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!

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

 

 

 

Very pleased to be part of Where Happiness Hides project

I’m very pleased to be part of an amazing project by Dirt Lane Press: the virtual, world-wide, multi-language book drop of Where Happiness Hides, a picture book by Anthony Bertini and Jennifer Goldsmith, a lovely exploration in words and picture of the happiness to be found in small things. It’s freely available, and aimed at, as Dirt Lane Press say, ‘anyone and everyone caught up, locked down, worn out or done in by the present COVID pandemic’ . There will be dozens of languages in which  the book will be available, and I was privileged to be asked to be the French translator for the book. Really pleased too that my beautiful daughter in law Ameneh Sadeghpour is doing the Farsi translation and my lovely friend Anna Popova has done the Russian translation.

Where Happiness Hides is now freely downloadable as a beautiful flipbook for children and adults. There are already several languages available on the Where Happiness Hides site, including my French translation, and Anna’s Russian one. More languages will be available soon.

You can also check out the English original here.

First advance copy of The Snowman’s Wish!

So exciting to receive the first advance copy of The Snowman’s Wish, my upcoming picture book with the fantastic illustrator Ronak Taher! It is such a thrill always to hold that first copy in your hands, to touch it and turn its pages and revel in its presence in the physical world…and this is a book that in every way has been a truly magical experience, from the very first spark of the story idea, to right now, seeing and holding this stunningly beautiful book. Thank you so much to my co-creator Ronak, to wonderful designer Hannah Janzen, fantastic publisher Margrete Lamond, and all the team at Dirt Lane Press who have brought the world of the snowman to such gorgeous, sensual life. Thank you also to Robyn Ewing for the lovely back cover quote.

The Snowman’s Wish comes out with Dirt Lane Press in July and will be available in all good bookshops around Australia, including online. You can also pre-order copies now by contacting Dirt Lane Press at  info@dirtlanepress.com.

See some of the beautiful internal pages below.

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

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!

Announcement and cover reveal for The Snowman’s Wish

I am delighted to reveal the gorgeous cover of The Snowman’s Wish, my picture book with the amazing illustrator Ronak Taher, which is being published by wonderful Dirt Lane Press in July 2020. Isn’t it a stunner!

Margrete Lamond of Dirt Lane Press has written a lovely post about the book on the Press’ website blog–here’s what she said, below, but you can also read it on the Dirt Blog itself, as well as news about other great Dirt Lane Press projects for 2020.

From the Dirt Lane Press blog:

Our first book for 2020 is The Snowman’s Wish

Once upon a time, author and general Renaissance Woman Sophie Masson woke up with a story fully formed in her mind. She wrote it down and it ended up on our desk. Very few edits later, and some stupendous illustrations later, The Snowman’s Wish is ready for print and, pending the right advance orders (yes, feel free to advance order … we will waive postage on single-copy purchases), will burst onto the shelves of the world in July 2020.

The story is poignant, a little sad, but also the ‘right kind’ of sad, because it also offers hope and beauty. And what beauty … the illustrations are luminous and vibrant and vivid like no others, and such a powerful complement to the elegance of the text. Here is what Emerita Professor Robyn Ewing wrote about the book:

“A rich and joyful exploration of the beauty of our natural world as experienced for the first time, and an assurance that sometimes wishes do come true, to give us much needed hope.”

Creating There’s A Tiger Out There

Today is the official publication date of my picture book with Ruth Waters, There’s A Tiger Out There(Little Hare) and to celebrate Ruth and I have written pieces on the creation of the book. Enjoy!

Creation of the text, by Sophie Masson

There’s a Tiger Out There began in a dream. In the dream, I was in my house, looking out at the garden, when I glimpsed her: silent stripes gliding through our garden, yellow eyes shining. And with a grip of the heart that was half thrill and half fear, I knew there was a tiger out there and that if I went out—who knew what would happen? Now, it’s not an uncommon occurrence for me to have big cats—lions and tigers, especially—suddenly appear in my dreams, but in this case, it felt different. It felt like this tiger was different, her eyes fixed on me, and when I woke up, I knew why. It was because she wanted to be in a story!

So I began work on transposing her from the realm of dream to the realm of imagination. The first words came quickly, and the first draft was quite simple—just pretty much recounting that dream glimpse and that mix of feelings on seeing her savage, elemental splendour in the midst of our humble familiar garden. ‘There’s a tiger watching me with eyes as bright as sunrise/’ I wrote, ‘There’s a tiger sleek as shadow/stripes of midnight on her fur.’  After I showed the text to my agent Margaret Connolly, who loved it and sent it to Margrete Lamond, who was then the publisher at Little Hare and also loved it, that first draft went through many changes, in collaboration first with Margrete and then, when she left, with Alyson O’Brien, who also loved it and helped me bring the text to its final form. Early on, the draft had transformed from a simple ‘I’ eye-view to the point of view of two siblings, one older and bolder, one younger and more timid, who see a tiger ‘out there’ and react in their different ways—with a twist at the end, of course! It was a story, I realised, about sibling relations, about imagination, about love and adventure and mystery—and the thrill of a good scare!

