An exciting crowdfunding campaign bringing back the best adventure novel ever written!

Eagle Books logoI am thrilled to be part of an exciting publishing project: bringing back to English-speaking readers what many have called the best adventure novel ever written, the legendary French writer Jules Verne’s great book, Mikhail Strogoff. It will be the first English translation in over a hundred years!

First published in France in 1876 in Verne’s Extraordinary Voyages series, under the title of Michel Strogoff, the novel was an immediate hit with readers and has never been out of print in France and indeed in many other countries. But after the first English translation, published in the same year as the book, there has not been another full English translation of this classic, rip-roaring tale of adventure set in Tsarist Russia, and the original translation is stodgy and dated for modern tastes. Indeed, it does not capture the lively, sharp, immediate quality of the original work, which is perhaps why there hasn’t been another translation and why English-speaking readers have missed out on what so many other people in other countries have enjoyed!

All that is set to change with the publication by Eagle Books of a brand new translation by the fabulous translator and writer, Stephanie Smee. Mikhail Strogoff, as it will be titled, will appear in early 2016 and right at the moment a fabulous crowdfunding campaign has just launched to help fund the production of a special limited edition of the novel to mark and celebrate this major publishing event. People can contribute and get their own special copy of this pre-commercial-release exclusive edition, which will Sergei Prokudin and Cossacksbe a gorgeous collectible hardcover book, illustrated in black and white and with many special features.

I’m delighted to be a part of the Eagle Books publishing team, (the new fiction imprint of Christmas Press) and thrilled that Mikhail Strogoff will be our launch title. It was my favourite book as a young reader and since then I have read and re-read it many times, thrilling every time to the extraordinary journey of the brave and determined Siberian, Mikhail Strogoff, courier of the Tsar, and his friends and family who join him on an adventure like no other, set in the exhilerating vastness and diversity of Russia. The book was a big influence on me, triggering a lifelong interest in Russia and its culture, but it always frustrated me that my English-speaking friends had no real access to it. It is truly a dream come true to be helping to bring back this amazing novel back to English-speaking readers!

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My sessions at the Historical Novel Society conference

HNSA-logoGearing up for the HNSA inaugural conference in just one week’s time! Here are the sessions where I’ll be appearing(from HNSA program).

20 March 6.00 pm  GUEST SPEAKER – COCKTAILS AND DEBATE

The conference opens with cocktails on Friday 20th March at the State Library of NSW where Sophie Masson is our guest speaker. Felicity Pulman will also launch her new book, Unholy Murder, before a lively round table discussion with Kelly Gardiner (Chair), Deborah Challinor, Jesse Blackadder, Rachel Le Rossignol and Gillian Polack as they ponder the question: ‘What can historical novelists and historians learn from each other?

21 March 12.15-1.15 pm  Session Four
Can Children’s and Young Adult Fiction Compete with Vampires, Werewolves and Zombies?
In a world where the Twilight and Hunger Games series dominate the CYA shelves, how can historical novelists capture young readers’ imaginations? Sophie Masson explores the issue with Belinda Murrell, Sherryl Clark, Pamela Rushby and Goldie Alexander. 

21 March 2.15-3.15 pm    Session Five
War-torn Worlds: Historical Fiction in Times of Conflict
Vashti Farrer joins Nicole Alexander, Toni Jordan, Kim Kelly and Sophie Masson in discussing why World Wars I and II inspire their fiction, and the challenge of depicting characters who must either overcome, or succumb to, the turbulence of war.
For more information on all the Conference panels, please visit the HNSA site for program details. And you can buy your tickets here.

Firebird way station on Amanda Bridgeman’s Aurora: Centralis blog tour!

