Wattle blooming: a little poem for the season

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.

Six weeks on a boat: a childhood ocean voyage

Something a bit different: a little video I made about an ocean voyage, from Australia to France, on a French ship, through the Pacific, Carribbean, Atlantic and then Mediterranean, a voyage which I went on as a child, with my family. It was an amazing trip whose memory still lingers in my mind, and which has inspired scenes in more than one of my books. My dad documented it all with his trusty super8 film camera, my brother-in-law recently converted the films to MP4 files, and I’ve made the video from screenshot stills captured from the films. I hope you might enjoy it!

What’s inside Inside Story? Check this out!

There’s only two days left till the end of the crowdfunding campaign for Inside Story: the wonderful world of writing, illustrating and publishing children’s books, the wonderful non-fiction book about Australian children’s books which I’m involved in compiling. And UPA Books have created a great little video which gives you a bit of a glimpse into what you can expect to find in this unique, informative and beautiful book. Have a look–it’s worth checking out!

Cooking up great book buzz: a fantastic marketing experience

Over on Writer Unboxed, I’ve had a post published which is about the wonderful experience I’ve been having, working on the marketing of A Hundred Words for Butterfly with the wonderful Spineless Wonders team. It’s been one of the best book marketing/publicity experiences ever, and in this post I wanted to pay tribute to the team and their inventiveness, imagination, passion and sheer hard work, as well as describe in detail what we did.

Here’s a short extract:

In Australia, Spineless Wonders are known and highly respected for their innovative and dynamic approach to publishing, and their marketing strategy for all their books and events has always been focused on imaginative community engagement. And as we worked on our plan for the marketing of A Hundred Words for Butterfly, that engagement became more important than ever, because a large number of Australians, including but not only in our two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, were (and still are) in lockdown due to an outbreak of the Delta strain of Covid19. (All of us working on it were in that boat). So it was even more crucial to come up with great ideas for activities that would offer people something fun, exciting and creative to do even when they were stuck in lockdown. After much discussion, we decided on three main themes/prongs for these.

You can read the whole post here.

Registration link for A Hundred Words for Butterfly event

On this Wednesday, September 15, at 6pm Australian Eastern Standard Time, we are going to be launching A Hundred Words for Butterfly with a fabulous online event, including interviews (of me and the narrator Sarah Kennedy), readings by the finalists of the #100words4butterfly comp, a virtual cocktail and pintxo party, games, and more!

You can join the event via the event page on Spineless Wonders Facebook or if you are not on Facebook, register via the booking link here (it’s free, but registering will mean you get all info, the link and a calendar reminder of the event).

Hope to see you there–it’s going to be such fun!

Living in the Basque country: video about my artist sister Camille

My artist sister Camille Masson Talansier lives in the small town of Hasparren in the Basque country, 25 kms inland from Biarritz. In this charming video, made for the run-up to the release of my audio novel A Hundred Words for Butterfly, you get a glimpse of her life in this beautiful region, and the things that are important to her: art, food, family.

To check out more of Camille’s art, visit her Instagram page here, and website here.

Join the watch party for My Basque Country!

At 5.30 pm (Australian Eastern Standard Time) on my You Tube channel, I’m premiering My Basque Country, a little video clip I made, which is about what the Basque country means to me. It’s linked to my audio novel, A Hundred Words for Butterfly (coming out in September with Spineless Wonders Audio ) and gives you a bit of an insight into the setting of the story and my own strong connections to it.

It’s going to premiere at 5.30, and isn’t livestreamed, but I’ll be online at that time to answer questions and interact in the comments. All invited! Below is the link for the watch party. Hope you can join us!

And if you can’t–well the video will be available to watch on my channel any time after 5.30 pm today.

Looking forward to the 2021 HNSA Conference!

I’m really looking forward to the 2021 conference of the Historical Novel Society of Australasia, which this year is fully online, and happening over two weekends, with bootcamps, manuscript assessments and masterclasses happening on the weekend of 16/17 October, and the main conference program on the weekend of 23 and 24 October. This is the first time the conference has been run online–it was a decision HNSA wisely made early this year, given the uncertainty surrounding the running of events.

HNSA runs absolutely wonderful conferences, and over the years I’ve had the privilege several times of presenting at these biennial events. This year is no exception, and I’m going to be appearing on both weekends, as part of an absolutely amazing program which I’m very proud to be involved in. Wearing my publisher hat, I’m going to be presenting the all-day Publishing Bootcamp on October 16, then, also wearing the publishing hat, I’ll be one of the judges in the popular First Pages Pitch Contest on October 23. Later on October 23 (quite late in fact!) I’ll be one of a group of people talking about translating historical novels in the Lost in Translation panel: I’ll be focussing there about the experience of being involved in helping to bring about the publication of a brand new English translation of the wonderful Jules Verne’s Mikhail Strogoff. Then on October 24 I’m chairing a panel called The Dark Heart, which looks at historical novels set in the 1830’s and 40’s in Australia, especially the convict period. It’s certainly going to be a very busy couple of weekends!

