as the major key is cheerful in music, and minor key melancholy, so it is with present and past tense respectively in literature. Was that a conscious decision on your part?

S: What a lovely insight! It wasn’t a conscious decision, no—just an instinct. But I’m glad you saw it and articulated it.

L: Earlier this year you mentioned that you were setting out on a journey to research The Pied Piper. How is that unfolding?

S: I’ve had to leave it aside for a while, though an element of the Pied Piper is certainly creeping into the novel I’m writing right now, which is called The Ghost Squad and which I’m working on for my creative writing PHD.  I did go to Hamelin, the lovely old German town where the story unfolds, and it was quite an experience—so I know it will come out in a book, properly. I just have to leave it time to develop. 

L: Your novel “Clementine” is a re-spin of Sleeping Beauty, drawing on the original French flavour of Perrault. Which other fairy tales have you explored, and why did you choose them?

S: I’ve explored quite a few other fairy tales in my books: Aschenputtel (German form of Cinderella) in Moonlight and Ashes; The Scarlet Flower (Russian form of Beauty and the Beast) in Scarlet in the Snow; Rapunzel in The Crystal Heart; Snow White in Hunter’s Moon; Puss in Boots in Carabas; Tattercoats (English version of Cinderella) in Cold Iron; Breton fairy tales and the Arthurian tale of Dame Ragnell in In Hollow Lands; Celtic stories of underwater realms in The Green Prince; and the Russian story, the Tale of Prince Ivan and the firebird in my novel, The Firebird. And of course as you point out, Sleeping Beauty in Clementine! I chose them because I felt they each had wonderful paths to explore, characters I could embroider on, magical backgrounds that were enticing…And so it proved to be!

L: You’ve cited one of my favourite baroque composers, Henry Purcell. We have the double-album of his opera “The Fairy Queen” in a couple of versions, and some of his other work. Can you tell us about the relationship between music and writing in your creative life?

Henry Purcell, 17th century
The Fairy Queen


S: It’s very strong—I grew up listening to a lot of music as though my father isn’t a musician, his musical knowledge and taste is very broad and deep and we always had lots of records on at home, from opera to jazz, French singer-songwriters like Jacques Brel , Georges Brassens and Edith Piaf to grand Court music by the likes of Handel, Charpentier and Couperin; Baroque music and medieval music, classical Indian sitar music and Indonesian gamelan, Scottish marching bands to old bluesmen and much more! Dad also used to love singing arias from his favourite operas—ie Carmen, Faust and The Barber of Seville!—(something by the way that inspired one of my novels for younger readers, The Opera Club) so I grew up thinking music, like stories and art(we had heaps of art books at home) was an absolutely indispensable part of life! As a teenager I had very wide tastes too and still do now—I love to discover new things and to be surprised by an unexpected melody or a simple phrase that haunts me. I ALWAYS notice music when it’s around—whether in private or public—and that can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on what kind of music it is! And I always notice music in films and TV...

With my writing, I’ve been inspired by exactly those things--and some of the books are actually directly inspired by a piece of music. You mention the Purcell---that particular piece by him actually set the tone for me for the whole atmosphere of Clementine, especially the first part: it actually inspired my vision of the fairies and Aurora and Clementine’s home. But I often hear a particular song or piece of music under particular stories; and sometimes I write to music—but sometimes it’s simply playing in my head during the writing. 

I sometimes feel the universe moves to music—and different music evokes different parts of it—for example the Baroque evokes to me an atmosphere of angelic ‘rightness’ (for want of a better word) of healing beauty and freshness. If you know what I mean!

Scene from Shakespeare's play 'Macbeth'
L: You also quote one of my favourite plays by Shakespeare, “Macbeth”. Let’s pause to acknowledge that 2016 is the 450th anniversary of his death. What do you love about this great bard’s legacy?