AuroraCentralis BTFBDelighted to announce that today my blog’s a way station on bestselling science-fiction author Amanda Bridgeman’s  official blog tour celebrating the release of Aurora: Centralis, fourth instalment in the Aurora series, published by Momentum. Aurora_centralis_FA

Born and raised in the seaside/country town of Geraldton, Western Australia, Amanda hails from fishing and farming stock. The youngest of four children, her three brothers raised her on a diet of Rocky, Rambo, Muhammad Ali and AC/DC. Naturally, she grew up somewhat of a tomboy, preferring to watch action/sci-fi films over the standard rom-com, and liking her music rock hard. But that said, she can swoon with the best of them and is really not a fan of bugs! 

The three earlier books in the Aurora series: Darwin, Pegasus, Meridian have been bestsellers and received rave reviews, and just recently, the third book in the series, Aurora: Meridian, was shortlisted in  the science fiction category of the prestigious Aurealis Awards.

Congratulations, and welcome, Amanda!

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Living with The Afterlife

by Amanda Bridgeman
The afterlife, or what happens to us once we die, plays a part in the Aurora series. A hint of it appears in Aurora: Darwin and as the series progresses, more and more light is shed upon it, until finally it comes to the forefront in Aurora: Centralis. This particular plot thread weaves is way through Harris’ story. He dreams of his deceased grandmother and great-grandmother, and feels their ‘presence’ during his waking hours. This particular part of Harris’ story was inspired by tales and experiences relating to my own grandmother and great-grandmother.
My first true experience of the death of a loved one came at the age of 15 when my grandmother, my mother’s mother, passed away in her sleep in the early hours of the morning. My grandfather was up early that day, readying for a planned trip to the Abrolhos Islands with his son. He went to shake my grandmother awake to tell her he was leaving, but alas she never awoke. Upon receiving the news, my parents had stolen away to their house to see my grandmother, and then they came back to the house to wake me and tell me the news. I remember being in shock and jumping out of bed to make my mother a coffee. I had spent much time with my grandmother and her passing was a loss to all.
Strangely enough, that night when I went to sleep I had a dream. It was a strange dream, but a nice one none-the-less. I stood in a car park and some distance away I saw my grandmother standing with my pop. They were about to get into a car and drive away somewhere. I called out to her but my voice didn’t carry. Somehow she heard me though. She looked over to me, smiled, and raised her hand to wave at me. It was very much a goodbye wave. I smiled and waved back, and then they drove away. And I remember thinking at the time that that wasn’t just a dream. I truly believed it was my grandmother making contact from ‘the other side’ to say goodbye to me.
But wait, there’s more. There’s a lot more.
When my father was young he contracted polio. He was living on a farm in the small country town of Northampton and had to be transferred to a hospital in Perth, some 5-6 hours away by car. His father had to manage their farm and his mother had to take care of his 4 siblings, so they couldn’t visit with my father all the time. My father’s grandmother (his mother’s mother) however, lived in what was then an outer suburb of Perth and she made it her business to catch the train in every Sunday to visit him in hospital. He was only 6 years old at the time, and the two become close. Years later, when I was about 9 years old, his grandmother passed away, but it would seem she did not leave him.
One night my father was in the local pub in Geraldton, and the man – let’s call him Ron – who had recently bought and moved into our old house called him over to his table to speak with him. Ron said to my father that he was probably going to think him crazy, but he asked if our house had been haunted. My father told him no, that we had never experienced anything. Ron said that his wife – let’s call her Kelly – kept telling him she had seen the ghost of an old woman, standing by the fridge as though looking inside. Whenever Kelly entered the room, she would see this old lady look up and smile, then just fade away. Kelly said she never felt threatened by this apparition – it was just an old woman with gentle smile. Ron thought her crazy until one night, in the middle of the night, he awoke to see an image of an old woman standing beside the bed and leaning over Kelly who lay beside him. Ron said he wasn’t afraid, just shocked, as this old woman seemed to checking on them, looking for someone. And the way Ron described the woman to my father, it was the spitting image of his grandmother: she wore a quaker style of dress, round glasses, her hair was pulled into a bun, and she had a shawl pulled across her shoulders. And the funny thing is, my father’s grandmother was known for her appetite – even in her 90’s – so visions of her standing by the fridge are rather hilariously on the mark!
So, although she had passed, my great-grandmother was still checking on my father. But alas he had moved house, and she was obviously wondering where he’d gone.
Now my mother eventually told me this story years later when I was an early-mid teen. My brother, Ross, had been there at the time as well and I remember us looking at each other wide-eyed and, to be honest, a little freaked out. I distinctly remember my brother saying ‘I wish you hadn’t told us that!’. Of course for the next little while we found ourselves scouring every room we entered for her presence – you know, just in case she found our new address…
Now, however, I look back on that story with warmth. The fact that a love, a family bond could be so strong as to hold through different worlds, different realms, is really quite phenomenal. If I hadn’t dreamed that dream of my own grandmother, or heard this story of my father’s grandmother, I probably wouldn’t have believed in ghosts or the afterlife. But now I have, I find it hard to ignore.
Are ghosts real? Does the afterlife exist? Or is it simply that they live on in our hearts and minds and that is how we see them – that is what becomes the true place of the afterlife: within us. Based on my real life experiences, this is what I explore in the Aurora series with the character of Captain Saul Harris – whether or not that doorway exists.

