Celebrating new books in troublesome times 8: Kathy Creamer

Next week sees the publication of author-illustrator Kathy Creamer’s new picture book, The Big Old Rambutan Tree, a book which had a very special inspiration and process, as Kathy explains in this  fascinating guest post.

Creation of The Big Old Rambutan Tree

 by Kathy Creamer

Someone once pronounced an orangutan to be an animal that looked somewhat like a sad heap of deflated bicycle wheel inner tubing. I met my first orangutan when I was working at Singapore Zoological Gardens as a volunteer docent, and they were nothing at all like the description of sad deflated bicycle tubing. I became completely enchanted by the beauty and charm of these effervescent and mischievous primates, and one lovely orangutan in particular, who happened to be the zoo’s celebrity, became my favourite. She was a gentle female named Ah Meng, who I met in the days when visitors to the zoo were allowed to get close up to some of the tame orangutans and even share breakfast with them. Ah Meng, who was sitting with her new baby, calmly allowed me to be seated next to her. I was almost nine months pregnant at the time and Ah Meng was clearly interested in the huge size of my baby bump, so much so, she reached out and placed her hand gently on my tummy and kept it there whilst she gazed knowingly into my eyes. I was totally astounded by her gesture and in that instant, I realized she possessed a great intelligence which comprehended precisely what was growing in there.

Orangutans and humans share 97 per cent of their DNA sequence, which makes us very close cousins. And indeed, they are so much like us in displaying facial expression and emotion such as joy, excitement, jealousy and fear, and when a young orangutan displays his anger or frustration, it is exactly like watching a temper tantrum in a two-year-old human toddler.

 

I began researching a little more about orangutans and learned just how endangered they are in the wild. I was distressed by the fact that their young are much sought after for the illegal exotic pet trade; the mothers who fearlessly fight to protect their offspring are usually shot dead by the animal poachers in order to steal the babies. Then there is the significant threat of habitat destruction from human development such as farming; the biggest threat being the recent expansion of enormous palm oil plantations. I was so moved by what I read that I wanted to do something to highlight the plight of these beautiful animals in the wild. So, I decided to create a picture book story about Ah Meng, which was published by the zoo and succeeded in raising much needed funds for the Zoo’s own orangutan conservation program. Ah Meng was so pleased with her book that she painted me an extraordinary picture for the book launch at the zoo!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some years later, after watching a nature program about the uncontrolled  destruction of thousands of acres of pristine Asian rainforest for palm oil plantation, I realized that the orangutan’s struggle for survival had become even worse, and that they were now dangerously further down the path to total extinction in the wild. Moved to try and do something to highlight the problem, however small, I decided to create another children’s picture book story, The Big Old Rambutan Tree.

The idea for the story was inspired by a newspaper report on how a young orangutan in a nature reserve actively helped to look after two orphaned tiger cubs by helping the human carers to bottle feed them. Obviously, as the two tiger cubs grew bigger, they eventually had to be separated from the orangutan.

In the illustrations for the book, I tried to display emotion and movement, as well as revealing the gentle, peaceful expression and exuberant mischievousness of orangutan personality. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a publisher for the manuscript, so it lay for almost ten years in my desk drawer until I decided to send it to Orangutan Outreach to see if they would be interested in endorsing the book should it be published. They were! So, I decided to publish with Little Pink Dog Books, which is a children’s picture book publishing partnership specializing in books by new and emerging writers and illustrators, which I happen to run with my husband. We also began a crowdfunding site with IndieGoGo, to help with the publication costs, and I am pleased to say that many people from around the world have either made a financial donation or have purchased copies of the book. To help Orangutan Outreach I decided all profits from the book would go to their organisation to help with their valuable conservation work.

I am particularly pleased that after many years of effort the book is now on sale, and I would like to encourage readers to help support the conservation of these beautiful primates by purchasing a copy of the book from your local bookshop or by ordering the book directly from the Little Pink Dog Books website.

The Big Old Rambutan Tree

Written and illustrated by Kathy Creamer

Little Pink Dog Books (May 2020)

From the flames of the burning rainforest, an extraordinary bond of friendship ignites between a savage tiger and a gentle orangutan, as they both struggle to survive in their fast diminishing habitat.

 Kathy’s website: www.kathycreamer.com

Connect with Kathy on Facebook

Two new interviews with me

Two recent new interviews with me that might interest readers: the first is in audio form, a wide-ranging podcast interview celebrating 30 years since my first two books were published, which is featured at the Writes4Women website. It was just lovely having the time to expand on all kinds of aspects of writing, inspiration, process, and lots more, with fantastic interviewer Kel Butler.

