My favourite French castle, an inspirational fairy tale setting

Cross-posted from my Fairytale Country site.

Today I want to write  a bit about the castle that for me, since childhood, has represented the absolute epitome of the classic French fairy tale setting: and that is the gorgeous small chateau of  Azay-le-Rideau, in the Loire Valley.  Of course the Loire Valley is full of beautiful castles; but this one is my favourite of them, indeed it’s my top favourite in all of France. Not only does this absolute jewel of a chateau represent for me that epitome of fairy tale magic and charm, but it’s also the setting for the Beast’s castle in my retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which is the longest story in French Fairy Tales.

Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau, September 2018. Photo: Sophie Masson

Built in the early 16th century on the ruins of the previous fortress suited there, the castle of Azay-le-Rideau has a tumultuous history. It’s situated  within the charming little village of the same name, down a small road away from the main highway, amongst green fields and little woods. The castle is set on a small lake, in superb parkland, and I’ve visited it a number of times, the most recent being in September 2018. That time, in a glorious early autumn with blue skies and trees still green but starting to turn gold, we stayed in a lovely little hotel in the village, a few steps away from the castle. At the time we were there, an extraordinary, eerily beautiful art installation called ‘Les enchantements d’Azay‘, by artists Piet.sO  and Peter Keene, was displayed in the castle. Together, the castle, the parkland gardens, the art installation, and the amazing, magical feel of the whole place, were just the most perfect elements to help create the Beast’s world.

It isn’t just in Beauty and the Beast, however, that you will see the enchanting influence of Azay-le-Rideau; for in the next post, Lorena will be writing about how her own stay there and her visits to other places in the Loire Valley, became the source for her glorious illustrations in French Fairy Tales.

Something about French Fairy Tales… — Sophie Masson’s Fairytale Country

Over the next month or so, I’ll be posting bits and pieces about my forthcoming collection, French Fairy Tales. With magical, extraordinary illustrations by Lorena Carrington, the book will be published by Serenity Press in late October, and I am so looking forward to its release! So, for this very first post about French Fairy […]

via Something about French Fairy Tales… — Sophie Masson’s Fairytale Country

Virtual launch of Four on the Run!

Delighted to announce the virtual launch of Four on the Run today, which is happening on the United Publishers of Armidale website! The book, illustrated by Cheryl Orsini and published by Christmas Press, is being launched by the wonderful author Lesley Gibbes, in the first of four pre-recorded videos which also includes a talk by me about the book, a reading of the first chapter, and a book trailer. Available from this morning and well beyond. Check it all out here.  And hope you enjoy!

A festival of wattle blooming

It’s been very cold here at the end of winter but there are still many signs of approaching spring: and of course one of them is the blooming of wattle everywhere. It’s a positive festival of wattle flowers on our block at the moment, so to celebrate it I thought I’d republish a children’s poem I wrote a few years ago, about that lift of the heart that seeing the blooming wattle brings, and illustrate it with pics of some of the glorious trees gilding our place with living gold and bringing that fragrant sunshine into the house!

Wattle blooming

By Sophie Masson

Sudden bursts of gold,

Sweeping colour bold,

By rivers, by roads, in country and town,

In farms and gardens, the wattle’s the crown.

 

Of the end of the winter, beginning of spring,

The blooming of wattle will sing and sing

Of birds in their nests and the warm days to hand,

For the wattle is blooming across the land.

A House of Mud Virtual Launch videos available now on UPA website

We held the virtual launch of A House of Mud yesterday, and it was fabulous! The launch consisted of a live Q and A Zoom event (not recorded) plus a series of pre-recorded videos which you can view at any time. The videos feature Peter Creamer of publisher Little Pink Dog Books, myself, and illustrator Katrina Fisher, and also includes a reading by me, and a book trailer. You can view it all here: hope you enjoy!

Virtual book launch for The Snowman’s Wish today

It’s launch time for The Snowman’s Wish!  And I’m very happy to be hosting the virtual launch on this blog, in collaboration with my publisher, Dirt Lane Press. The virtual launch consists of three videos released at 10 am today, but which you can view at your leisure any time today–and well beyond!

