French fairy tale travelling, by Lorena Carrington — Sophie Masson’s Fairytale Country

Today I’m welcoming my wonderful co-creator, Lorena Carrington, to this blog, to write about the travels in France that helped to inspire her glorious illustrations in French Fairy Tales. All photographs in this post are by Lorena. French fairy tale travelling, by Lorena Carrington In late September last year, I touched down in France with […]

French fairy tale travelling, by Lorena Carrington — Sophie Masson’s Fairytale Country

First advance copy of The Snowman’s Wish!

So exciting to receive the first advance copy of The Snowman’s Wish, my upcoming picture book with the fantastic illustrator Ronak Taher! It is such a thrill always to hold that first copy in your hands, to touch it and turn its pages and revel in its presence in the physical world…and this is a book that in every way has been a truly magical experience, from the very first spark of the story idea, to right now, seeing and holding this stunningly beautiful book. Thank you so much to my co-creator Ronak, to wonderful designer Hannah Janzen, fantastic publisher Margrete Lamond, and all the team at Dirt Lane Press who have brought the world of the snowman to such gorgeous, sensual life. Thank you also to Robyn Ewing for the lovely back cover quote.

The Snowman’s Wish comes out with Dirt Lane Press in July and will be available in all good bookshops around Australia, including online. You can also pre-order copies now by contacting Dirt Lane Press at  info@dirtlanepress.com.

See some of the beautiful internal pages below.

Celebrating new books in troublesome times 9: Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington

Today is the publication day of Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington’s latest beautiful collection of fairy tales, Snow White, Rose Red and Other Tales of Kind Young Women, published by Serenity Press. It joins Kate and Lorena’s other fairy tale collections with Serenity Press, Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women, and The Buried Moon and Other Tales of Bright Young Women. To celebrate, I’ve invited Kate and Lorena to write about their joint creation of the book. (There’s also an online launch of the book on Facebook today, see here for details).

 

Kate:

Snow White, Rose Red & Other Tales of Kind Young Women’ is the latest artistic collaboration between me and the photographic artist Lorena Carrington. This is a project born out of our shared love of fairy tales, and our fascination with their history and meaning. It’s the third book in a series we are calling ‘Long Lost Fairy Tales’, because it is our intention to discover and bring back to life beautiful old stories that have been unjustly forgotten.
It’s our plan to produce a new book in the collection every year. To begin with, we choose a theme. Book 1 was tales of brave young women, Book 2 was tales of bright young women, and we are currently working on Book 4 – the theme of which is tales of gentle young men.
Once we have our theme in place, Lorena and I start to fling ideas around. We read through our vast fairy tale collections looking for inspiration, and begin to play with possibilities. We send each other stories, and gradually compile a list of the ones we like. Each collection has seven tales in it, and we want them all to be different. Some will be light-hearted and humorous, others dark and terrifying. Some will have ancient oral roots, others are invented literary tales. Some will seem familiar, with echoes of other better known tales; others will be entirely fresh.  We also want a good spread of geographical sources for the tales – ‘Snow White, Rose Red’ has a Grimm tale from Germany, an old Slovakian folktale, one from Bavaria, two from Scotland, an English literary tale written in Victorian times, and an old oral tale from Ireland. Often I will choose a tale because I know it will inspire Lorena to create a truly extraordinary piece of art to accompany it, and she will choose a tale because she knows it will sing to my heart.

Sometimes we agree on a tale, and but then I find I cannot retell it – the story doesn’t spark with me.

Illustration by Lorena Carrington

For example, we thought about working with Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Snow Queen’ – but when I began to work on it, I found the character of Gerda too passive. So I emailed Lorena, and we talked about it, and came up with other ideas, and ended up replacing that tale with another.