S: So many things! His glorious deftness and nimbleness of language; his large and generous heart when it comes to depicting character; his gripping stories; the extraordinary, spine-tingling way in which he tumbles together joy, darkness, love, evil, baseness and greatness, magic and earthiness, reflection and action—simply magnificent and so relevant still, in every age and so many situations... I’ve been greatly inspired by Shakespeare’s work, which I discovered as a teenager thanks to a marvellous English teacher who really made the works come alive for us—and I’ve written YA novels directly based on the plays—The Madman of Venice; Malvolio’s Revenge; Cold Iron (which as well as being based on a fairytale, is also based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and The Tempestuous Voyage of Hopewell Shakespeare. I also wrote a rather strange little combination of play and novella called Shakespeare’s Last Play, which is set in the last few weeks of his life, you can read it here

A visit from old London theatre friends triggers intriguing events in Shakespeare's household...

All hail the bard! 
So now, let's explore some other inspirations for Sophie's fantasy...

L: Your blog “Feathers of the Firebird” is well named. It calls to mind Stravinsky’s ballet “The Firebird” and conjures imagery from Middle-Eastern epics, with universal symbols of fire and feathers. One of your books is entitled “The Firebird” (2001). We once found a secondhand book of Russian fairy tales entitled “The Fire Bird” (1973). Naturally, the alliteration of “Feathers... Firebird” tickles my linguistic fancy. Why did you choose this name for your blog?

S: Because not only do I love the classic Russian fairytale Tale of Prince Ivan, Grey Wolf and the Firebird, which inspired my own novel, The Firebird, but also I discovered a gorgeous idea  in one of the other traditional Russian stories in which the firebird appears: and it goes that, as the firebird flies over the land, she’ll drop a golden feather, and as it touches the earth, a magic happens, and a new story is born. So ‘feathers of the firebird’ to me is an image of literary, creative inspiration--I just love that, and thought it the perfect name for my blog which is so much about that, in different ways, in the interviews and other posts I put up. 

L: An interest in Russian folklore and mythology is evident in your new Trinity chronicles, which I’ve just begun reading. Already in Book One we encounter the Rusalka, a Russian mermaid, siren or waterwitch who lures men to their deaths. (This echoes the Suloowa of northern Africa or the Middle East, appearing in one of your earlier novels, “The Tyrant’s Nephew”.) Apart from the Rusalka or Suloowa, the firebird, and the werewolf that turns up in at least two books of yours I’ve read so far, which other mythological creatures have captivated you?

"The Hollow Lands" (Hodder Childrens Books)
S: I have always been fascinated by fairies, elves and angels—also mermaids and other water-beings, forest spirits and those living underground—dwarves, goblins, etc. Yes, werewolves too, and other kinds of shapeshifters—some years ago I wrote a number of shapeshifting stories which were very successful and published in various anthologies. One, for instance, called ‘Mel’ reinvents the story of Melusine in a wholly unexpected way. I republished it on my blog at the end of last year. Read the article here.

I also love talking animals—as you might have guessed from Clementine! And also am interested in the human/animal combinations found in Greek myth such as centaurs, minotaurs, fauns, etc. Easier in fact to single out what I don’t like: and that’s vampires and zombies. I find vampires creepy and zombies repellent. But I’m interested in ghosts, and the ‘returned’—just so long as they’re not zombies!

'Flaming June' by Frederic Leighton
L: There is a pre-Raphaelite painting entitled “Flaming June” (1895) by Frederic Leighton, which I associate with the firebird motif. A lot of your description - particularly of garments - carries the exquisite aesthetic of this movement. Actually Sophie, I'm a relapsed Pre-Raphaelite. Its gorgeousness enchanted me for most of my adult life. I surfaced briefly from the obsession, finding it too idealistic, presenting impossible images of beauty. Then I began to make peace with aging and fell back into blissful enchantment, with more transcendental appreciation, perhaps closer to the neo-Platonic enjoyment that such art was designed to foster. What tipped me back into this interest was reading Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market” in a new, slim, black Penguin volume on a bookshop counter. (I recommend this series, which includes choice offerings of Dante, Chaucer and a chilling story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Gilman.) I’m revelling in the revival of pre-Raphaelite, Romantic, Gothic, neo-Medieval arts in current faerie fashion. How about you?

