Revealing the gorgeous cover of French Fairy Tales

Absolutely delighted to be able to reveal the gorgeous cover of my forthcoming book, French Fairy Tales, illustrated by the wonderful Lorena Carrington, to be published by Serenity Press in late October this year!

The book is a collection of five French fairy tales which I’ve chosen, translated and retold. Each means something special to me, and they come from different parts of France, including those where my family originates. Some are stories that have never been translated into English before, and some you might think you know well but which in these entirely newly translated and retold versions will, I think, surprise, and hopefully, delight you!

This project has been a dream of mine for a long time, and creating the retellings was such a pleasure. I am just so thrilled that Serenity Press not only loved them, but also paired me with such a fantastic artist as Lorena, whose extraordinary illustrations, inspired not only by the stories but by her own visits to France, so astonishingly bring to enchanting visual life the magic of these beautiful tales.

 

 

Childhood markets: two memories

Today I’m doing something different: republishing a couple of short pieces I wrote some years ago about markets I attended with my family in childhood and adolescence.

St Jean Pied de Port, Pays Basque

We dodge a flock of sheep being driven up the steep cobbled street to the stock-selling part of the

On way to St Jean Pied de Port markets, Pays Basque, in adolescence

ancient markets. Up and down the street are stalls of all kinds, and farmers in the large flat berets characteristic of the Basque country and blue overalls. Many of them are speaking the ancient tongue of the region to each other and the stall-holders while a steady stream of incoming tourists like ourselves rubs shoulders with the locals. I’m a teenager on holidays in the Basque country with my paternal grandmother Mamizou and her two daughters, my aunts Betty and Genevieve, and we’ve driven up into the mountains to the famous markets at Saint Jean Pied de Port, deep in the ancient province of Navarra, on the French Basque side of the Pyrenees. St Jean Pied de Port is a gorgeous medieval town, built of local pink and grey rock, set beside the rushing Nive River, and it has a feeling of ancient fastness which percolates into your veins.

On the way up, we’ve seen some amazing sights: rows of beautiful old houses, a team of men in white shirts and trousers and red belts playing pelote, the Basque handball, against village walls built specially for the purpose; and best of all, a pair of patient oxen harnessed to a haycart. Betty takes a photo of me near—but not too near!–them, and I have for ever the exciting proof that a sight right out of the history books was still alive in the late 70’s in the Basque country. I’m delighted; the past and especially the distant past is my obsession. I’m proud of my maternal Basque heritage but I love all romantic ancient tongue-twisting languages—Gaelic, Welsh, Breton, as well as Basque—and I read old sagas and myths and Arthurian romance and to my relatives’ somewhat pained dismay often dress like something out of the Middle Ages or rather a fantasy-reader’s impression of that period, haunting old-clothes markets and junk shops for turn of the century lace camisoles, long satin nighties worn as dresses and gypsy-style coloured skirts and velvet jackets.
Today though I’ve dressed in black and though my grandmother and aunts aren’t keen on that either, because all-black outfits should in their view be reserved for mourning or else for old peasant women—they haven’t said anything, just in case I might take it into my head to wear something really outrageous. But as we trudge up the cobbles to the market, I’m suddenly aware how out of place we look—my elegant grandmother and aunts in their city clothes and patent leather shoes, and me in my toned-down ‘bohemian’ style. We’re so very obviously tourists, and for a while that’s all I can see. But nobody else seems to notice. The locals couldn’t care less if you’re there or not; this is their own gathering, held since time immemorial, and tourists are the least of their concerns. There are one or two stalls catering specially for tourists, with little Basque flags and knickknacks; but to the locals, they might as well not exist. So soon I forget all about my self-conscious preening and just enjoy taking it all in, the sights, the sounds, the smells..

