Bestselling Children’s Book Author Sophie Masson: My Favourite Fairy-tales

I’ve loved fairy-tales from as far back as I can remember. Even before I could read, I always begged to be told fairy-tales, and the first book I remember reading for myself in English (I’m of French origin, so my first reading was in French), as a six year old, was a beautifully illustrated Little Golden Book which was a collection of three fairy-tales: Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and Toads and Diamonds.

Ever after, I’ve read voraciously in the fairy-tale tradition, clicking instinctively with those thrilling tales of enchanted realms and talking animals and dark spells and love at first sight and scary moments, too. Fairy-tale is less grand than myth, and less ‘serious’ than legend, but it is more romantic than both. More human. And yet more magical. It speaks of our dreams, but it’s also full of robust, earthy wisdom.

Like everyone who loves fairy tales, I have my favourites. There are quite a lot of these, but three in particular stand out, and when I look closer, I see that they share common elements: a thrilling atmosphere of romance, mystery, magic, secrets and dread, and a spirited, courageous heroine who must go through a great ordeal to achieve happiness.

So here they are, my top favourites:

Beauty and the Beast, written by the French writer Madame Leprince de Beaumont in the eighteenth century, which was immediately so popular it spawned a whole new rash of versions by other writers and cultural traditions around the world and inspired classic novels too, like Jane Eyre.

Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swans, which combined courage and terror in equal measure and has also inspired some wonderful novels, including, recently Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest.

And Cinderella, most especially in the German version collected by the Brothers Grimm in 1812, which is known as Aschenputtel. I love that version of Cinderella above all, because in it the Cinderella character is much more active than she is in many others, and so the magic that happens is more satisfying and more touching too than just a fairy godmother turning up with a wand. It was that story of course that was my primary inspiration for Moonlight and Ashes, and while I was writing it, I was plunged into a world as dizzyingly enchanting as it was emotionally intense.

Sophie. thank you for sharing your love of fairy tales with the Booktopia Blog’s readers

Click here to buy Moonlight and Ashes from Booktopia,
Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop

Recently Booktopia asked Sophie Masson to tell us about her new book:

Sophie:

Moonlight and Ashes is something a bit different, a fairy-tale thriller for young adults, with a romantic twist and a spice of dark political conspiracy! Inspired by the Grimm version of CinderellaAschenputtel, it’s set in an alternative world, the Faustine Empire (based in part on the late 19th century Austro-Hungarian Empire), where magic is a reality but forbidden to be practised by anyone except the secretive and dangerous order of Mancers, who are part sorcerer, part secret police.

The main setting is Ashberg (based on Prague), a lovely provincial city in the far reaches of the Empire, where my heroine and narrator, Selena, lives. She’s the Cinderella figure: the neglected and oppressed first daughter of a wealthy nobleman who after the death of her mother, and her father’s remarriage, has been reduced to being a servant. But she’s no passive victim, and when her mother comes to her in a dream and gives her the magic of the hazel tree, she is determined to use it. But though her life starts to change, she must be very careful, and not only because magic is forbidden, for she has a very dangerous secret, an enigma which she must understand if she is to save the man she loves, and her friends, before it is too late. It’s a real roller-coaster of a story, and I loved writing it, but it kept me awake at night too! read full interview

Click here to order Moonlight and Ashes from Booktopia,
Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop

Sophie Masson, author of Moonlight and Ashes, The Hunt for Ned Kelly, The Curse of Zohreh, and more, answers Six Sharp Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

 Sophie Masson

author of Moonlight and Ashes, The Hunt for Ned Kelly, The Curse of Zohreh, and more

Six Sharp Questions

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1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?

Moonlight and Ashes is something a bit different, a fairy-tale thriller for young adults, with a romantic twist and a spice of dark political conspiracy! Inspired by the Grimm version of Cinderella, Aschenputtel, it’s set in an alternative world, the Faustine Empire (based in part on the late 19th century Austro-Hungarian Empire), where magic is a reality but forbidden to be practised by anyone except the secretive and dangerous order of Mancers, who are part sorcerer, part secret police.

The main setting is Ashberg (based on Prague), a lovely provincial city in the far reaches of the Empire, where my heroine and narrator, Selena, lives. She’s the Cinderella figure: the neglected and oppressed first daughter of a wealthy nobleman who after the death of her mother, and her father’s remarriage, has been reduced to being a servant. But she’s no passive victim, and when her mother comes to her in a dream and gives her the magic of the hazel tree, she is determined to use it. But though her life starts to change, she must be very careful, and not only because magic is forbidden, for she has a very dangerous secret, an enigma which she must understand if she is to save the man she loves, and her friends, before it is too late. It’s a real roller-coaster of a story, and I loved writing it, but it kept me awake at night too!

Click here to order Moonlight and Ashes from Booktopia,
Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop

2. Times pass. Things change. What are the best and worst moments that you have experienced in the past year or so?

I’ve had a lot of good moments in the past year or so—working on books I’m passionate about, like Moonlight and Ashes, winning the NSW Premier’s Prize last year for another book, The Hunt for Ned Kelly, spending great times with my family and friends, travelling, reading great books, watching good movies! There have been bad moments too, such as getting shingles. Still, it didn’t last long. I feel pretty lucky. Touch wood.