When I’m working with a fairy tale, I like to know where it came from, and who told it, and how it has changed over time. For many stories, there are dozens of variants, and I like to read them all. For example, ‘Strawberries in the Snow’ is one of my favourite stories in ‘Snow White, Rose Red’. It was inspired by a Slovenian fairy tale entitled ‘The Twelve Months’ but has many other variants – more than 1,000 of them!
I usually write the stories over the Christmas holidays, because all my children are home from school and university, and I have usually just delivered a novel, and want something different to write before I begin the next novel. Then I send the tales to Lorena, and she begins to think about creating her art – which are not simply illustrations of my stories, but her own expressive response to the inner meanings of the tales. We are always in constant communication, but we don’t criticise each other work much, or make suggestions, or ask for changes very often. We trust each other implicitly, and like to give each other complete creative freedom. This means it’s a free, joyous process in which we each inspire and respect each other. Together, our art creates something greater than it would be on its own. It’s a true collaboration.
I have just finished writing the tales for ‘The Gardener’s Son & the Golden Bird, & Other Tales of Gentle Young Men’ and cannot wait to see what glorious art Lorena creates for it!
Lorena:
My illustrations always start with what the landscape gives me. I head out with the camera, and often end up on my belly photographing the tiniest of landscapes: blades of grass against the sky, or fungus sprouting from the cracks of a rock. I also collect interesting things – sticks, leaves, tiny bones – and bring them home to photograph on a light box, which creates a sharp silhouette of each object. I montage these together in Photoshop to make the beasts and creatures that inhabit the tales. The illustrations are built up from many layers of photographs: backgrounds, human figures, creatures, looming silhouetted trees… sometimes more than a hundred separate photographs.
Of course the process begins long before this, in the choosing of stories, the to and fro about themes and ideas, in the delightful plotting and scheming that happens around the creation of a new book. As Kate has mentioned, we have a unique author/illustrator relationship, and for this I’m extraordinarily lucky and grateful. We weave our work together, sending stories and images back and forth throughout the process. It’s like a dance, and is a rare and beautiful way of working. Often the writer gives their work to the publisher, who passes it onto the illustrator and never the twain shall meet. One of the wonderful things about working with a small publisher like Serenity Press is the way we all work together to make the books that we do.
One of the most excited and inspirational parts of the process is when Kate sends me a new story. I make a cup of tea, build myself a nest on the couch, and immerse myself in her words. I try not to think too much about the illustrations on the first reading, though images do often spark in my brain. I try to get a feel of the shape and flow of the story, and a sense of the overall atmosphere. On second reading, I pull out my sketchbook to make notes and jot down any rough ideas. Sometime an illustration will flash fully formed into existence, and all I need to do is translate it from brain to screen. The Goblin, for example, just scrambled straight out of my head and plopped himself onto the riverbank.
One of the more interesting challenges was the illustration of the Glass Mountain (see picture below). At first I tried photographing glass (logically, you would think), but it was too transparent for a giant climbable mountain of glass. So I froze a block of ice to photograph the next day. It had the captured air bubbles that I wanted, but, as it was a 40 degree day, it kept melting before I could photograph any sharp edges! It was only that night, while serving jelly for dessert, that I noticed the way it sheared off into sharp edged pieces. I made up a batch of extra sturdy clear jelly, and let it set over night. Finally, after three days of experimentation, I had the perfect (if wobbly!) analogy for glass.
So, sometimes it’s easy and an illustration almost makes itself, and other times it’s like chipping a statue out of a cracked and temperamental block of marble. But never do I think I’d rather be doing anything else.
One of my very favourite things about illustrating is feeling something incredible grow out of our combined work. Kate has the most extraordinary gift in keeping the true essence of tales she retells, and also filling them with such new and shimmering delights. If I’m extraordinarily lucky, we be able to keep working together for many, many years to come.

Illustration by Lorena Carrington

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!

Gorgeous spreads by Ronak Taher for The Snowman’s Wish(out 2020)

A lovely surprise in my email the other day: Margrete Lamond, the wonderful publisher at Dirt Lane Press, sent me the first two colour spreads for The Snowman’s Wish, my book with the extraordinary Iranian Australian illustrator Ronak Taher, which is to be published by Dirt Lane in 2020. I am so thrilled with Ronak’s illustrations: they are absolutely glorious, bursting with colour, character and tenderness. As Margrete put it so well, the book will: ‘glow like an opal, its colours and decorative motifs a contemporary expression of traditional Persian art.’

The story is very special to me, having come out of a dream, and an image of a snowman standing under pine trees, with the first words themselves of the text strangely and wondrously on my lips as I awoke: The snowman was new to the world/and the world was new to him…Spine tingling, I rushed to my desk then and scribbled the whole thing down, feeling the gentle, joyful and melancholy magic of it rush through my storytelling veins, and knowing I had something pretty special there. Which seemed indeed to be the case because both my agent Margaret Connolly and then Margrete, when we sent it to her, loved it at once. And when Margrete sent it to Ronak to consider illustrating, she loved it too. It is just so exciting to see the progress on it, and the gorgeous visual world that Ronak is creating, and I’m delighted to be able to share these first two spreads with you.