S: Yes—I love it too! I think there can be a kind of ‘deathliness’ to some of those Pre-Raphaelite images, a kind of flirting with the edges of creepiness, almost like a kind of ‘rotting beauty’ in a way, which can be a little disturbing—but I think in fact it’s that which makes it more ‘realistic’ than is often imagined: it’s like seeing the wither in the rose, or the skull beneath the skin—it’s a kind of memento mori which only highlights the beauty—and it’s that mortal transience which seems to attract immortal beings in so many stories and artworks...

L: Plain talking realists such as Don Watson might seem unlikely allies, but his call to rescue verbs as endangered species - and the recent "Adopt a Word" campaign by Melbourne's Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas - seem a glimmer of candlelight amidst the harsh neon of managerial jargon that had locked language in a corporate cage and muffled the music of words. Any thoughts on this?

S: Clarity of language is part of its beauty. And speaking clearly does not mean speaking simplistically—indeed it is the opposite. The pompous obscurity of managerial jargon cloaks  poverty of thought, and muffles meaning. I remember a ‘grook’ by the celebrated Danish writer Piet Hein, which went, ‘If no thought your mind does visit/make your speech not too explicit’. Exactly!

L: Magic-realism is another category that rides well with your books. That’s fine by me as I’m partial to authors such as Italo Calvino, A.S. Byatt, Jorge L. Borges and Ben Okri. So it intrigues me that magic-realism is one of the few fantasy sub-genres that the literati takes seriously as “literature”, whereas “YA” tends to occupy the more popularist arena of “genre fiction”. Such hierarchies seem reminiscent of old British Art academies, in which portraiture was afforded higher status than, say, landscape or fairy tale illustration. What are your views on genre categorization in the context of marketing, awards or criticism? How would you describe your style?

S: The tendency towards genre categorization is something that has restricted me in some ways, at least with some particular books—especially with adult readers, as kids generally don’t care about that kind of thing but just gravitate towards a story that interests them, or that their friends are talking about. I’ve found that the ‘Trinity’ books have suffered a little from the tendency of some readers to zealously police genre borders—because they are genre-crossing novels, they don’t exactly fit into ‘thriller’ or ‘urban fantasy’ or ‘romantic suspense’ or any of the other elements within them. I’ve found that young adult and child readers are much less likely to insist on such demarcations. However, I’m comfortable with readership being identified as ‘YA’ or younger readers, because that’s helpful at least for adults choosing books to buy for kids—though in fact lots of adults love children’s and YA books for their own sake too! I guess it’s inevitable that with so much fiction published, you need to have some guide as to what elements mostly drive the book—but it still seems a pity as well.

My own style? I’m not sure. A blend of magic and realism is fair enough—earthiness and enchantment-elegance and passion? At least, that’s what I aim for! You as a reader would probably be able to clarify that better. I only know that when I go into my writing world, I feel free and light and eager to explore. 

Sophie Masson - writing well means reading
L: You recently commenced a PhD on fairy tales, didn’t you? It seems that Australia is experiencing a flowering of fairy tale research, with another internationally acclaimed fantasy writer Dr Kate Forsyth having a PhD on Rapunzel, and my friends here in Victoria such as Dr Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario and Dr Belinda Calderone of The Monash Fairy Tale Salon and The Australian Fairy Tale Society. What drew you back into academia?

