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.

 

 

 

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. 

 

Celebrating new books in troublesome times 6: Martin Chatterton

Today, Martin Chatterton writes about his new novel for kids, a middle-grade thriller called The Tell, which has just been released this month.

 

Writing The Tell

by Martin Chatterton

I’d been writing books for children across a variety of genres and age ranges before I ‘migrated’ into becoming an adult crime fiction writer. After I’d written three or four crime novels I started to think that writing a middle grade thriller in the style of my ‘grown up’ books might be a good idea. During that same time period, I was also visiting and performing/speaking at a large number of schools and literature festivals and, as someone who regularly switched genres and target age range of readers, I’d noticed that writers often altered their writing ‘voice’ when it came to stories for children. Often – in my humble opinion – that voice could sometimes be tinged with a patronising tone.

I didn’t mean that my ‘school’ thriller should be age inappropriate, just that it should be as visceral, paced and hard-edged as my crime novels. So that was the thought behind the project.

When it came to the ‘what’ of the story, I looked to doing the same things I was doing in crime fiction: namely, being interested in criminality as a subject in which those engaged in crime were not one- dimensional ciphers. After a chance conversation with someone who’d been raised in families where crime was normalised – was in fact, the family ‘business’ – I started to wonder about what that would be like, and soon realised that was going to be the primary subject of The Tell. There have been many (too many) novels, movies and TV shows set in the world of the gangster. Few, if any, have told that story from the perspective of a child born into a crime family. I set out to do just that: effectively to re-write a Godfather novel, only with the centre of the narrative lying not with Don Corleone but with his 14-year-old son (Rey ‘Raze’ Tanic).

This would be a coming-of-age story with a difference. It would invoke (I hoped) other stories in which young people run headlong into reality, accelerating their transition to adulthood (for better or worse). I was thinking specifically of Stephen King’s novella, The Body, in which four twelve-year-olds set out to find the body of a missing young man. The Body (which was made into the movie, Stand By Me) skilfully sketches the emerging adults in the four protagonists. The Tell, like The Body, is anchored in reality: in The Body there is a dead body (‘The kid was dead. The kid wasn’t sick, the kid wasn’t sleeping. The kid wasn’t going to get up in the morning anymore . . . or catch poison ivy or wear out the eraser on the end of his Ticonderoga No 2 during a hard math test. The kid was dead.’) while in The Tell, the gangsters who rule Sydney are just that: gangsters. For Raze Tanic, negotiating his path through puberty is complicated beyond measure when he is thrust into the centre of a red-hot news story with his own family as ‘stars’.

Like a lot of writers I often ‘go back’ to myths, legends and William Shakespeare for inspiration and thematic ideas. Particularly Shakespeare, who is forever putting sons and daughters into conflict with their fathers. I visited Shakespeare’s family home recently (in Stratford-upon-Avon in England) and it was obvious that Shakespeare’s dad was a powerful figure in the town. He owned the biggest house and was well respected. It’s not hard to imagine Will rebelling in some way against that kind of authority. He certainly wrote about it in plays like Hamlet, Henry IV and King Lear. I actually ‘stole’ the idea of Dejan Tanic seeing himself as the ‘King’ of Sydney from King Lear: a play in which the King deliberately tries to make his children as ruthless as he is. And, in Hamlet, Shakespeare has Hamlet say this line about his (step)father, Claudius: ‘A little more than kin, and less than kind.’

That’s not a bad summary of the relationship between Raze and Dejan Tanic.

 

More about the book:

The Tell

by Martin Chatterton

Penguin Random House (April 2020)

The Coffin is a maximum security facility holding the worst criminals in the country – terrorists, armed robbers, gangsters, cold-eyed killers and those too flat out dangerous to keep anywhere else. It was built for one reason and only one reason: to keep the wolves away from the sheep. It’s where my dad lives.

 

The Tell is a fast-paced, coming-of-age, Sydney-based middle grade thriller, centred on thirteen year-old Rey (‘Raze’) Tanic, the youngest son of Dejan Tanic, the self-styled ‘King of Sydney’, a feared organised crime boss currently locked up in the Deep Cut Correctional Centre. It is expected of Raze that he will soon join his elder brother Solo in the family business. During a visit to see his father in prison Raze tells his dad he’s not going to become part of the family business when he’s older. To Raze’s surprise, his father doesn’t react. That’s because Dejan has more pressing worries; worries that soon become a major problem for Raze and force him into making the biggest decision of his life.

Martin’s websites: as Martin Chatterton (kids’ books) as Ed Chatterton (adult crime novels)

Connect with Martin on Facebook

 

Celebrating new books in troublesome times 5: Richard Yaxley

Today’s guest post is by Richard Yaxley, whose powerful new YA novel, A New Kind of Everything, has recently come out.

Brotherly Love

by Richard Yaxley

I wanted to write about brothers. I don’t mean my own experience, nor do I mean writing in a hokey, folksy manner about boys chiacking together. I mean: the phenomenon. The flux of being brothers. Determining the dynamic, the way brothers are.

I mean the way they can ignore and trick and hurl abuse and punch on but then, a minute later, defend each other with an absolute conviction of muscle, vitriol and, if necessary, blood. I mean the constant, simmering resentment of being forced to share rooms, rituals, families and histories; the bitter scramble for top place in the presumed apex of a mother’s heart; the need to be different to each other and their father while at the same time being praised by each other and their father.

