The creation of Building Site Zoo, part one: the text

This month, Building Site Zoo, my picture book with the wonderful illustrator Laura Wood, is published by Hachette Australia, and to celebrate we thought we’d tell you about how the book came about and what the process was like for both the text and visual narratives. In Part One, I talk about the genesis of the text and how it developed, and in Part Two Laura will describe her process, in both words and pictures of course! Hope you enjoy reading both!

The text, by Sophie Masson

It so happened that one day in late 2014, I was in Sydney, in Ultimo, in fact, having just gone to an ASA meeting. I was sitting by myself having a cup of coffee in a quadrangle near the ASA office, and happened to look up at the cranes high above: that spot is very close to UTS where new buildings were under construction at the time. A line suddenly popped into my head: The cranes are fishing up in the sky…As soon as it did, I knew I had something. Cranes could be birds as well as machines, so in that vein I started to think about other machines that could also be seen as animals. So I pulled out the latest incarnation of the cheap little notebook I always carry in my bag, and started scribbling lines down. ‘Building site zoo,’ the title, came almost straight away, but the full lines took quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and crossing-out and rewriting.

My initial thought with Building Site Zoo was that it would make a great poem, so that’s what I worked on, when I was back home. I then sent it off to The School Magazine–to my delight it was accepted and published in the April 2015 Countdown issue.

By then, I’d started getting picture book texts accepted–Once Upon An ABC and Two Rainbows--both of whom had started as poems(in the case of Two Rainbows, two poems!) so I began to think about Building Site Zoo and how it might work as a picture book text. I spoke to my wonderful agent Margaret Connolly about it, whose ideas and suggestions are always incredibly helpful no matter what the literary project, AND who really understands picture books. We discussed how the text could be tweaked to make it more like a story and less like an impressionistic piece, which works well for a poem but not for a picture book–and yet leave the poetic central concept of the machine-animals intact. I went away and thought about it and worked on first the beginning, to introduce some characters–the child’s point of view was very important, because in fact that’s how I’d seen the whole thing from the beginning. I didn’t want to make the characters fixed: there would be a first-person point of view, but it would also encompass other family members, so it wasn’t just ‘I’ but ‘we’.  So the new opening would start:

Every morning on our walk/ We see an amazing zoo/Full of the most amazing animals/Come and see them too!

I would also identify each machine-animal, not as part of the text, but as indicators for editor and illustrator: so the bulldozer’s a bull, the jackhammer a kangaroo, the concrete mixer a hippo, etc.

Margaret loved the new revised text and sent it off on its rounds to publishers in late 2015. And in April 2016, she emailed me to say Suzanne O’Sullivan at Hachette Australia really liked the text but had a few suggestions for minor changes. These related mainly to tweaking a word or two, but the biggest change was in dropping some lines from that stanza that had started everything off, about the cranes fishing! She felt there was a change in metre which didn’t work, and that the concept of ‘firing’ also didn’t work for the age group. Looking at it, I could see just what she meant, so I dropped those two lines.

After revising the text, I sent it back–and in June 2016, it was accepted for publication. I was of course thrilled!  And even more delighted when Suzanne confirmed that the illustrator would be the wonderful Laura Wood! It was so exciting to see her roughs, and the progress on the visual narrative as it went on, and she added all kinds of fabulous details and so beautifully fleshed out the characters whom I had deliberately left undescribed. I never get over that extraordinary pleasure, of seeing my text expanded and transformed by the illustrations, producing a true creative collaboration which is immensely exciting and satisfying.

The editing of the text didn’t end there of course–with great suggestions from Hachette editor Tom Bailey-Smith and Suzanne, more words were tweaked, an extra stanza was added at the beginning, and the ending you see above was dropped in favour of a simpler and more satisfyingly cyclical one, bringing it nicely back to the beginning.

Every morning on our walk/we see an amazing zoo/full of astonishing animals/Are they in your street too?

And here too, before inviting you to turn to Part Two in which Laura talks about her creation of the illustrations, I’d like to thank and pay tribute to the publishing team at Hachette and the fabulous designer Ingrid Kwong. What a beautiful book we have all produced!

Read on!

 

 

 

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A unique book contract signing

L to R: Michelle, me, Peter

L to R: Michelle, me, Kathy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of signing a new picture book contract in a lovely, unique and totally relevant venue: our fabulous local independent bookshop, Reader’s Companion. Kathy and Peter Creamer of locally-based children’s publisher Little Pink Dog Books suggested the venue for signing the contract for A House of Mud, a text inspired by our family experience of building our mudbrick house years ago, and which I have long dreamed might become a picture book one day: a dream which will become a reality next year! The book will be illustrated by Kathy herself, who is also illustrating another of my texts, See Monkey. It was a great occasion, with Michelle Wheatley of Reader’s Companion there as delighted witness to what is the first step in a process which will eventually see the book arrive on her shelves!

A House of Mud is told from a child’s perspective, based very much on the fact that our three children, Pippa, Xavier and Bevis, enthusiastically took part in the experience of building, paddling in the mud and making small bricks themselves!