These markets are famous because they are the focus of the region. Hundreds of farmers come from a wide radius to buy and sell stock and poultry and a bewildering range of farm produce, from eggs and honey and sausage and cheeses to vegetables and fruit and preserves. As well there are any number of stallholders selling things bought by locals as much as tourists, such as pottery or the famous stripy Basque linen which makes such striking tablecloths and aprons. We wander up and down, buying bits and pieces but mostly looking, and I remember another time I was here, several years before, with my father and some of my siblings. That time, Dad had bought a vast wheel of cheese cheap from an old Basque lady with deceptively candid blue eyes. Despite Maman’s sardonic comments–her part-Basque heritage not predisposing her to romanticism about the culture–Dad was excited, thinking he’d not only got something truly authentic, but something that was truly a bargain. (When we got it home the next day to our house, La Nouvelle Terrebonne, near Toulouse he cut it open and discovered it was full of worms. Everyone yelled in horror, except for Dad, who gamely asserted that cheese was only improved when it was worm-riddled; everyone except him refused to touch it. Oddly enough not long after he’d defiantly tasted it, the cheese mysteriously disappeared—and he wouldn’t answer Maman’s sarcastic question as to where his ‘bargain’ had gone!)

Today though there’s no wormy cheese to be seen, or if there is, we don’t buy it, though we stock up on sausage and eggs and honey and fresh herbs and more, with my aunt Betty, the (very fine) cook of the family, examining each purchase as carefully as a local, earning the respect of the stallholders who soon discover that elegant city clothes don’t mean she doesn’t know what she’s looking at!
And then comes my favourite part of all: after an hour or two jaunting through the market we repair to a charming little cafe near the river and eat a wonderful meal of chicken a la Basquaise and salad, followed by a big slice of a delicious, fragrantly fresh Gateau Basque, the whole washed down with light local wine and a small nip of Izarra, a herby local liqueur, afterwards. When my grandmother compliments him on a fine meal, the proprietor tells us all the fresh ingredients came out of this very market. ‘There’s no better in the whole of the country,’ he tells us with superb local assurance, and nobody is disposed to argue with him, not with the sun shining on the Nive, and our bellies cheerfully, happily full.

Flemington Markets, Sydney

Flemington markets, eight o’clock one childhood morning. We’ve had a long and enervating drive through slow Saturday traffic from our sedate northern suburb to the ‘wild west’, and now we’re in this vast corrugated iron shed, with people shouting, gimlet-eyed bargain hunters running you over with heavily laden trolleys, vegetables squashing underfoot, kids getting lost in the melee…

Maman and Dad both love this place. For Maman, who can ‘take or leave’ markets when she’s in Europe, this is a place that makes her feel she is at home, here in this country that will never be home to her. For Dad, though, the love is there because it’s a market, because it’s filled with people, with sights, sounds, smells, life to plunge into with gusto, where the colourful noisy swell of multicultural Australia washes over you in a great human wave. For me as a prickly teenager mortified by looking ‘different’ and by the teasing refusal of our parents to talk English to us in public, it’s somewhere that’s both relaxing–because here no-one cares a bit if you ‘speak foreign’ or not but also a bit confronting– for the same reason. This is a very different Australia to the surfie paradise I imagine my school friends inhabit, and I’m soon overtaken by its vivid atmosphere, forgetting I’m supposed to be trying to be cool in the urge to observe and catalogue and file away things in my head for writing in my notebook later.

There are Italian fruit sellers, Greek olive oil merchants, Turkish sweet-sellers, Anglo vegetable sellers, Arabic souvenir sellers, South American churros vendors, Chinese and Vietnamese greengrocers, Eastern European pickle and smallgoods sellers. There’s chickens and ducks and eggs, mounds of fruit and vegetables, carpets and cheap trousers, kebabs and Turkish delight, dried figs and toffee apples. A tiny, very old Chinese woman stops at a stall, prods a vegetable, clucks in annoyance and contempt, while the seller, an enormous brawny fellow with a strong Australian accent calls out indignantly, “Hey, lady! Them’s for selling!” Maman and Dad walk rapidly down each aisle, like people possessed, hunting down bargains, while we children drag along in their wake, anxious lest we lose them in the swirling crowds, liking it in some strange, unarticulate way and yet embarassed, too, for here you have to shout and argue and comment and even make loud jokes. There’s no mask of reserve, no distance. And so we go along, occasionally clutching at a fallen orange, asking ourselves whether our parents will buy us a toffee apple this time, or whether we’ll get an almond biscuit and a sweet black shot of coffee at the Italian cafe, just down the alleyway.

