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

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

 

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.”