Amanda’s website: http://amandabridgeman.com.au/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AmandaBridgemanAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/bridgeman_books

 

My favourite things on Historical Novel Society blog

HNSA-logoIn this second of my posts about the Historical Novel Society of Australasia’s inaugural conference later this month, I’m linking to a quick interview I did regarding my favourite things–published now on the HNSA blog. Here’s a short extract:

A few of my favourite things…

Book as a child and as a teenager?

As a child: Jules Verne’s fabulous adventure novel, Michel Strogoff, set in the Russia of the Tsars. As a teenager: Katherine, by Anya Seton, set in the Middle Ages in England.

Author/authors?

I love lots of authors, hard to choose! If we’re talking of historical novelists, here are a few: Alexandre Dumas, Theophile Gautier(I grew up in a French-speaking family so much of my childhood reading was in French and I still read a lot in that language); Anya Seton, Sigrid Undset, Robert Graves, Jean Plaidy, Philippa Gregory. And lots more!

Period of history?

Difficult to choose! I love the Middle Ages but also the 19th century, the Renaissance, and the Ancient Roman age.

Read the whole thing here!

Historical Novel Society of Australia inaugural conference

HNSA-logoIn the next couple of weeks, I’ll be highlighting the upcoming, inaugural Historical Novel Society of Australia conference, which is being held in Sydney from March 20–March 22 (inclusive). It promises to be a wonderful event for both writers and readers of historical novels, with panel discussions, interviews, book launches, pitch and evaluation opportunities, social events, and much more!

I’m a speaker at the Conference, on various panels on the Saturday, but also, in very nice news, I’ve been asked to give the opening speech at the Conference’s official launch and reception, on Friday March 20 at the State Library of NSW in Macquarie Street, Sydney. HNSA patron and my good friend and fellow novelist, Kate Forsyth, will also say a few words.

It should be a fabulous night all round, including cocktails, the launch of Felicity Pulman’s new historical crime novel, and a what sounds like a most intriguing panel discussion on what historical novelists and historians can learn from each other.

Find out more about the Friday reception here, and about the whole Conference here.

On writers: Anya Seton and Katherine

Katherine,_Anya_Seton_2006_edition_novelThis, the third of my republished articles on writers and classic works, focusses on the great American historical novelist Anya Seton, in particular her most famous and beloved book, Katherine. In the article, I also looked at Anya Seton’s fascinating family history. My article was first published in the Summer 2006 issue of the lovely UK books magazine Slightly Foxed.