When I first saw Ruth Waters’ gorgeous collage images, I was so excited! She had completely understood the spirit of my text and created a richly-imagined, warm and distinctive visual world, where the tiger as much as the siblings was completely at home. It was as if that was how I had always seen the world of my story: not only a perfect fit, but extending and expanding it in the most satisfying way.

And of course I just adore the finished book, with Hannah Janzen’s gorgeous design!

Creation of the illustrations, by Ruth Waters

I remember the day I received the email from Alyson from Little Hare Books. I had to re-read it several times. You want me to illustrate a picture book? Me? I had previously written and illustrated my own story but had been waiting for the opportunity to work on someone else’s tale. That said, I opened the manuscript with some trepidation – what if I can’t connect with the story?  I needn’t have worried. As I read each line, I instantly pictured who the characters were, how they looked and what kind of personality they had. A little bit bossy, know-it-all, older sister. A younger brother who adores and does anything she tells him.

The first stage of the making process was to create a series of character sketches in pencil.  Since I work in collage, I also created a collage version to give Alyson a better idea of how they would finally look. I sent these off and waited for her comments. We went back and forth until we were both happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Character Sketches

The next stage was to figure out how the text should be split across 32-or-so pages and come up with a rough idea of how each page would look. I had already made the decision that the ‘real’ tiger should only appear on the last double page spread. This way, not only the children in the story but the reader would not be entirely sure whether there really is a tiger. Another idea was to give the little boy a cuddly toy tiger – this would act as a visual tool to help the reader conjure up the idea that there is a tiger out there. Another idea, inspired by the line ‘cross my heart’ – which appears throughout the story – was to place a hidden heart-shape on every page. Sometimes the heart shape is made from a blade of grass or appears as a ripple in the water.  I also spent quite a bit of time making sure there was enough variety in terms of perspectives – wide shots verses close-up, double page spreads verses one page of illustration.  At this point I also decided on the colour palette – I decided we should go bright – to match the vibrant orange of the tiger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storyboard and colour palette

 

 

The storyboard was then sent to Little Hare and over a few weeks we made little tweaks. Once I got the thumbs up – I made the final sketches to scale and then got to work prepping the paper.

Final sketch and prepping the paper!

 

To create the collages, I first roll acrylic paint on to a variety of textured paper. Then, working with the final sketches, I trace, cut and stick! All of my illustrations are made entirely by hand. It is labour intensive but I much prefer it to using a computer. The other plus about collage is it’s flexibility as I can keep moving the pieces around until I am happy and, only then, glue them down.

Every time I finished a double page spread, I would scan and send it to Little Hare for their thoughts. To me this proved to be an efficient way of working as it allowed me to make tweaks as I went along, rather making lots of changes at the end – when time is tight.

Watch videos of the making process:

 

 

 

 

 

Overall the entire project took about 3-4 months. Much quicker than usual due to my own time constraints (normally I would allocate 6 months). I then packaged it all up and hand delivered it to Little Hare’s production office!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The whole project was a joy to work on from start to finish. And I learnt so much along the way.

Ruth Waters | http://www.ruth-waters.com | https://www.instagram.com/ruthpwaters/

Celebrating our home town in a new picture book

I am delighted to announce today a project that’s had to be kept under wraps till now: the picture book Join the Armidale Parade, text written by me, gorgeous illustrations by talented local illustrator Kathy Creamer, and published by local publisher Little Pink Dog Books. Look at the gorgeous cover! Commissioned by Armidale Regional Council, Join the Armidale Parade is a fun picture book for children and families, celebrating the beauty, diversity, colour and vibrancy of our hometown of Armidale, in northern New South Wales.  My story, told in bouncy verse, is focussed around a little girl whose family has recently moved to Armidale, and who takes part in its colourful annual parade, held in the autumn. And Kathy’s created the most fabulous illustrations, full of fun, humour, joy and plenty of Armidale landmarks and references:-) It’s a book that can be enjoyed by both locals and visitors, and even those who may not know Armidale but can appreciate the fun and warmth of a festival parade. It’s, I think, the first time that a picture book for children has been set here.

Although I was brought up in both France and Sydney, and my husband David in the UK, we have lived in this region for a long time now, built a house and brought up three children here. Although I’d had a few short pieces published before I came to this region, my writing career properly took off here, and all my books have been written here. I’m delighted to have been able to collaborate with Kathy, Little Pink Dog Books and Armidale Regional Council in Join the Armidale Parade, a book that pays tribute to a beautiful, creative and friendly town.

The book will be published on May 1.