That weird feeling of never being in control as you slide back and forth along a tightrope that stretches between slashes of pain and circles of affection.

My novel, A New Kind of Everything, published by Scholastic Australia in February, features the Gallagher brothers. Seventeen-year-old Carl and fourteen-year-old Dinny are dealing with the sudden loss of their father in a car accident. At a surface level, their methods of grieving are as far apart as their characters. Carl is aggressive, independent and filled with a violent anger for his father. Dinny is lost, pliable and manifestly uncertain about what his relationship with his dad ever was.

Yet, as much as they are a study in contrasts, so too are they the same in that, ultimately, it is the love that they feel, more so than their often instinctive actions and reactions, that defines them. Carl and Dinny have a deep love for each other and for their mother – and, they come to realise, for their father. This was what I discovered as I was constructing the novel; that the exploration of grief that I had planned to write became, by necessity, an exploration of familial love, because it is that love in its many forms which makes us grieve as we do. The two are utterly intertwined.

In Ann Patchett’s wonderful novel, Commonwealth, Theresa believes that the genuine measure of a life is how well we cope with the inevitable series of losses that all lives bring. Carl and Dinny lose a great deal in my novel: their father, of course, but also determinations about their futures and the chance to properly understand their past and its intricate engagement with their father’s hitherto untold story. With his death comes the difficult realisation that their imprint upon the Earth is instantly lightened and so it will remain. However, despite all of that, and the many challenges tossed up by the narrative, the brothers never lose each other.

In Commonwealth, when her daughter Holly reminds Theresa that she ‘got through’ the grief of losing her first-born, her mother responds: ‘We all did, I guess, in our own ways. You don’t think you’re going to but then you do. You’re still alive. That was the thing that caught me in the end: I was still alive.’

Alive to love, I think she means. And to love again, and again, until we are no more.

 

Reference

Anne Patchett. 2016. Commonwealth. Bloomsbury, London, p. 286

Connect with Richard:

Website: Richard Yaxley

Social Links:

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Buy Links:

Scholastic Shop

Readings

Riverbend Books

Dymocks

Angus and Robertson

QBD

Booktopia

 

 

Celebrating new books in troublesome times 4: Alison Booth

Today I am featuring a guest post by Alison Booth, writing about the inspirations of and background to her new novel, The Philosopher’s Daughters, whose official publication date is actually today–happy book release day, Alison!

A tale of two very different sisters

By Alison Booth

The Philosopher’s Daughters is a tale of two very different sisters whose 1890s voyage from London into remote outback Australia becomes a journey of self-discovery, set against a landscape of wild beauty and savage dispossession.

For years the idea for The Philosopher’s Daughters just wouldn’t let me alone. I kept imagining 1890s London and two strong young women, the daughters of a widowed moral philosopher. Someone like John Stuart Mill, a great advocate for the emancipation of women. Someone who gives the girls a relatively modern upbringing. Then I thought of altering the sisters’ circumstances so that they separately choose to journey into remote and wild Australia. What might happen to them?  How might they see life at the ‘frontier’ once they are confronted with the brutal dispossession of the Indigenous population? How would their characters develop as they faced danger?

The second half of the novel, set in 1893, mostly takes place in the Northern Territory of South Australia. Together with the top of Western Australia, this was one of the last areas of the continent to be appropriated by white colonisers.  At that time and in that part of Australia, the frontier wars were still being fought, largely over the establishment of the cattle industry, although they weren’t recognised as frontier wars back then. Indeed, only relatively recently has the full extent of settlement massacres and beyond been documented. See this article: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/ng-interactive/2019/mar/04/massacre-map-australia-the-killing-times-frontier-wars

A theme that has long fascinated me is how children are shaped by the preferences and attitudes of their parents. And the closer we are to a parent the harder it can be to move away from their influence and develop in one’s own right. This is the burden in The Philosopher’s Daughters that is carried by Harriet Cameron, the older of the two daughters. It takes her some time – and a journey to Australia – to learn who she is and to slough off some of her father’s expectations about what she should do with her life.

The Northern Territory has for many years held a particular attraction for me. This began with my own father’s reminiscences of the years he spent there as a very young man after the 1942 bombing of Darwin by the Japanese, an experience that was crystallised into his evocative novel Up the Dusty Track, published by what was then the NTU Press. I visited the Northern Territory for the first time in 2002 for the Darwin launch of his novel.

On that Darwin visit I not only fell in love with the Territory landscape but also witnessed a level of casual racism that I found quite shocking. I wanted to write about it, but it took me some years to work out how I was going to do it, although right away I knew it had to be historical.

In doing the background research for the novel, I was aware that, for our history, we rely upon the words of others. And when we read those words we should ask ourselves whose stories are missing. Typically, it will be the stories of those who held no power at the time. The women and of course the Indigenous inhabitants. They are who The Philosopher’s Daughters is about.

Connect with Alison on social media:

Website: https://www.alisonbooth.net/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AlisonBoothAuthor/

Twitter: @booth_alison

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alisonboothauthor9723/

Blog: https://www.alisonbooth.net/blog

Buy Links:

Booktopia: https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-philosopher-s-daughters-alison-booth/book/9781913062149.html

Fishpond: https://www.fishpond.com.au/Books/Alison-Booth/9781913062149

RedDoor Press: https://reddoorpress.co.uk/books/the-philosophers-daughters/

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/the/alison-booth/9781913062149