A new article on publishing matters in New Writing

I’m pleased to announce that my scholarly research article, Signing on the dotted line: the lived experience of book contracts in contemporary Australian small-press publishing, has just been published in the prestigious international journal New Writing. You can read it here.

Thank you to everyone-authors, illustrators, agents, publishers and industry reps–I interviewed, whose frank and illuminating answers provided me with such great material!

Announcement and cover reveal for The Snowman’s Wish

I am delighted to reveal the gorgeous cover of The Snowman’s Wish, my picture book with the amazing illustrator Ronak Taher, which is being published by wonderful Dirt Lane Press in July 2020. Isn’t it a stunner!

Margrete Lamond of Dirt Lane Press has written a lovely post about the book on the Press’ website blog–here’s what she said, below, but you can also read it on the Dirt Blog itself, as well as news about other great Dirt Lane Press projects for 2020.

From the Dirt Lane Press blog:

Our first book for 2020 is The Snowman’s Wish

Once upon a time, author and general Renaissance Woman Sophie Masson woke up with a story fully formed in her mind. She wrote it down and it ended up on our desk. Very few edits later, and some stupendous illustrations later, The Snowman’s Wish is ready for print and, pending the right advance orders (yes, feel free to advance order … we will waive postage on single-copy purchases), will burst onto the shelves of the world in July 2020.

The story is poignant, a little sad, but also the ‘right kind’ of sad, because it also offers hope and beauty. And what beauty … the illustrations are luminous and vibrant and vivid like no others, and such a powerful complement to the elegance of the text. Here is what Emerita Professor Robyn Ewing wrote about the book:

“A rich and joyful exploration of the beauty of our natural world as experienced for the first time, and an assurance that sometimes wishes do come true, to give us much needed hope.”

A Christmas story to enjoy: Barney Brown and the Christmas Cake

It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to feature on Christmas Eve on this blog one of my Christmas stories, and this year I’d like to feature one which was published in the fabulous anthology A Christmas Menagerie(edited by Beattie Alvarez, Christmas Press, 2017) and illustrated by the wonderful Ingrid Kallick. It’s called Barney Brown and the Christmas Cake. The gorgeous illustration featured here is from the published story in the anthology, and you can also get it as a poster, card, print, Tshirt, phone case and lots of other things at Ingrid’s Redbubble store. (By the way, the story is also available–without illustrations–at that fabulous site Read Me A Story, Ink.)

So here it is, my story of a young bear unexpectedly waking up to a surprise Christmas…Hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas, happy New Year, and wonderful, peaceful holidays to all of you, and many thanks for visiting Feathers of the Firebird in 2019!

Barney Brown and the Christmas Cake

By Sophie Masson

Barney Brown woke up suddenly. The sun shone through the windows of his den and he thought it was spring. So up he got and looked out.

‘Oh my goodness,’ said Barney Brown. It didn’t look like spring out there. Yes, the sun was shining but the ground was all snowy and so were the fir trees. It was still winter!

‘Dearie me,’ said Barney Brown, and he was about to go back to bed when all at once he spotted something bright, at the corner of the glade. It was a tree, a small tree, but not covered in snow, like the others. This tree sparkled in the sun with what looked like red and green and silver berries. And under the tree was a little table, with a little man in a pointy cap standing behind it. On the table was a tray of round dark things.

‘What’s that?’ said Barney Brown, wrinkling his nose, for just then, a smell came to him. A rich, wonderful smell! A smell that made his stomach rumble and his mouth water.

Out stepped Barney Brown, into the winter snow. He’d never gone outside in the winter before and it felt funny, though of course he had a fur coat on so he wasn’t cold at all.

Pad, pad he went, making big paw-shaped patterns in the soft snow.

‘Mmm, mmm,’ said Barney Brown, as he got closer and closer to the sparkly tree, and the little table, and the glorious smell. Oh, the glorious SMELL!

‘Hello,’ said Barney Brown, politely, to the little man in the pointy cap. Now any other person might have run away, seeing a big brown bear come lumbering up, but not this person. Oh no! He was a Christmas elf, and they are not scared of anything.

‘Hello back,’ said the elf. ‘Have you come for one of my Christmas cakes?’

‘I think I have,’ said Barney Brown, happily, looking down at the table.