The book is being launched by Australian Children’s Laureate, multi-award winning author Ursula Dubosarsky, and you’ll hear from her in the first video, then from me, in the second, as the author, taking you through the book’s creative and production process, and highlighting  my co-creator Ronak Taher’s superb illustrations. The final video is a reading I did of the book. So–welcome, thank you for joining our celebrations–and we hope you enjoy!

 

 

 

The book is now available in all good bookshops and library suppliers across Australia. You can read a review of it here.

Celebrating new books in troublesome times 11: June Perkins

Today, I’m delighted to welcome June Perkins to my blog. June’s new book, Illuminations, which is a collaboration between her as a writer and illustrators Ruha and Minaira Fifita, comes out early next month, and in this guest post, June writes about the process of creating Hope, one of the poems from the collection, which is reproduced below.

 

Writing ‘Hope’ for Illuminations – June Perkins

My poem ‘Hope’ is a speculative imagining of how Emily Dickinson would respond to Cyclone Yasi if she had been a poet based in Far North Queensland and draws particular inspiration from her work 314, often titled ‘Hope’ although she didn’t give it a title.

I first heard of  Dickinson from a vinyl record, Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme by Simon and Garfunkel, the song was’ The Dangling Conversation’ And yet it was years before I took the time to learn more about her poetry and life.

After Cyclone Yasi in 2011, I began to compose poetry in response to both its damage, and the way people and nature fared in its aftermath. Living in Far North Queensland in a rural community, I became acutely aware of birds – king fishers, cassowaries, curlews and more. We had a pet bird, Peep, who amused us and helped us keep calm during the cyclone.  He disappeared briefly to spend time with other birds before returning with all of them in tow as if we could put them all up in the house.  He died a few days after of shock.  I took solace in Dickinson’s poems.  I was particularly drawn to 314 because it speaks of hope as if it has feathers like a bird.

The poem used to live on my blog, but in recent times, joined part of the working collection for Illuminations and it made the final cut for the book. The poem fits well with the overall themes of the collection and picks up on the symbolism of birds. Over the last few years, since our move to Brisbane, the  poem has come to mean much more to me than a response to a cyclone’s aftermath, and an expression of respect to Emily Dickinson; it represents that wider theme of how poets can through their creativity bring hope to any situation including a pandemic.

 

More about Illuminations:

Author: June Perkins

Illustrators: Ruha and Minaira Fifita

ISBN: 9780980731194 (paperback)

ISBN: 9780648720508 (hard cover, dustcover)

Publication Date: 20/6/2020

80 pages

This collection captures the wonder of the act of creation, the burst of excitement associated with the birth of the new, and the challenges and sacrifice involved in bringing inspiration to fruition. Reflecting on the impact of the challenge of the new, in both the material and spiritual worlds, several of the poems refer to the advent of the Báb, the 19th century Prophetic figure, whose contemporary message inspired and challenged a sacrificial response on the part of those who embraced His Cause.

You can pre-order Illuminations here. The book is available for pre-order in Australia, New Zealand, the US, UK and Canada.

About the author:

Dr June Perkins is a multi-arts creative born to a Papua New Guinean Indigenous mother and Australian father. She was raised in Tasmania as a Bahá’i and combines poetry, blogging, photography, story and more to explore themes interesting her – peace, ecology, spirituality, cultural diversity, resilience and empowerment. Earlier poetry book is, Magic Fish Dreaming (2016). June has had poems published in Nineteen Months, Tokens, Voices in the North, Under One Sky, Etchings, Cracks in the Canopy, World Order, Spooktacular Stories, Creative Kids Tales, Story Collection 2, Writing the Pacific, ABC Open, The Queensland Art Galley, Ridvan is Everywhere,  and Talking Ink from Ochre.

About Illustrators Fifita Sisters / IVI Designs

 Ruha Fifita was born in Vava’u, Tonga and spent most of her life immersed in the culture and vibrancy of life in the Pacific. Her love for visual and performative forms of expression have been nurtured through the support and encouragement of her extended family and study of the writings of the Bahá’i Faith.

Minaira Fifita is a visual and performing artist whose work aspires to reflect her love of creation and faith in the unity of humanity. Her style of creativity blends together her Polynesian and Celtic roots and experiences of vibrancy, balance and harmony within the Pacific and her spiritual beliefs as a Bahá’i.

L to R: June Perkins, Ruha Fifita, Minaira Fifita

 

 

 

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

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!

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.