 

 

Come celebrate my double launch!

You are invited to come celebrate the launch of two of my new books!

 Jack of Spades, a historical thriller for young adults with cover and illustrations by Yvonne Low (Eagle Books)

To be launched by Pamela Freeman

AND 

Once Upon An ABC, a glorious picture-book romp through fairytale and folklore, illustrated by  Christopher Nielsen (Little Hare)

To be launched by Paul Macdonald

When: Saturday March 18, 2pm

Where: The Children’s Bookshop, 6 Hannah St Beecroft, 2119

Yvonne Low, Christopher Nielsen and myself will be in attendance to sign books.

Hope to see you there!

My prize-winning poem, Paddock Life

I’m very pleased to report that a poem of mine for children, Paddock Life, has won third prize(poetry category) in well-known children’s poet Jackie Hosking’s annual Poetry and Stories in Verse Competition, the results of which have just been announced!

Congratulations to all the prize-winners and highly commendeds, and many thanks to Jackie for running the comp and always supporting poetry for children!

Below is my poem. Hope you enjoy.

paddock-life-pic

Paddock life

by Sophie Masson

Magpie

She has all the morning alive in her throat,

Silvering the air with a fresh stream of notes,

She’s dressed for a show in her black and her white,

And her song will remain even when she takes flight.

Spiders

The spiders spin their silk all over the place

Patiently weaving fine patterns of lace,

Turning grass clumps to cities and fences to art,

As they work and they wait and they prowl and they dart.

Kangaroo

Over the fence, look! There he goes,

That famous acrobat striking a pose!

Up on two legs, then down on four,

And with the tail, he adds one more.

Blue tongue lizard

From his home in a log the blue tongue clumps out

Like a mini dinosaur he stomps and stalks about,

His tongue flicking in

His tongue flicking out.

Cattle

Knee deep in grass, in the bright golden day,

The cattle are making their very slow way

Down to the dam where they’ll drink and they’ll chew

And they’ll stare and they’ll dream the whole day through.

 

 

Story behind the story 4: And Then authors on their contribution

Today’s it’s the turn of Amanda Pillar (story in Vol 2)  Sulari Gentill(story in Vol 1) and Kat Clay (story in vol 1) to tell us something about their And Then stories.

profile3It, Amanda Pillar

‘It’ is a science fiction tale set on a planet that is plagued by a giant kraken-like monster.

And, believe it or not, it was inspired by a dream I had years ago. In fact, there are a couple of scenes that are direct reproductions of the dream!

 

 

 

 

sulari-gentillCatch A Fallen Star, Sulari Gentill

My contribution to the And Then… anthology is quite a departure from the historical crime, and mythic fiction I usually write.   Set in the near future, it imagines an Australia that has swung hard to the right, where nationalism is used to quell any resistance.  It is a storification of my own fears about the direction the world is heading.  Sadly, in the short time since I finished the writing it, Catch a Fallen Star has become a lot less speculative than I hoped it would remain.

 

 

web-portrait-kat-clayIn the company of Rogues, Kat Clay

In the Company of Rogues was born out of my love of fantasy video games, and my general amusement playing with genre tropes. You know the ones: the guy in a dark cloak chasing our heroes, giant spiders, and of course, the loveable rogue. I love rogues, but they sure do get away with a lot. I thought about what the consequences would be of this lifestyle, and so we chance upon our hero Randall the Rogue, who has developed an STD from too much ‘rogueing’. Together with his sidekick, Dennis the Budgerigar of Doom, they have to go on a quest to cure his illness, with the help of a lady rogue… and as they say in the land of Sidarth: “Never quest with another rogue, they’ll steal your heart then steal your clothes.”

Story behind the story 3: And Then authors on their contribution

Today in the And Then series we’re hearing from Alan Baxter (story in Vol 1),  Narrelle M. Harris, (story in Vol 1) and Michael Pryor (story in Vol 2)

alan-by-nicole-web-crop-smallGolden Fortune Dragon Jade, Alan Baxter

My story was a chance to finally write something in the style of the wuxia and kung fu epics I’ve always loved so much. And being a kung fu instructor, with the majority of my life embedded in that culture and all it entails, it seemed I ought to write something related. The two protagonists are cousins, he a Shaolin monk, her an accomplished geomancer. The Shaolin monk, Yong Fa, is named after my teacher in a subtle homage to him, and the character shares some of my teacher’s irreverence and cheekiness, but is otherwise an entirely made up person. The geomancer, Zi Yi, is altogether more serious and focussed, but an accomplished mage in her own right. Together their skills are complimentary and that’s just as well when they realise the scale of their task, the distance they have to go to track down their missing jade dragon, and the kind of unforgiving country they’ll be led to. It was a hell of a lot of fun to write and I hope people have a lot of fun reading it too.

