Announcing Santagram, my Christmas picture book!

It’s been under wraps for quite a while but now that it’s officially up on  the publisher’s website, I am delighted to  announce the forthcoming appearance of Santagram, my picture book with illustrator Shiloh Gordon, which will be published by Hardie Grant Egmont in October, ready for the Christmas market. And here is the joyful, lively, and characterful cover–isn’t it wonderfully appealing! Shiloh has created a fabulous visual world full of magic, humour and fun, perfect for a story that I so much enjoyed writing: it was just pure, playful pleasure! And what’s more–look closely at the cover, there is going to be a real letter and envelope with it! For someone who absolutely loves The Jolly Postman, that is a dream come true 🙂

 

Here’s the blurb for the book:

Santa’s mailbox is overflowing.

Santa loves getting letters, but the elves are FED UP with sorting through the huge piles of mail.
Surely an app would be better – quick, easy and heaps of fun! They’ll call it ‘Santagram’.

But once the letters stop arriving, will they be missed?

Can Santa use social media? And should he? This is a Christmas story with a twist that will have the whole family laughing out loud.

 

The book can be pre-ordered at lots of different bookshops and retail outlets, check the list out here.

 

 

A Christmas story to enjoy: Barney Brown and the Christmas Cake

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!

A favourite Christmas memory…

Last year, at this festive time, I republished a piece I’d written in English and French for a magazine, about my childhood Christmasses. This year, as a favourite Christmas memory, I thought I’d offer instead a magical Christmas story, The Dolls’ First Christmas, which was published in the Random House Australia anthology, Stories for Seven Year Olds(, edited by Linsay Knight, 2014). It was inspired by my very talented friend Fiona McDonald giving me a beautiful handmade doll she’d created–and who I immediately named Esmeralda, after one of my favourite characters in a favourite childhood book of mine, Le Capitaine Fracasse, by Theophile Gautier..

Hope you enjoy–and the very best of wishes to you all for the festive season!

The original Esmeralda

The Dolls’ First Christmas

by Sophie Masson

Christmas Eve in the toyshop. In Miss Jeffries’ toy-shop, the last delivery had just arrived. Teddy-bears and tin toys. Puppets and pull-alongs. Rocking-horses and doll’s houses. And Esmeralda.

She arrived in an ordinary box, like the other dolls:

Sarah and

Donna and

Laura and

Clara and

Gloria.

 

Gloria, haughty queen of the dolls in Miss Jeffries’ toy shop, sat on her glittering throne in the window. Everyone gasped when they saw Gloria and said how beautiful she was. But no-one had bought her yet. She was too special. She cost too much.

Esmeralda was beautiful too, but in a different way. Her hair wasn’t golden, like Gloria’s, but black, in great long curls. Her skin wasn’t peaches and cream, like Gloria’s, but honey and tea. Her eyes weren’t sky blue, but nut-brown. Her stripy dress was splendid—but she did not have elegant satin slippers, like Gloria. Her feet were bare.

Miss Jeffries smiled as she set Esmeralda up on green velvet. ‘There, now, ‘ she said. ‘We’ll have two Queens. A snow queen. And a sun queen. You’ll be friends.’

But can two queens really be friends? Gloria didn’t think so. Esmeralda didn’t think so. Each thought she was better. Each sat in her splendour and looked haughtily away and thought she would be the first to go.

It was a long busy day. Sarah and Clara and Laura and Donna left and two boy dolls and six tin toys and eight teddy-bears and three puppets and two fairy dolls and a mermaid doll and two clowns and four baby dolls, plus a brace of Barbies. But not Gloria. And not Esmeralda, either.

At last, and very late, Miss Jeffries was about to close up. A man rushed in, shouting, ‘I work for Mr Darling, the millionaire. He sent me to buy a Christmas gift for his daughter Cherie. Her mother’s dead and her father has no time. I need your best doll. Your very best doll.’

‘There are two,’ said Miss Jeffries, calmly. ‘Esmeralda, and Gloria. Which one would Cherie like best? Sun queen or snow queen?’

The man stared.  ‘Oh! I have no idea. But I know she’ll have a tantrum if she doesn’t like what I choose. She’s always having tantrums. Blow it. I’ll take the two.’

‘Good choice,’ beamed Miss Jeffries, ‘they belong together, no question.’ She put them in their boxes and tied a pretty ribbon around them and waved a cheerful goodbye as the man hurried out, muttering to himself, ‘After all, if that brat doesn’t like one of them, she can always give it to someone else. Or throw it away. They’re only dolls, after all.’