The other interview is in article form, and is a bit of an overview of my career and influences. It’s published in conjunction with a short story competition I’ve collaborated on with the University of New England’s Creative New England initiative, and the New England Writers’ Centre. Thanks to UNE’s Alahna Fiveash for the great questions!

Launching Fox and Chook Creative Activity Pack for families, schools and libraries

I’m absolutely delighted today to announce the launch of a fabulous brand-new creative activity pack for children and their families, carers, schools and libraries, which I’ve created with Kathy Creamer, a good friend of mine who’s a fantastic illustrator. It’s called the Fox and Chook Creative Activity Pack and is themed around, you guessed it, foxes and chooks (for non-Australians, that means chickens!)

This gorgeous pack, which is presented as a downloadable PDF, includes lots of fun activities: from lots of creative writing exercises to colouring-in pages; from looking at and discussing classic paintings to discovering fabulous facts about foxes and chooks; from listening online to a fun fox and chook story(one of mine) to sculpting your own fox and chook out of modelling clay, from sharing real-life stories of foxes and chooks to learning how to draw them and to make your own shadow puppets–and more!

You can access the full activity pack directly here on my blog: Fox and chook creative activity pack by Sophie Masson and Kathy Creamer full final or from the special page on Sophie Masson Presents, where you will not only find the full pack but also the colouring pages as a separate PDF to download and print out easily.

Please note that this activity pack is copyright to me and Kathy Creamer. Till September 30, it is available free for families, schools and libraries to download, use and print, but must not be extracted or reproduced without written permission and acknowledgement of authorship and cannot be sold or used commercially by any entity or individual.

Kathy and I would like to thank the fantastic New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) in Armidale, for kindly researching paintings in their collections for the Foxes and Chooks in Art section of the pack, and for giving us permission to include images of them. We would also like to acknowledge Christmas Press and illustrator David Allan for images from Two Trickster Tales from Russia and photographer Nathan Anderson for the wonderful fox photo on title page (photo available free to download on Unsplash).

So have a look, check it all out–and hope you enjoy! And as we’d love to see your creative responses to these exercises, do tag me if you decide to put them up on social media. You can tag me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. And you can contact me via this blog, or via the contact form at Sophie Masson Presents. You can contact Kathy here.

 

 

 

Join the Armidale Parade and The Wrong Spoon: two lovely new readings of my work

Very pleased to let you know about a couple of fabulous new readings of my work: a virtual storytime reading at the wonderful new England Regional Art Museum (NERAM, in Armidale, of Join the Armidale Parade, my picture book with Kathy Creamer, published in 2019 by Little Pink Dog Books. Enjoy all the colour and fun of the big parade in the reading(especially needed these days, where sadly such events cannot be held…)  On the page at NERAM, you’ll also find some great activities created by Kathy, centred around the book, such as mask-making and colouring-in and drawing pages.

 

As well, that wonderful reader Robert Topp from Read Me A Story Ink has just done a great audio recording of The Wrong Spoon, which was published last year in the anthology A Christmas Cornucopia, edited by Beattie Alvarez and David

Illustration by Fiona McDonald from ‘The Wrong Spoon’ by Sophie Masson, published in A Christmas Cornucopia(

Allan and published by Christmas Press. As the opening music to the story indicates, The Wrong Spoon is a humorous Sorcerer’s Apprentice sort of story, and was a lot of fun to write. And I just love the way Bob reads it!

Thirty years ago, my first two books came out…

This year marks a momentous milestone for me–it’s thirty years since my first two books, The House in the Rainforest (adult novel, published by UQP, March 1990) and Fire in the Sky(children’s novel, published by Angus and Robertson, June 1990), came out.

Launch of The House in the Rainforest, April 1990, at the University of New England bookshop. It was launched by poet Julian Croft.

They weren’t the first novels I’d written; two more finished ones languished in the bottom drawer(they still have never seen the light of day and never will) and one half-finished one written in my teenage years still lurked in a box of things from childhood; and before 1990 I’d had some stories published in anthologies, but this was the big year, the one in which my dream of one day becoming a professional, published book author, became reality–and not just with one book, but two, in the one year.