‘Good.’ The elf picked up a cake. ‘That will be one silver coin,’ he said.

‘I don’t have any money,’ Barney Brown said, sadly.

‘Then take a cake with my compliments,’ said the elf. ‘After all, it’s not every day a bear wakes up in winter.’

Barney Brown didn’t wait to be told twice. The cake tasted as delicious as it smelled and he licked his lips to catch the last crumb. Then he looked longingly at the rest of the cakes. He could easily have eaten them all!

‘Sorry,’ said the elf, ‘but that’s it. It’s Christmas Eve and all my other customers will be coming to pick up their Christmas cakes. Besides, they might be a bit scared if they see a bear out and about in winter.’

‘I see,’ said Barney Brown, even more sadly. But as he turned to plod off, the elf said, ‘Wait!’

Barney Brown thought he had changed his mind. But no, the elf just handed him a leaflet. ‘Christmas cake recipe’ it read.

‘Oh. Thank you,’ said Barney Brown, doubtfully.

‘Now you can make your own, with this magic recipe,’ said the elf. ‘Merry Christmas!’

Back home, Barney Brown looked at the recipe.

‘Flour, butter, sugar, eggs, dried fruit, nuts,’ he read out loud. ‘And some honey,’ he added. ‘It doesn’t say honey in the recipe, but I’m sure that’s a mistake. All cakes must have honey.’

He opened his cupboards. There was plenty of honey. Jars and jars of it. And some flour and sugar. Even frozen butter he’d forgotten in the back pantry. But no eggs. No dried fruits. No nuts.

The elf had said the recipe was magic. But how?

Barney Brown waved the recipe about. ‘I need eggs, fruit and nuts,’ he told it. Nothing happened. ‘Abracadabra, eggs, fruit, nuts!’ he tried again. Nothing happened.

‘Oh dear,’ said Barney Brown. ‘I think the elf made a mistake. The recipe isn’t magic at all. Now let me think. If it was spring, I could go into the forest and find birds’ eggs. If it was summer, I could find berries. If it was autumn, I could find nuts. But it’s winter, and I don’t know what I can find. Maybe I have to get someone to help me. Someone who is usually awake in the winter.’

He went out again. The table was gone, and the cakes, and the elf. But the sparkly tree was still there. And a fox was sitting under it. A fox with a beautiful white coat.

‘Hello,’ said Barney Brown.

‘Hello back,’ said the fox, a little surprised to see a bear out and about.

‘I wonder if you can help me,’ said Barney Brown. ‘I’m making a Christmas cake, and I don’t have any eggs or fruit or nuts.’

‘Well,’ said the fox, ‘There are some hens I know. They’ll give me eggs.’

‘Really?’ said Barney Brown, politely. ‘That is very kind of them.’

‘I will bring you back a basket full,’ said the fox, and she trotted off.

How nice people are, thought Barney Brown and he was about to plod off again when a voice said, ‘Has Belladonna gone?’

‘Er—maybe. Only I don’t know who Belladonna is,’ said Barney Brown, looking around for the person who had spoken.

‘That fox,’ said the voice. A lump of snow moved. Only it wasn’t a lump of snow, it was a hare, with pure white fur.

‘Hello,’ said Barney Brown.

‘Hello back,’ said the hare. ‘Why aren’t you sleeping? Bears always sleep in the winter.’

‘Yes. Only today I woke up. Because I smelled a smell,’ said Barney Brown. ‘Christmas cake smell! And now I’m going to make my own. Only I haven’t got any fruit, or nuts.’

‘I’ve got some fruit,’ said the hare, at once. ‘Blackberries in a jar. Will that do?’

‘Oh yes!’ said Barney Brown. ‘That will do very well.’

‘Then I’ll fetch it,’ said the hare, and off he bounded.

People are really very nice, thought Barney Brown, just as a squirrel hopped down from a branch of the sparkly tree. She had been hiding behind a red bauble almost the same colour as her fur.

‘Hello,’ she said.

‘Hello back,’ said Barney Brown.

‘I heard everything,’ said the squirrel.

‘Oh,’ said Barney Brown. ‘I’m sorry to disturb you.’

‘Not at all,’ said the squirrel. ‘Now then. Snowy has blackberries, and Belladonna has eggs. Guess what I have?’