3. Do you have a favourite quote or passage you would be happy to share with us? It doesn’t need to be deep but it would be great if it meant something to you.

Since visiting Russia a couple of years ago for the first time (going again this year, it’s an absolutely addictive and exciting place), I’ve been reading (and rereading) lots of Russian literature, both classic and modern. People often think Russian literature is gloomy, but that’s far from the truth: it accepts that life can be tragic, yes, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be joyful. It’s full of life, and eccentric, vivid characters, but also philosophical, with a streak of engaging humour and unexpected insights. So because I love the unexpected, that’s what I want to put down here, a couple of short quotes from two Russian writers I love, one a classic, the great Fyodor Dostoesvsky, the other modern, the wonderful fantasy novelist Sergei Lukyanenko whose Night Watch series just blew me away (by the way, the books are much better than the films):

Never before had she seen such writers. They were impossibly vain, but quite openly so, as if thereby fulfilling a duty. Some (though by no means all) even came drunk, but it was as if they perceived some special, just-yesterday-discovered beauty in it. They were all proud of something to the point of strangeness.

(Fyodor Dostoevsky, from Demons)

What an unfortunate instrument the guitar is! An instrument of such great nobility, a genuine monarch of music– reduced to a pitiful lump of wood with six strings, constantly abused by people with no ear and no voice.

(from Day Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko)

4. Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life.

I guess you’d really have to ask my near and dear if I’m difficult, but I think that it could be fairly said that I’m a compulsive writer! I love my work; it feels to me still that I’ve lucked out amazingly, being paid to do what I was born to do! I’ve also always been pretty disciplined about my writing day to day and can work under almost any conditions – I’m certainly not obsessive about work spaces and what have you. I grew up in a big family and had to learn to block off my head from noise and turmoil if I wanted to read and write, so I’ve always been good at doing that. I work very intensely, not every day of the week but usually around 4-5 days, and I get a lot down in a few hours, then the next day go over it again, rewrite, and go on to the next chapter, and so on – I am always writing a new chapter but also rewriting as I go, so that my first draft is actually pretty polished – because in truth it isn’t my first draft if you know what I mean!

5. Some writers claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it. Would you please describe how the marketplace affects your writing (come on, tell the truth!).

Of course you are influenced, in the sense that you need to be aware of what’s going on out there, what sorts of things are selling, etc. You need to be flexible – but I think it’s also a bad mistake to be too influenced by it. The marketplace is very fickle and things move on very quickly, you need a sense of being grounded in your own vision, your own interests, your own passions.

6. Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?

(I’m assuming here we take classics of adult literature)

A book of poetry from early times to now, because the gift of poetry stays with you your whole life, and there’s always something for everyone if you have a selection;

A book of myths, legends and fairytales, because they speak to the deepest truths in us, and form the best base for exploring all other stories.

Notes from the Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky: amazingly modern in feel, hectic, blackly humorous work of rebellion and absurdity which can spark off heaps of discussion;

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, because the combination of Gothic thriller, love story and mystery, with its spirited heroine and brooding hero long predates Bella, Edward and co;

Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare, because it’s the funniest, most romantic, sparkling and yet melancholy of the great plays.

Sophie, thank you for playing.

Click here to order Moonlight and Ashes from Booktopia, Australia’s No. 1 Online Book Shop

Toni Whitmont review: 2011 NSW Premier’s Literary Award winners announced – Alex Miller and Malcolm Fraser scoop the pool

The winners of the 2011 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced at a gala dinner at the Sydney Opera House last night. Some of the countries leading writers and luminaries were at the event, including ABC TV presenter Jennifer Byrne (as MC), NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and former Prime Minster of Australia, Malcolm Fraser.

One of Australia’s best-loved writers, Alex Miller, was awarded the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction for Lovesong, described by the judges as “a magnificent novel of desire”.

(No surprises there – we are Miller groupies here at Booktopia. Go here to see his answers to our Ten Terrifying Questions and here to see my interview with him on the publication of Lovesong).

Alex has received numerous awards for his writing, including twice winning the prestigious Miles Franklin Award. Miller also won The People’s Choice Award. Introduced three years ago to increase public engagement with the arts, the People’s Choice Award was chosen by Australian residents from the six novels shortlisted for the Christina Stead Prize.