A Grand Passion:
Anya Seton’s Katherine

by Sophie Masson

It was in the school library on a somnolent Sydney summer afternoon that I first met her. A passionate, but bookish and rather inarticulate child, I had recently discovered romantic novels—devouring Charlotte Bronte, Daphne du Maurier, Georgette Heyer, Jean Plaidy/Victoria Holt, and Mary Stewart, swept up into their worlds, loving them all. But meeting Anya Seton’s Katherine, as she set out on that ‘tender green time of April’, on a journey that was to take her from sheltered convent girl to controversial great lady, was the most wonderful delight of all.
Though Katherine de Roet, later Swynford, was, I was sure, infinitely more beautiful and gifted than me, though she lived in such a different time and place, I clicked instantly with her, and with the gorgeous book in which she lived and breathed with such intensity.
I was just about Katherine’s age–nearly sixteen–and I too had spent years in a convent—a convent school, in my case– and I was itching to go out into the world, and especially, fall in love. The separation between us—a gap of some six hundred years—seemed meaningless. I was with Katherine every step of the way, from her first introduction to the royal court, where she meets the man who will forever change her life, though she does not know it yet—John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the King’s dazzling third son. It is not love at first sight. But love is kindled between them, it is a passion as unstoppable as it is overwhelming, one that will bring in its train not just delight, but murder, madness, and exile. And the evocation of that grand passion by Anya Seton—particularly in the early stages of the affair, when Katherine and John spend several enchanted days in the remote castle of La Teste, in Les Landes, in Gascony (a region of France I knew well, as part of my family comes from there) was so thrilling to my adolescent self that I must have worn out those pages re-reading them, savouring each time that intoxicating mixture of languor and excitement, of sex and romance, of poetry and passion. This is not an uncommon reaction; lots of readers, and not only female readers, have felt this way—my husband tells me that as a 15 year old in England, he read Katherine twice, especially lingering on those passages! katherine 2
But though passionate love forms its incandescent centre, Katherine isn’t just about love. It is also an exceptionally rich, detailed, and utterly believable evocation of a tumultuous time—the mid to late 14th century, dominated by war, the Black Death, and religious and political rebellions. In its pages we meet not only Katherine and her royal lover, who are masterfully brought to life in all their complexity, but also a whole host of exquisitely-drawn characters: Katherine’s swinish, tormented husband, Sir Hugh Swynford; their daughter Blanchette, who will grow up to condemn her mother; John of Gaunt’s strange little Gascon squire Nirac, who takes it upon himself to perform a terrible service for his beloved master; Katherine’s brother in law, that brilliant observer of his time, Geoffrey Chaucer; John’s lovely, serene first wife Lady Blanche and his odd, spiky second wife, the Castilian princess Costanza; the English mystic Lady Julian of Norwich, who comforts Katherine in a period of extreme suffering—and many, many more. It’s not only characterisation at which the author excels, however; the historical setting, the background of major events, such as plague, war, and rebellion, as well as the innumerable details of ordinary life, are flawlessly recreated.
katherine 4Katherine not only enthralled me and made me interested in that time: it totally changed my idea of Chaucer. We had to study ‘The Knight’s Tale’ the year after I read the book, and it made the whole thing much easier, because rightly or wrongly I could visualise Geoffrey as a person. As well, it made the experience of Katherine even more real—reading the work of a man who had actually known her in life was exciting, a kind of reflected glory that quite reconciled me to the funny spellings!knights tale
Reading Katherine again now, not only as an adult, but as a writer myself, I am struck by how very good, even brilliant, it still is. There is nothing dated about it, either in style or in character or in essence. In certain ways, it reminds me of that other magnificent novel of fourteenth-century life, Sigrid Undset’s 1920’s trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter—in the rich evocation of a woman’s emotional, spiritual and intellectual journey as much as that of the time—and it is quite possible Seton was influenced by Undset’s work. But Katherine is also very much its own thing, distinctively beautiful, perfectly pitched, Seton’s masterpiece, and one of the great twentieth-century historical novels in English.