Creating There’s A Tiger Out There

Today is the official publication date of my picture book with Ruth Waters, There’s A Tiger Out There(Little Hare) and to celebrate Ruth and I have written pieces on the creation of the book. Enjoy!

Creation of the text, by Sophie Masson

There’s a Tiger Out There began in a dream. In the dream, I was in my house, looking out at the garden, when I glimpsed her: silent stripes gliding through our garden, yellow eyes shining. And with a grip of the heart that was half thrill and half fear, I knew there was a tiger out there and that if I went out—who knew what would happen? Now, it’s not an uncommon occurrence for me to have big cats—lions and tigers, especially—suddenly appear in my dreams, but in this case, it felt different. It felt like this tiger was different, her eyes fixed on me, and when I woke up, I knew why. It was because she wanted to be in a story!

So I began work on transposing her from the realm of dream to the realm of imagination. The first words came quickly, and the first draft was quite simple—just pretty much recounting that dream glimpse and that mix of feelings on seeing her savage, elemental splendour in the midst of our humble familiar garden. ‘There’s a tiger watching me with eyes as bright as sunrise/’ I wrote, ‘There’s a tiger sleek as shadow/stripes of midnight on her fur.’  After I showed the text to my agent Margaret Connolly, who loved it and sent it to Margrete Lamond, who was then the publisher at Little Hare and also loved it, that first draft went through many changes, in collaboration first with Margrete and then, when she left, with Alyson O’Brien, who also loved it and helped me bring the text to its final form. Early on, the draft had transformed from a simple ‘I’ eye-view to the point of view of two siblings, one older and bolder, one younger and more timid, who see a tiger ‘out there’ and react in their different ways—with a twist at the end, of course! It was a story, I realised, about sibling relations, about imagination, about love and adventure and mystery—and the thrill of a good scare!

When I first saw Ruth Waters’ gorgeous collage images, I was so excited! She had completely understood the spirit of my text and created a richly-imagined, warm and distinctive visual world, where the tiger as much as the siblings was completely at home. It was as if that was how I had always seen the world of my story: not only a perfect fit, but extending and expanding it in the most satisfying way.

And of course I just adore the finished book, with Hannah Janzen’s gorgeous design!

Creation of the illustrations, by Ruth Waters

I remember the day I received the email from Alyson from Little Hare Books. I had to re-read it several times. You want me to illustrate a picture book? Me? I had previously written and illustrated my own story but had been waiting for the opportunity to work on someone else’s tale. That said, I opened the manuscript with some trepidation – what if I can’t connect with the story?  I needn’t have worried. As I read each line, I instantly pictured who the characters were, how they looked and what kind of personality they had. A little bit bossy, know-it-all, older sister. A younger brother who adores and does anything she tells him.

The first stage of the making process was to create a series of character sketches in pencil.  Since I work in collage, I also created a collage version to give Alyson a better idea of how they would finally look. I sent these off and waited for her comments. We went back and forth until we were both happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Character Sketches

The next stage was to figure out how the text should be split across 32-or-so pages and come up with a rough idea of how each page would look. I had already made the decision that the ‘real’ tiger should only appear on the last double page spread. This way, not only the children in the story but the reader would not be entirely sure whether there really is a tiger. Another idea was to give the little boy a cuddly toy tiger – this would act as a visual tool to help the reader conjure up the idea that there is a tiger out there. Another idea, inspired by the line ‘cross my heart’ – which appears throughout the story – was to place a hidden heart-shape on every page. Sometimes the heart shape is made from a blade of grass or appears as a ripple in the water.  I also spent quite a bit of time making sure there was enough variety in terms of perspectives – wide shots verses close-up, double page spreads verses one page of illustration.  At this point I also decided on the colour palette – I decided we should go bright – to match the vibrant orange of the tiger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storyboard and colour palette

 

 

The storyboard was then sent to Little Hare and over a few weeks we made little tweaks. Once I got the thumbs up – I made the final sketches to scale and then got to work prepping the paper.

Final sketch and prepping the paper!

 

To create the collages, I first roll acrylic paint on to a variety of textured paper. Then, working with the final sketches, I trace, cut and stick! All of my illustrations are made entirely by hand. It is labour intensive but I much prefer it to using a computer. The other plus about collage is it’s flexibility as I can keep moving the pieces around until I am happy and, only then, glue them down.

Every time I finished a double page spread, I would scan and send it to Little Hare for their thoughts. To me this proved to be an efficient way of working as it allowed me to make tweaks as I went along, rather making lots of changes at the end – when time is tight.