I’m celebrating this milestone in a subdued sort of way, given the current situation for us all, but it’s very much a milestone that makes me both happy and grateful. Happy and grateful that publishers took a punt on me in the first place; happy and grateful that they continue to do so, thirty years down the track. Happy and grateful to be working in such a wonderful industry, which despite its many challenges, is truly the best and has rewarded me in so many ways; happy and grateful to be part of the diverse and generous creative community of book people, where I have forged many lasting friendships; and so happy and grateful for the many, many people who have believed in my work and supported and encouraged me throughout my career and continue to do so: my wonderful agent Margaret Connolly; the many fantastic publishers and editors I’ve worked with throughout these amazing thirty years; friends and fellow writers and illustrators..And most especially, of course, my family–my three children, Pippa, Xavier and Bevis, who grew up with a mother so often away with the fairies yet who not only never reproached me for it but love and understand what I do; my husband David,whose unfailing support from the very beginning has been not just strongly emotional and moral but also immensely practical, taking on more than his fair share of household tasks and childcare so that I would have time and space to write; as well as my parents, whose love of books and stories provided the perfect growing soil for a budding young writer; my brothers and sisters, who were my first audience/readers/guinea-pigs back when we were all kids, and who still love what I write; my sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law, and daughters-in-law and son-in-law, always so warmly encouraging…And my dear little grandchildren, who for the last few years have inspired me into a new creative direction: writing picture book texts.

Thirty years on from those first two books, I’ve had more than 70 books published–for children and young adults, mainly, but also for adults–with more coming this year and into the next couple of years. I’ve been published in many different genres, with many different publishers, in many different countries. I’ve had many ups and a few downs, overcome quite a few challenges and been offered quite a few opportunities. More than a few things have changed in the publishing industry since I started; but more than a few, also, have stayed the same. It’s been an absolutely amazing thirty years: and I am so happy to look back on it now and give thanks for the extraordinary good fortune of being able to have such a deeply satisfying career, doing what I was born to do. And that is truly something to celebrate.

UPDATE: You can listen here to a long interview with me, conducted by Kel Butler of Writes 4Women, which looks back at the 30 years since my first two books were published. It was such a lovely opportunity to talk about it and reflect on it all.

Blast from the past 1: House in the Rainforest clippings

Blast from the past 2: Fire in the Sky clippings

 

My illustrated talk on inspiration and process of some of my picture books

I am very pleased to announce that I’ve just made and uploaded an illustrated talk about how some of my recent and upcoming picture books came to be: the inspiration behind the stories, how the text developed, and how the illustrators I collaborated with created the visual world of their books. Hope it’s both informative and interesting. It’s suitable for watching by both kids and adults and is a good resource for schools, as well as homeschoolers and anyone interested in how picture books are created. At 23 minutes long, it’s about the length of a normal talk I’d give in person at a school or other venue. You won’t see me in it, though you’ll hear me–the talk is illustrated by slides visually showing the inspirations and processes behind the books. In line with the You Tube protocol for videos suitable for kids, this illustrated talk does not have ads or a comments feature, but you are welcome to get in touch about it via the contact form on this blog, or via my website, www.sophiemasson.org

It’s free to watch and share, but must not be sold or used commercially in any way. It’s now up on my You Tube channel, but you can also watch it directly here.

You can find out more about the process behind some of the books at the links below:
Two Rainbows: Illustrator Michael McMahon shows some of his process: https://firebirdfeathers.com/2017/07/19/michael-mcmahon-on-creating-illustrations-for-two-rainbows/
On My Way: Illustrator Simon Howe shows some of his process: https://firebirdfeathers.com/2019/06/03/creating-on-my-way/
Building Site Zoo: Illustrator Laura Wood shows some of her process: https://firebirdfeathers.com/2017/10/12/the-creation-of-building-site-zoo-part-two-the-illustrations/
There’s A Tiger Out There: Illustrator Ruth Waters shows some of her process: https://firebirdfeathers.com/2019/07/01/creating-theres-a-tiger-out-there/

Many thanks to the wonderful illustrators who gave me permission to use their sketches, illustration development and other creative process elements for this talk: Laura Wood, Michael McMahon, Simon Howe,  Ruth Waters, Katrina Fisher, Kathy Creamer, and Ronak Taher. You can check out the links to their work at the end of the video. Some of the illustrators had also previously written about their process on my blog, and links to those pieces are also highlighted in the slides on individual books.

Many thanks also to my great publishers at Little Hare, Scholastic Australia, Dirt Lane Press, Hachette Australia, and Little Pink Dog Books, who gave permission for covers and other images to be used. Links to the pages for each book on the publishers’ sites are also at the end of the video.

Hope you enjoy!

