It was the inaugural Spring Fairy Dance festival in the charming small new England town of Uralla on Saturday–a festival themed around all things fairy and magical, aimed at children and the young at heart. It was a big success, with the townspeople supporting it strongly and visitors enjoying it. And for its special storytime event, I created a video poem called Fairy Feet–thought readers of this blog might enjoy it too!
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!
The charming little town of Uralla, not far from our place, has an equally charming new initiative in the shape of fairy doors that sprung up all over town in the first days of the pandemic shutdown back in late March.
And now the fairy doors have their own map, so visitors and local residents can go on a tour of discovery. And I’m proud to say that on the back of the map is printed a fun little children’s story I wrote for local and visiting children, and which has been used in schools to inspire drawings of the scenes described!
I’m very pleased to announce that I’m part of the presenters for a brand new program of online writing workshops offered by the South Coast Writers’ Centre. The program will begin in late May and run for several months.
My workshops are about writing for children, with each 2-hour session focussed around a particular area: the first session around picturebooks; the second on writing children’s fiction; the third on writing YA fiction. They will be held over three weeks in June and early July, and are open to writers right across Australia, at any stage of their careers. More info and how to book for my workshops soon!
There are already however great workshops by other presenters which you can book for right now, check it all out here.
A Story of Hope in Troubled Times
By Dee White
People have likened the current pandemic to life during WW2, but it’s different. Covid-19 is an unseen enemy. Where I live, there are no marching soldiers with guns or snarling dogs chasing us down the street, filling our waking hours and our sleep with terror.
That’s the life my main character Ruben has to endure in my new historical fiction, Beyond Belief, after Paris is invaded. It’s 1942, just after the Vel D’hiv roundup when more than 13,000 Jews were arrested and taken to the Vélodrome d’Hiver (Winter Velodrome) before being transported to concentration camps and killed.
Ruben is one of the lucky ones who flees his home before he and his parents can be arrested. Although he’s a fictitious character, his story is inspired by true events. After the arrest of so many men, women and children, the Algerian Muslims of Paris decided that something must be done. They offered protection to Jews and gave them false identities and helped them escape the city.
Ruben is one of the children who seeks refuge at the Mosque and there he must change his name to Abdul and learn to pass himself off as a Muslim. If his true identity is discovered, he’ll be killed and so will those trying to save him. Even if Ruben escapes Paris, that won’t be the end of his story. Nowhere in France is safe for Jews.
Although Ruben’s life is hard, it has hope – and not just for Ruben, but for the whole of mankind. I wanted this story of interfaith solidarity and support to be about humanity and how strong people are when we unite – and we can make it through adversity if we help each other. I started writing this story four years ago, but here we are in adversity, working together to make it through.
Ruben has to endure hardship and it changes him as a person, but he emerges stronger and more resilient. War is hard. I haven’t glossed over that. But there is hope, that tomorrow things can be different and although it’s a new reality and we emerge changed from hardship, the pieces can be rebuilt.
Although I wrote Beyond Belief for children, adults are connecting with it too. One adult reader wrote to me and said, “I loved the book: despite the suffering and loss experienced by the children, there was such courage and an underlying spirituality and wisdom passed on to them by their parents and the Muslim community. This imbued them with amazing strength.”
I spent a month in Paris researching Beyond Belief. I wanted to walk in my main character, Ruben’s shoes and write his story with authenticity and understanding. And I wanted to reflect the experiences of all the Jews, gypsies and people with mental and physical illnesses who became victims of Hitler and if they survived, suffered lifelong trauma. My father was one of them.
You can find out more about Beyond Belief and my personal journey writing this book, at my website www.deescribe.com.au my Youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9kDJT5Al7QknKwpCYd09oQ
and at DeeWhiteAuthor on social media.
Beyond Belief is available at all good book stores and online from
Boomerang Books htt https://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/
Collins Booksellers http://www.collinsbooks.com.au/book/9781760662516
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.
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
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!
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!
My latest post on Writer Unboxed looks at my love of graphic novels/comic books (or BD, as we call them in French), and how I began creating my own. Hope you enjoy–and consider posting comments of your own on the Writer Unboxed site!
Delighted to announce that I’ve got a new page on this blog featuring links to stories of mine that you can read and/or listen to at the fabulous site, Read Me A Story, Ink, a great, free resource for parents, teachers and children, created and run by booklover, bookseller and reader Robert Topp.
At Read Me A Story, Ink, you can find searchable lists of short stories for children by hundreds of authors, with the full text available for download and print out, and some stories also provided as appealing audio readings by Bob himself. A guide to reading age is also given, along with the name of the publication the story first appeared in, and all authors have given their full consent for stories to appear on the site.
Eight of my stories appear on the site. Have a look at my page where you’ll find links to all of them.