S: Well, my PHD isn’t actually on fairytale but it’s a creative writing PHD based on my novel The Ghost Squad and a related exegesis which looks at a very particular kind of YA speculative fiction: novels and short stories set in the afterlife! It’s a new but growing area of speculative fiction, and there is some absolutely wonderful stuff being written, highly imaginative, unusual, and haunting. There are also some strong fairytale-type—as well as mythological—elements within it which are very interesting too, and right up my alley! What drew me back into academia after many years of being out of it (I have a BA and MLitt in English and French literature) was that the idea for the novel, The Ghost Squad, had been haunting me for years, but as it’s quite a ‘risky’ sort of story, it wasn’t really one that I felt I could present to publishers until it was totally finished—but I never had the time to concentrate on it because of contracts on other novels and lots of other literary-business things…I decided last year though that I really wanted to explore that novel, and not only imaginatively but analytically, without the constraint of a contract(delightful as they are!)—the only way I could realistically do that was as a PHD project. And I was lucky enough to be accepted! I started last August and so far it’s been wonderful—I’m loving the time writing the novel and doing all the reading too, of novels I was not aware of before, plus lots of related reading. Very stimulating! And I can’t speak too highly of my wonderful supervisors at the University of New England—warm, supportive, encouraging and always ready to go that extra mile. It’s been brilliant so far!
Oh now really, you don't say?

Alongside that, I’m also by the way getting into writing original picture-book texts—something else I’ve wanted to do for a long time! And very pleasingly I am having some success with that—have sold two recently, one of which is an ABC book based on fairytale and folktale! 

L: How do you balance your time on the blog with your studies and novel writing? Do you find the internet to be a distraction? Or can its advantages outweigh the setbacks?

S: As well as that, I have all kinds of other things that take up my time: such as working on Christmas Press, and on the literary organisations I’m a part of! And of course there’s family—though my kids are grown up and live away, they are still very much a part of our lives, as are our birth families. It’s certainly very busy and hectic but very satisfying too. I balance things by instinct—hard to say how exactly it happens, but it does! Yes, the internet can be a distraction, but it can also be a great advantage—for instance it has put me in contact with lots of great creative people I wouldn’t otherwise have met—including yourself!
"Three Dragons for Christmas" (Christmas Press)

L: Thank you! To what extent would you agree that the internet has democratized communication, enabling authors and musicians to chat directly with readers and listeners, instead of companies acting as filters? Would you agree that it enhances potential for interdisciplinary dialogue? For example an illustrator can now email a picture directly to a composer or writer with the message “you inspired this”, leading to a chat about aesthetics, whereas in the past such random contact would have been relegated to “fan-mail”. I wonder if multinational corporations fully grasp the implications of this development? For one thing, it’s free; no need for mass printing of posters, billboards or magazine advertisements. And it’s more targeted than, say, a banner on a moving tram. On the other hand, it can be a burden to manage busy inboxes and social media groups, handling one’s own public relations without necessarily having the training or time to do so. You strike me as someone who thrives in both domains: the traditional tower, with its gate-keepers and butlers; and the free market agora, with its hawkers and buskers. Any advice or perspectives to share?

S: Thanks, Louisa—yes, I think I do seem to be able to cope with both. I think that the way I was brought up, plus the habits of nimbleness engendered by being a working full time writer—a precarious career that is both pre-modern and post-modern, as it were—helped enormously! It’s a challenge, and I like a challenge! Of course like anyone I get a little overwhelmed at times, but by and large I do enjoy it. And yes, I do agree that the internet has made it easier for artists to have cross-discipline collaborations; I see it in my own professional life, and that of other people I know in the creative arts, including my musician son!

L: Anything else you wish to share with us about your writing - past, present or future? 

S: Just really that I feel incredibly lucky—and blessed—to be able to earn my living doing what I was born to do. It is the most marvellous gift and I will never stop being thankful for it. 

L: As I am still in the early stages of exploring your oeuvre, there might need to be a “Part Two” of this interview in a couple of years. Thank you so much for your time, Sophie. - Louisa.