Check out all details of the wonderful program for the 2021 HNSA Conference here: it’s a real cornucopia of fabulous offerings! And of course, because it’s virtual, you can access it from anywhere. Registrations are open now: don’t miss out!

Simple Basque food: part 3

Today I’m posting the recipe for the final part of our Basque-themed meal. It’s probably the most famous dessert in the French Basque country, and is known simply as ‘Gateau Basque’. In A Hundred Words for Butterfly, my characters enjoy a slice or two of it more than once!

Rather than a ‘cake’ as such, the Gateau Basque is a pie with a yummy buttery, eggy pastry, filled with a lovely egg custard flavoured with rum. There’s also a less common black cherry-filled version in some areas of the Pays Basque which are known for their cherries. Today, the pastry sometimes incorporates almond meal as well as flour, but it’s more traditional not to use it, as almonds are not a traditional part of Basque cooking. But it’s up to you!

Found on family and celebration tables and in every patisserie across the region (with people flocking to the best examples of it in town and village patisseries and fervently discussing the relative merits of each!) it’s both simple and utterly delicious, a real treat to make and to eat!

Gateau Basque (this recipe serves 6-8 people)

Ingredients for the pastry: 300 g self-raising flour (or plain flour with one teaspoon baking powder), 125 g unsalted butter (chopped into pieces), 220g caster sugar, 3 egg yolks, grated zest of one lemon

For the custard cream: ¼ litre milk, 25 g plain flour, 60 g sugar, 3 egg yolks, one tablespoon rum

Method for the pastry:  In a bowl, tip in the flour, make a well in the centre, add the chopped butter, the egg yolks, and the lemon zest. (Also add in baking powder now if you are using plain flour). Mix thoroughly, working the pastry into an elastic, homogenous whole. (You can add a little water—a very small amount!– if you have trouble making it stick). Let the pastry rest for about half an hour.

Method for the cream: While the pastry is resting, mix the egg yolks, flour, sugar and rum in a bowl. Heat the milk to boiling point. Pour the hot milk onto the egg mix in the bowl, stirring the whole time. Tip the mix into a saucepan, and heat carefully, stirring as you go, till the mix is nicely thick. Do not let it catch. Turn off the heat, let cream cool.

Putting it together: Divide the pastry into two parts, roll out each of them to make two circles. Butter and lightly flour a springform cake pan, lay one of the pastry circles on the bottom, then put in the thick, cooled cream. Put the second circle on top, crimp the pastry edges together so cream is completely hidden. With a fork, score the top of the cake (without going right through), brush with a little reserved egg white and put in a hot oven for 30 minutes.

Serve warm or cold (the cake keeps really well–that is, if you can hold off eating it all!)

The key to a work in progress…

Some years ago, in a little antique shop near the British Museum in London, I bought an extraordinary object–a Roman key-ring, that is, a key designed to be worn as a ring. Made of lead, it was dated to the 1st century AD. It wasn’t particularly expensive, because apparently such rings are not uncommon finds. But I was immediately fascinated by it when I saw it in the window of the shop: it was the kind of humble object that propels you straight into another world, another time. And when I looked at it more closely, I saw that the ring size was very small–on my own hand, it only fitted on the little finger. So either it had been meant for a very small woman or a child, or it had simply been meant to be worn around the neck, on a leather thong or something similar. And what lock would such a key open? Definitely not a door, but probably a box of some sort. A money or valuables box? A medicine box? I had no idea as to the truth of it, but immediately what ifs began bubbling in my head…I began to see, through the mists of imagination, a figure become clearer, a young girl living in the province of Brittania whose widowed Roman father is an oculist, an eye-doctor(they were commonly found in Roman times, especially in Gaul and Brittania). And when he dies, he leaves her this key, a mysterious key that does not fit any of the locks of his boxes. And he tells her not to speak of it to anyone, but to find her uncle, who will know what to do. And so she sets off…

I began writing the story not long after I bought the key. But for various reasons–mostly because I couldn’t get past certain plotting problems with it–it never got finished or even really properly going. I had set it aside and almost forgotten about it until just a few weeks ago, when trawling through documents in my computer, I came across the outline and sample chapters which was all I’d written of the novel I’d called ‘The Key to Rome.’ Instantly, it called to me again. I got the key itself out of the display box in which we keep it and I looked at it for a long moment, and then I knew: I had to write this story! And now I knew just how to write it, and what I had to change to make it work.

So that’s what I’m working on: the unlocking of the story, and the real meaning of ‘the key to Rome.’ And now, somehow, all the plotting problems have disappeared, the story is powering along, simpler, tighter, stronger than I’d originally seen it.

And that’s why writing is so exciting!