Back in my teens, after reading Katherine several times, I rushed off to look for other Anya Seton titles. Though none quite had the stunning impact of Katherine, I enjoyed them all. Two especially I still remember with great fondness, and have had much pleasure in re-reading: Green Darkness, a part-historical, part-fantasy novel, shuttling between the 20th and 16th centuries; and Dragonwyck, a rather Rebecca-like novel set in 1840’s upstate New York, centred around the haunted New York Dutch family, the Van Ryns, and their mansion, Dragonwyck. Though there are several editions of Seton novels still in print, it is those three—Katherine, Green Darkness and Dragonwyck—which have just(2006) been reprinted in beautiful new editions by Chicago Review Press in the US. Both Katherine and Dragonwyck feature forewords by the popular modern historical novelist, Philippa Gregory.dragonwyck

katherine 3It is only recently that I have learnt just who Anya Seton was, and realised that her life was as extraordinary as her fiction. Born in New York in 1906, she was christened Ann, the only child of two wealthy, prominent writers: Ernest Thompson Seton, and Grace Gallatin Thompson Seton. Ernest, who was born in Northumberland but migrated with his family to Canada as a child, was a world-famous naturalist and anthropologist, as well as an adventurer, an artist and writer. From an early age, he was fascinated by both the natural world and the world of the Native Americans, and as an adult, he spent a long time travelling, living in the wilderness of Manitoba, tracking animals and learning skills from the Cree Indians.

SetonANBA gifted artist who had exhibited in Europe and America, he had written and illustrated several natural history books before publishing the book that made both his fame and fortune: Wild Animals I have Known, published in 1898, and never out of print since. As well as publishing several books, he was a famous lecturer, was co-founder of the Boy Scouts of ernest thompson setonAmerica—an organisation he resigned from in protest against its militaristic stance when World War I broke out—as well as founder of the Woodcraft League, which he set up in opposition to the Scouts, and which was based on a respect for the natural world and also for Native American culture and knowledge. Ernest Thompson Seton is still well-known in America, and there is even an Institute dedicated to him, while his Woodcraft League continues to flourish.
setonsHis wife Grace, daughter of a beautiful Californian socialite who, after her divorce, had come to live in New York, was no slouch either. She wrote several very popular and highly-regarded ‘personal travel’ books, recounting her own adventures in all kinds of wild and foreign parts.

grace setonShe was also president of the Connecticut Women’s Suffrage League, served two terms as president of the National League of American Pen Women, and organised, and later, commanded, a women’s mobile relief unit in France in World War I! Ann was brought up in the family mansion, under the care of a nanny, and later went to boarding school, but she also travelled a great deal with her parents. She was apparently a hauntingly beautiful and very intelligent child, but though she did well at school, did not go to college. Instead she got married at nineteen and ran away to Oxford with her new husband. Perhaps the artistic hothouse that was home was just a little too much for her! (As was perhaps not surprising given the strong wills and personalities of Ernest and Grace, they divorced in 1934).
anya seton weddingIt was not until Ann was in her early thirties, and herself already divorced, remarried, and with three children from those two marriages, that she fulfilled a long-held dream of becoming a writer. As Anya Seton, she published her first novel, My Theodosia, in 1941. She obviously had her father’s golden touch: the novel was an immediate bestseller. More successful novels followed, some of which, like Dragonwyck, were made into Hollywood films in the 40’s and 50’s. Over a 34-year career, which included many long periods travelling and researching, she wrote twelve novels, some of them ‘straight’ historical novels, like Katherine, others mixtures of fantasy, the supernatural, and history, like Green Darkness. Her last novel, Smouldering Fires, was published in 1975; the author herself lived for another fifteen years after that. Though all her novels were popular worldwide, it is definitely Katherine which to both critics and readers alike represents the high point of her considerable gifts, and which will live forever in the minds and hearts of thousands of once-were-teenagers, now grown men and women.

anya_setonkatherine 5