narrelle-m-harris-midVirgin Soil, Narrelle M Harris
The germ of my story came from an old building in Fitzroy, and the name, Moran and Cato, high above the streets. They were once a well known grocery chain. The building now houses the excellent Naked for Satan bar. I just liked the juxtaposition of the names, and the characters grew from there. Cato – clearly a man/rat shapeshifter. Moran, clearly a magically inclined offsider. But they were murky. Not necessarily good guys, though not necessarily bad guys. The grey guys, really. That’s how the story grew – I wanted them to do be doing dark magic but not for dark reasons. I also love writing stories set in Melbourne, whatever the era, and I’d been researching the 19th Century goldrush and Melbourne for another story, so that was a logical extension of where to set their adventure, especially since the goldrush was such a time of contrasting fortunes and full blooded adventure on its own.
(Note: You can also read an excerpt from the story here)

pryor2-lo-resCross Purposes, Michael Pryor

I’d been doing some unrelated research on the 1930s, and got side-tracked into reading about Errol Flynn. I started imagining what this rambunctious, charismatic ne’er do well would have got up to if he’d stayed in Australia. Adventures, I suspect, of the slightly rakish kind, all with that charming grin as his final defence. When the opportunity to contribute to ‘And Then’ came up, with a few tweaks, I had a character based on Flynn ready to go. Add to that a timely visit to Cooktown in Far North Queensland, an introduction to the Railway That Goes Nowhere, and the elements for a rip-roaring tale started to fall into place.

Story behind the story 1: And Then authors on their contributions

As part of the celebrations around the publication of the fabulous And Then adventure story anthologies, published by Clan Destine Press, I thought I’d ask my fellow contributors to write a few words for readers about the ‘story behind the story’ to tell a little about their individual creation. So I’ll be publishing these in a few instalments, starting today with words from Lucy Sussex, Jason Nahrung, and Emilie Collyer. Oh, and a word or two from me! All of these authors’ stories(including mine) appear in Volume 1.

To recap: each one of us contributing And Then authors was invited by Clan Destine’s Lindy Cameron to create an adventure story which would feature a ‘dynamic duo’, but otherwise we were left pretty much to our own devices as to the rest, and the result is a sparkling and wonderful diversity in two fantastic fat volumes! My own story, The Romanov Opal, was inspired by a conjunction of things: a visit I made to the extraordinary opal mining town of Lightning Ridge some time ago; a fascination with Russian culture and history; a love of classic Agatha Christie half-mystery, half-adventure stories like The Man in the Brown Suit, and an even greater love of Tintin-style adventures. Mix that in with the elegant and turbulent 1950’s, a pair of feisty twins and a legendary jewel, and I had the perfect ingredients for a story that was simply huge fun to write.

So what was the story behind the story for other authors? Read on!

Lucy(left) and Meredith Sussex in Borneo

Lucy(left) and Meredith Sussex in Borneo

 

Batgirl in Borneo, Lucy Sussex

In 2015 I went to a wedding in Sabah, Borneo. After the ceremony, assorted guests went on a bus ride across north-east Borneo. We saw orangutans and sun-bears, and narrowly avoided a meeting with terrorists. Two days after we ate at a beachside restaurant in Sandakan, Abu Sayyef came raiding across the straits from the Muslim Phillippines, in a rubber dinghy. They kidnapped the manageress, Thien Nyuk Fun and a customer, Bernard Then.  She was released months later, after a ransom, Then got beheaded.

I heard another interpretation of that story only after ‘Batgirl in Borneo’ was copyedited.  In that reading, by a Sabah expat, our visit to the restaurant was the catalyst for events.

If I write that, it would be a very different tale.

jason_bw-webMermaid Club, Jason Nahrung
This is the second of my short stories starring detective Shane Hall and her accidental partner Manasa Chalmers as they negotiate a paranormal Brisbane. This one draws on a memory of how one of my favourite venues in the city was gentrified, as well as looking for an idea of mermaids different to the fairy tale. The story also builds on a larger plot involving my dynamic duo — I really must finish that, one day!
tansybwDeath at the Dragon Club, Tansy Rayner Roberts
My story is one I had been toying with for a while — about a pair of retired assassins and siblings-of-choice who run away from their violent profession and end up joining a circus full of dragons… only to have their old and new worlds collide all over again. This book was a great excuse to write that story, and I’m so glad I did. I hold Kurt and Inga Frostad, and their beloved dragons and their snarky dialogue, very close to my heart, to the point that I got all soppy and nostalgic while proofing. And then I promptly started planning the sequel…

ecollyer_photopiajohnson_051The Panther’s Paw, Emilie Collyer

With so much dystopian fiction around – and feeling increasingly like we are living in a dystopic world of our own creation – I really wanted to write a piece set in a future where we’ve started to get a few things right. I was inspired by what I’d read of the genres solar punk and eco punk so that was my starting point. One of the wonderful things about writing is getting to play god. I had a LOT of fun constructing the social, environmental and cultural norms of this world to reflect what I think would be a fair, sustainable and enlightened way to live. In regards to the characters I wanted to explore a mismatch. Two people who would normally never spend time together but who have complementary attributes. I really love the world I have created in this story and feel there is room to expand the adventures of Eliza Wild and Dash Besen. So look out for more …