Look what I snaffled in Benn's Books, our local bookstore in Bentleigh, Melbourne, yesterday:
"The Crystal Heart" (Random House 2014)
A girl in a tower... An underground kingdom...

            above right: 
            is Sophie holding The Blue Fairy Book from the
            Andrew Lang series (The Folio Society edition)?

below: Sophie's new series "Trinity" (Momentum 2014)

Book I of "Trinity" 

More books by Sophie... and hey, there are even more to discover! Have fun exploring...

Sophie's Website

Sophie's Blog


Novel "The Tyrant's Nephew" by Sophie Masson

Review by Louisa John-Krol of The Australian Fairy Tale Society

"The Tyrant's Nephew" (Random House)
A guild of Carpet-Enchantresses, a Jinn Cat born of smokeless flame, Suloowa (murderous mermaids), werewolf clans, Shadow Walkers... what more do we need? This is the fantasy I love, set in exotic magic-realist landscapes where cars and gasmasks are interspersed with flying rugs and rituals to separate souls from bodies. Yay! There is even a gold crystal ball with an opal sphere within, like an eyeball, set on a stand, glittering and glowing, emitting a sinister hum: invidious spyware. Yes, my kind of book.

I enjoy how Sophie Masson lavishes us with verbs, especially ones that start with the letter Q, like ‘quailing’ or ‘quell’. 

“The Tyrant’s Nephew” has a distinctly middle-eastern setting and flavour, presented through allegory. Yet it carries universal resonance. After all, such themes as bullying, courage, corruption, disguise, trust, betrayal, family secrets, vanity, the rise and fall of empires, or coming of age, pertain to any time or place. 

This book entered my life in mid 2015 at the NSW Writers Centre in Sydney, where Sophie launched another magical novel “Hunter’s Moon”, which I’ve reviewed earlier at this fairy blogand at my ethereal homepage.

We were at the second annual conference of The Australian Fairy Tale Society. It was the first time I had met Sophie. By fairy trade, I received signed copies of “The Tyrant’s Nephew” and “Snow, Fire, Sword” (another from The Chronicles of El Jisal, which also includes “The Curse of Zohreh” and “The Maharajah’s Ghost”).

As a cat-lover, how could I resist the feline guide, jinn-cat Ketta? To digress: one of our cats is named Djinn (alternately Genie, or Jinn-Jinnie). When she first began frequenting our garden, I’d read about black cats sometimes being genies in disguise, and how a surefire test was to ask, “Are you a jinn?” Our little ebony visitor responded as if I’d uttered an incantation. Instant bonding! Granted, the indefatigable jinn-cat in “The Tyrant’s Nephew” is not black but white, like our other rescued cat Dulcinea. Ketta easily became my favourite character.

This novelist has an uncanny ability to shed light on the true nature of vampires. Not blood-suckers in the literal sense (done to death, so to speak) but rather, a metaphor for insatiable, narcissistic, manipulative megalomaniacs who walk among us, sucking life out of us in their lust for money, power and influence, where even the most altruistic ploys end up revolving around the vampire’s volatile ego that whips people into a frenzy as they try to keep pace with its rapidly shifting priorities, jump to its erratic tunes, accurately interpret its impatiently splattered directives, or feed its insatiable thirst for accolades. Vampires stalk any aspect of society, from the corporate world to the public service, and are most dangerous when they sense we’ve seen through them. So it behooves us to recognise them before they suck our energy dry; extract ourselves from their influence; at least develop psychic filters and ploys of avoidance, to preserve ourselves from their parasitical slurping, without incurring resentment or vindictive wrath. If that sounds like anyone you know, it’s because narcissists, megalomaniacs and sociopaths are options on the platter of human nature. Turning to psychology may garner strategies for coping, but I suggest that reading fine literature, from any culture, genre or century, written by wise people who’ve distilled their observations into nutritious mental nourishment, is by far the best antidote.

Review by Louisa John-Krol, published on homepage December 2015 & this blog March 2016.

Author Sophie Masson's Website          Sophie's Blog "Feathers of the Firebird"

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