Former Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Fraser, along with Margaret Simons, were awarded the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction for Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs. It also took out Book of The Year. The judges described  it as an engaging work that demonstrates how literary craft can transcend the usual limitations of political autobiography.
The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, established in 1979, were Australia’s first premier’s awards. In their 32 year history, they have honoured many of the nation’s greatest writers, including Continue reading

Sophie Masson, author of My Father’s War, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Sophie Masson

author of My Father’s War, The Understudy’s Revenge and more…

Ten Terrifying Questions

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1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Jakarta in Indonesia, but of French parents who were working there for a big French construction company. (They built the port of Tanjung Priok in Jakarta, and later a big air force base in Surabaya). My parents and two older sisters(who were born in France) were there for six years but when I was 9 months old my mother took me back to France as I was very sickly and they didn’t think I’d survive if I stayed in Indonesia. She left me with my paternal grandmother and aunts in Toulouse and I was raised by them till I was nearly five years old, when my parents and sisters (with another little addition, who’d been born in Surabaya while I was away!) picked me up and took me with them to their next home–in Australia! (dad had been transferred there.) I arrived in Australia with no English at all, and had to start school the very month we landed! We stayed in Australia after that but went back to France every two years for a holiday as per my father’s contract. And sometimes we even had to go to school in France during those holidays! My parents never migrated, they just kept renewing their work contracts–so in many ways it was a funny way to live, suspended between two countries and languages–like living in two different worlds. I sometimes think that’s why I became a writer.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Well even further back than that, at the age of four I wanted to be a princess! That’s the first ambition I remember clearly. At twelve it was a toss up between actress and writer, both of which I loved–I was doing heaps of drama in and out of school and I was already writing lots of stories and poems and even comic books. By eighteen actress had receded into the background (stage fright too acute by fourteen) and I wanted to be a writer. At thirty I still wanted to be a writer–and was one!

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I thought the Celts were much better than the Romans! Sounds nerdy I know but I was obsessed by the Celts–Bretons, Irish, scots, Cornish, Manx, Gaulish–and thought the Romans were a bunch of technological deadheads. Now I’m much more even-handed about it, and can see both have their good and bad points!

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

1/Coming to Australia, which made English into not my native tongue but my adopted tongue, a tongue I learned to love and mould and in which I really discovered I could express myself and my love of stories.

2/Discovering Shakespeare, whose works continue to inspire me;

3/Writing, as a teenager, to Australian poets whose work I’d admired at school, and sending them some of my own work–and getting generous letters back from them, giving constructive criticism. I knew nobody in the publishing industry and had no idea how to get published but these letters were my first introduction to the idea that there really was a kind of fellowship of writers, and encouraged me greatly.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? aren’t they obsolete?

No way, they’ll never be! all those other things are ephemeral–the book will always remain, in whatever medium, print or electronic, it happens to be in. There is nothing more satisfying than reading a good book–except writing one! I might add that I’m no Luddite, I love the Internet and I participate fully in all kinds of electronic media, including writing blogs, creating trailers for You Tube etc etc–but none of these can ever replace the book. It’s not an electronic ephemeral which was arguably the biggest cultural phenomenon of modern times–but a series of books, the Harry Potter books.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

The Understudy’s Revenge is a historical mystery, inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and set in 1860, in the exciting London theatre world of Charles Dickens’ and Wilkie Collins‘ time (they both appear as cameos in the book!) It’s told by lively young Millie Osborne, daughter of a theatre company’s manager, who decides to investigate the story behind a mysterious new arrival, who’s taken on as an understudy–Oliver Parry. He’s fascinating–but he’s also hiding a secret… And curious Millie and her friend Seth are determined to find out what it is–and fall into great danger.

My Father’s War is set in 1918, in the last year of the First World War, and is about an Australian girl called Annie whose soldier father has been away for two years fighting on the battlefields of northern France. They haven’t heard from him in months; Annie’s French mother is very worried and decides they’ll go to France to look for him. They arrive in Amiens and start the search–but then Annie’s mother also goes missing… at the very moment when the war starts hotting up again. Annie’s desperate to find them–but will she be too late? This is very much about the experience of war as seen from a child’s viewpoint–and it climaxes around the ‘other Anzac Day’–the terrible but decisive battle of Villers-Brettoneux on 24-25 April 1918.

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

That people might not take life and the people they love for granted.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Well, that’s a hard one! There’s quite a few people I admire! they range from Shakespeare to Solzhenitsyn, the people of the Philippines for freeing themselves bloodlessly from a corrupt dictator, and the peoples of Eastern Europe for at last tearing down the grey regimes that had controlled them for so long; from my maternal grandmother who despite a hard life and much suffering never showed any bitterness but was the kindest, most loving and genuinely joyfully religious person I have ever known, to my English teacher in high school who encouraged me in every way–and that’s just a beginning!

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

In terms of my writing, to be the best writer I can possibly be, within my own nature and the abilities I was granted–not to look over my shoulder at other people, not to be envious, but just to do the very best I personally can, every time. I am very very lucky–I can earn my living doing what I was born to do, the thing that comes as naturally to me as breathing. but that doesn’t mean I can be complacent, not for one minute!

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read as much as you can, observe as much as you can, practise as much as you can. Don’t be afraid to imitate–it’s good practice–but develop your own voice, learn to understand it and what it’s telling you. People often say–write about what you know–but that doesn’t mean limiting yourself to the details of your life. It means–write about what you know–from the inside. Be true to your emotions. Your own way of seeing things. But don’t be closed to others. Don’t look over your shoulder. Don’t waste time thinking, I would like to be writing like so and so. Work with what you have. Don’t be afraid to do things differently. And don’t take anything for granted!

Sophie, thank you for playing.

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