Watch videos of the making process:

 

 

 

 

 

Overall the entire project took about 3-4 months. Much quicker than usual due to my own time constraints (normally I would allocate 6 months). I then packaged it all up and hand delivered it to Little Hare’s production office!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The whole project was a joy to work on from start to finish. And I learnt so much along the way.

Ruth Waters | http://www.ruth-waters.com | https://www.instagram.com/ruthpwaters/

Creating On My Way

Today is the official publication day of On My Way, my picture book with Simon Howe(Scholastic Australia), and to celebrate Simon and I have written about what it was like to create the world of the book. Enjoy!

Creating the text, by Sophie Masson

It was just an ordinary drive to town, on an ordinary day. I was in the car when the first line of On My Way unexpectedly popped into my head for no apparent reason and as soon as it did I could hear this little voice excitedly telling ‘Mumma’ all the extraordinary things that could be seen on the way to school and the shops and so on: rather like my own kids used to do when they were small!

Normally, when I think of a good idea for a story, I put it down in my notebook–but I was driving, and couldn’t stop. Yet the little voice was so insistent on telling the story RIGHT NOW I knew I couldn’t wait either 😀

So all along the 15 kms between home and our local town, I was trying out lines aloud to myself, repeating them over and over so they’d stick in my head until I could write them down and start working on them properly!

Right from that unexpected start, this has been such a fun text to work on, as the child tells what seem to be wilder and wilder stories about more and more unusual things and yet the patient, busy mother doesn’t appear to be surprised by any of it… Even in the car, repeating those first few lines, I knew there would be a big twist–and that was such an enjoyable thing to create!

I was so delighted when I first saw Simon’s storyboard and then as time went on viewed more developments of the magical visual world he’d created for my characters. And I just loved the clever and wonderful way in which he’d revealed the twist. That excited little voice I’d first heard on a boringly ordinary drive to town, had really come to life and that was just so exciting!

Creating the illustrations, by Simon Howe

The manuscript for On My Way was an invitation to participate in a story far more than many book texts. The writing gave me a relationship between two characters, but left who they are, where they are and what they’re doing entirely up to me. The world of the story could have been a thousand things – a thrilling proposition for an illustrator.

Rather than getting bogged down in the possibilities of the world, I came to a decision fairly quickly. The mother’s dialogue in the text is warm, but also dismissive. I imagined her preoccupied with an activity and only half-listening to her child, who in turn is only half-helping, and mostly getting in the way. I was gardening quite a bit at the time, and thought I’d have the mother in the story doing the same. So I had my setting – a garden. I wanted the book to be full of warm greens, so this environment was perfect. It also allowed me to easily place hints to the final twist!

Like an increasing number of book illustrators, I chose to create everything digitally, using Photoshop and a Wacom Cintiq display. The textures and subtleties available to digital artists today are astounding, and while you can usually still spot the digital from the traditional, it’s certainly becoming harder. Regarding process, I’m a drawer rather than a painter, so I almost always start with lines. I use two brushes that mimic the look of pencil, and scratch out the picture fairly roughly. When refining the lines, I like to leave some of that roughness.

I then use a brush that mimics the look of watercolour, and I build up the colours over several passes. The last step is to use a pencil brushed again to add highlights where needed. That all sounds very traditional, but the benefit of digital is that it’s all done in layers, and it’s very easy to correct and adjust things at any stage of the process.

There was a little back and forth with the publisher over some details, but the original vision remained largely unchanged from the first roughs, through a second draft and finally into the finished art. After all the pages were finished, the publication was delayed for a significant amount of time. Somewhere along the way, I decided to tweak some of the artwork. Then things got a bit out of control and I ended up re-drawing and colouring the entire book! I should really have left it alone, but I was happy with the small improvements I made.

It was a thoroughly pleasurable book to illustrate, and I’m grateful to both Sophie and Scholastic for trusting me to wrap a world of my own around such a clever and funny piece of writing.

 

 

Cover reveal for On My Way!

I am thrilled to be able to reveal the gorgeous cover of my forthcoming picture book with the fabulous illustrator Simon Howe, On My Way. The book will be published by Scholastic on June 1.

Here’s the blurb:

On my way to school, Mumma, guess what I saw? A pig chasing a wig! A goat rowing a boat! 

A delightful story about all the extraordinary things you can see on your travels.

I jut loved creating this fun story, and adore Simon’s magical illustrations!

Full cover below.