Celebrating new books in troublesome times 7: Corinne Fenton

Today’s guest post is by Corinne Fenton, whose beautiful non-fiction picture book with illustrator Andrew McLean, To the Bridge, about the remarkable 1000 km horseback journey made in 1932 by nine year old Lennie Gwyther and his pony Ginger Mick, has just been released this month. Two of the three launches planned for the book had to be cancelled due to the current situation, but the first launch, at Leongatha, the place where the main characters of the book came from, was held on March 12. (See photo below). In her post, which was also her  launch speech, Corinne writes about piecing together Lennie’s story from his family and friends.

Telling true stories

By Corinne Fenton

‘Lennie knew that if he travelled twenty miles a day he would make it on time and it wouldn’t be too much for Ginger Mick.

So, on 3rd February 1932, when Lennie and Ginger Mick were nine years old, they set off along the winding road out of Leongatha, to ride six hundred miles to Sydney.’

Some true-story picture books take years to create because it’s difficult to find specific information, or people connected to the story.

This was not the case with To the Bridge, because in the beginning I found Beryl, the little sister of my main character, Lennie Gwyther. I first met Beryl when she was 90. She shared priceless snippets she remembered about her eldest brother – how he loved to build things, how he was quiet and humble, a real thinker and how the most precious thing in the world to him was his beloved pony, Ginger Mick.

She told me Ginger Mick preferred to trot rather than walk or canter, and that he was highly intelligent with a will of his own. If he saw a cow lagging, he would give it a clip on the rump. Lennie called him Ginger for short.

I asked Beryl if Lennie was a loner, ‘No,’ she said, ‘but he preferred to be making things which took time, so he spent a lot of time alone.’

Ginger Mick was the love of Lennie’s life. From the beginning they were inseparable. They were born on the same day and Lennie’s maternal grandfather gifted Ginger Mick to Lennie on their second birthday.

To the Bridge has still taken five years from when I first mentioned this story to Publisher, Maryann Ballantyne and almost five years since I visited Beryl on the Gold Coast. I also made trips to Leongatha and to Ballarat to meet family and source more priceless details. My task was to then bring these volumes of details and information back to 577 words. Many people think it’s easy, but often it’s painful to part with carefully chosen words, leaving only the heart and the framework of precise words, to tell the tale.

And of course the other half of telling the story in picture books is in the illustrations, in this case the stunning ones by Andrew McLean.

Writing true stories is always harder than fiction ones, and over the years I’ve realised how much of my soul travels with my characters. Each book takes a part of me with it and with each book, I meet new people who become lifelong friends.

True stories, like To the Bridge are the way we learn about our past and where we come from. To share that with a new generation is what writing true picture books is all about.

Of course I did not do this alone. There are so many people who rode with us:

Leongatha Launch of To the Bridge

Julie Oliveri, who first mentioned the story of her family to me, Publisher Maryann Ballantyne who knew the power of Lennie and Ginger Mick the moment I mentioned them and who crafted and championed it for me, as only she can do, Beryl Ferrier without whom this version of the story would not be and Andrew McLean whose heart-wrenching illustrations tell the other half of my words and make it a true picture book. It has been an honour and a privilege to work with Andrew once again.

Thanks also to Julie Campbell, Beryl and Lennie’s niece, who went above and beyond to help me, especially for taking me to Flers the family farm, 5 years ago, to see where Lennie and his siblings grew up, and most importantly where Ginger Mick is buried. Thanks Beryl’s son, Laurie Watson, Historian John Murphy, Pat Spinks and Lyn Skillern from the Leongatha Historical Society and special thanks to Peter Watchorn, Leongatha Newsagent for organising the Leongatha Launch, Mary Small, Stephanie Owen Reeder and Beryl for writing their versions of the story, Walker Books Australia and Black Dog Books –To the Bridge is my 12th book published by Maryann and Black Dog and it is also, unfortunately, the very last Black Dog book.

(An In Memoriam note from Corinne: Beryl Ferrier was to co-launch the book with Maryann Ballantyne in Leongatha on March 12 and with me at the Sydney launch scheduled for March 19 at Fort Street Public School, overlooking the bridge on the 88th Anniversary of its opening and Lennie and Ginger Mick’s crossing. Tragically, Beryl was killed in an accident near her home on the Gold Coast on her way to teach French at the U3A University at Tugan, the day before the Leongatha launch and her 95th birthday. She was the most amazing woman.)

More about the book here.

Corinne’s website.

Connect with Corinne on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.