Poor Gloria and Esmeralda! They had been made with such care. Their dresses were hand-stitched, their hair hand-knotted, their faces hand-painted. They’d been made to be loved. And now here was someone saying they might just be thrown away, like some cheap, broken factory toy.

Dolls may not talk in words and their red satin hearts may not beat but they have other ways of communicating. Gloria and Esmeralda sensed each other’s fear. At first, each thought it didn’t matter. Whichever doll Cherie liked best would be safe. But then– what if Cherie got sick of her? She might be worse off, then. While the other one might have gone to a good home. To a little girl who loved her.

Most dolls are airheads, the space under their pretty china or plastic skulls quite hollow. But Gloria and Esmeralda had cloth faces, pulled tightly over wads of stuffing. In the middle of the stuffing, each had a long, bright pin, left in by mistake. So their thoughts were sharp and they each thought the same thing at the same moment. They were queens. Snow queen, sun queen. They might not be friends, but sometimes queens put rivalry aside for the good of all. They would do something together, not apart. But how?

 

At the Darling mansion, the man gave the boxes to the housekeeper. She took them to a room where a tall, twinkling Christmas tree stood, with piles of presents under it.  The housekeeper shook her head, sadly. ‘More things going to waste on that spoilt child,’ she said.

The dolls lay under the tree for hours. No clever ideas came to them. Soon, they knew, it would be too late.

And then, just after midnight, there was a clatter of hooves on the roof above. Moments later a deep voice grumbled, ‘Why do I come? She has so much already!’

Now all toys, no matter how new, know what happens Christmas night. So Esmeralda and Gloria knew the grumbler wasn’t Mr Darling, or any of his staff. It was that jolly visitor, come from a magical world, whose job is to give every child in the world a present. The humans call him Santa Claus.

The dolls’ red satin hearts swelled and the sharp pin in their heads glittered as they tried to struggle out and beg for his help. They only made a tiny rustle, but Santa Claus’ sharp ears pricked up. And his kind eyes, that see into the heart of every child everywhere, saw right into those two red satin hearts. With a little chuckle, he opened the boxes. He gazed in at Esmeralda and Gloria. ‘A Christmas gift for you, little ones?’ he said. He touched each of them, very gently. A warm, golden stream of light seemed to flow from his fingers, into the dolls’ painted eyes. ‘Very well, then. I give you the power of love. And a very merry Christmas to you both.’

And with that, he was gone. The dolls heard the clatter of his reindeer’s hooves on the roof, then nothing. They waited in the warm piney darkness, filled with hope now.

Soon, it was morning. The dolls heard a man’s voice, trying to be jolly. ‘Well, Cherie, aren’t you going to open your lovely presents? Start with those two boxes.’

‘Yes, Daddy.’  A thin, flat, voice. Gloria and Esmeralda were afraid again. This child would not love them, no matter what Santa Claus said. All was lost.

Next thing, the wrapping-paper was roughly ripped, the lids of the boxes pulled off, so quickly that the dolls flipped helplessly out, onto their faces.

Mr Darling cried, ‘Really, Cherie, be careful! Look how beautiful they are! ‘

‘I don’t like dolls,’ shouted Cherie. ‘They stare and stare and they’re stupid! Stupid!’

‘Oh, nothing’s good enough for you, I’m tired of it, tired, do you hear!’ yelled her father. And he went out, slamming the door.

Cherie glared at the dolls. She picked them up, roughly. Gloria and Esmeralda thought their last hour had come. They would be torn limb from limb, their bodies shredded, their heads wrenched off. But as they helplessly looked up they suddenly saw in the child’s eyes, under the anger,  a sadness that  made their red satin hearts clench and their sharp minds ache. In that instant, something warm and golden and loving flowed from the dolls to the child, seeping into Cherie’s unhappy, lonely eyes.

She stared at them. Her lip trembled. She said, faintly, ‘I don’t like dolls..’ Shyly, she touched Esmeralda’s hair, then Gloria’s. She stroked their clothes. She held a doll in the crook of each arm. She whispered, ‘Most dolls are stupid,’ but then added, ‘not you,’ softly.

That is how Mr Darling found them when he came back, ashamed of shouting at his daughter on Christmas Day, wishing that he’d chosen her present himself, telling himself that he must try and understand, even if she made it hard.

But she smiled at him and said, ‘Daddy, do you know what their names are? Gloria and Esmeralda. I think they must be good friends, don’t you? Oh, Daddy, I love them already.’

And as Mr Darling sat happily with his daughter, Gloria and Esmeralda lay happily in her arms. Can two queens really be good friends? Why not? Anything was possible, on this beautiful Christmas morning.