‘Nuts?’ asked Barney Brown.

The squirrel looked a little disappointed that he’d guessed so easily, but she nodded. ‘Yes. I have nuts! Lots of nuts! A pantry full of them! How many do you need?’

‘I think a few,’ said Barney Brown, cautiously.

‘Very well. I’ll bring lots!’ said the squirrel. ‘Never let it be said that Hazel Conker is stingy!’ And off she scampered.

People are very very nice indeed, thought Barney Brown, as he went padded off. Now I can make my Christmas cake.

Back home, he took out a bowl, and put in the flour and the sugar. He melted the butter. Just then there was a knock on the door. It was Belladonna, with six eggs. Two brown eggs and two white eggs and two speckled eggs.

‘Thank you,’ said Barney Brown. ‘And please stay,’ he added politely.

Now came another knock on the door. It was Snowy the hare, with a jar of blackberries. ‘Thank you,’ said Barney Brown. ‘And please stay.’

Snowy looked at Belladonna warming herself by the stove. ‘It’s all right. We are all friends here,’ said Barney Brown. ‘Isn’t that right, Belladonna?’

‘Of course,’ grinned the fox.

Just then came the third knock on the door. And there was Hazel Conker, with a bag of nuts that was almost as big as she was.

‘Thank you,’ said Barney Brown. ‘And please stay.’

While his new friends watched, Barney Brown chopped and mixed and beat and stirred. In went the nuts and the fruit and the eggs, joining the butter and the sugar and the flour. ‘And last but certainly not least,’ said Barney Brown, ‘in goes the honey.’

‘It looks wonderful,’ said Hazel and Snowy and Belladonna, crowding around to look.

‘But the smell,’ said Barney Brown, anxiously. ‘What about the smell?’

‘You have to wait,’ Belladonna said.

‘For the cake to cook,’ said Snowy.

‘Put it in the oven,’ said Hazel.

So Barney Brown did. While they waited for that cake to cook, they played cards and drank pine tea and talked. When night fell and the stars came out, it was time for Barney Brown to open the oven. All his new friends crowded around, sniffing the air.

‘That smell!’ said Belladonna, as Barney Brown lifted the cake tin out.

‘That amazing smell!’ said Snowy, as Barney Brown put it on the table.

‘That is the best smell ever!’ said Hazel Conker.

But Barney Brown could not speak. That glorious smell was filling his nostrils and he had new friends around him to share the delicious cake they had made together. And it seemed to him he could hear an elf’s voice on the air: I told you it was a magic recipe. Merry Christmas, Barney Brown!

The year’s favourite books: Leah Kaminsky

Today I’m delighted to welcome Leah Kaminsky to my blog, to tell us about her favourite book of the year.

My Favourite Read of 2019

FLAMES by Robbie Arnott (Text Publishing)

I love brave, imaginative writing that takes wild risks, and Robbie Arnott’s Flames ticks all these boxes. Weaving magic and stark realism with suspense, he has created a polyphonous novel, that shifts from a generation of women who catch on fire when they are enraged, to a talking rakali and a curmudgeonly coffin-maker. The prose is poetic and fresh, without ever becoming pretentious. Flames captures the beauty of the wilds of Tasmania and calls us to pay urgent attention to both the awe and fragility of nature. A novel very much for our times.

 

 

Leah Kaminsky’s debut novel The Waiting Room won the Voss Literary Prize. The Hollow Bones won the 2019 International Book Awards in both Literary Fiction & Historical Fiction categories and the 2019 Best Book Awards for Literary Fiction.  She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. (www.leahkaminsky.com)

 

https://www.penguin.com.au/books/the-hollow-bones-9780143788911

The year’s favourite books: Jenny Blackford

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Jenny Blackford to my blog, to introduce us to her favourite book of the year.

Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life (Doubleday, 2013) is a near-perfect historical novel, full of far more than the standard number of what-ifs through the magic of lives rerun over and over again. It’s also incredibly moving on the horrors of World War Two, particularly in blitzed London. The sequel, A God in Ruins, is even sadder and more beautiful.

Jenny Blackford’s middle-grade adventure novel full of spooky spiders has recently appeared from Christmas Press.