Today I’m welcoming my wonderful co-creator, Lorena Carrington, to this blog, to write about the travels in France that helped to inspire her glorious illustrations in French Fairy Tales. All photographs in this post are by Lorena. French fairy tale travelling, by Lorena Carrington In late September last year, I touched down in France with […]French fairy tale travelling, by Lorena Carrington — Sophie Masson’s Fairytale Country
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.
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.
Today, I’m delighted to bring you an interview with fabulous, dynamic author Hazel Edwards, talking about her new projects, especially her new book, Complete Your Book in a Year, which has come out of her very successful and popular writing workshops. Of course, due to the COVID19 situation, these in person workshops had to shift online, but nothing daunted, Hazel found ways of still engaging her audience, dubbing her approach ‘strategies for writing in a pandemic’.
Welcome, Hazel! Your unique how-to writing and publishing manual for family historians, Complete your Book in a Year, has just been published. Can you give us some background on how the book came about?
The Pandemic has given a sense of the need to act NOW on writing projects.
The inspirational ‘Hazelnuts’ and the Pandemic Lockdown of my f2f (face to face) writing workshops led to this manual.
The term ‘Hazelnuts’ was affectionately started by some of my former writing students who HAD been procrastinators. To qualify as a ‘Hazelnut’, you have been mentored in my courses, finished AND published your writing project. Across decades, it’s satisfying to see so many non-fiction books on diverse subjects gained from crafting and workshopping across a year.
Then came the pandemic postponement of face-to-face classes like monthly sessions at (Public Records Office) PRO’s Victorian Archives Centre. Apart from Zooming, a 12 part manual was an attempt to keep people writing to finish their book projects by December deadline.
During Lockdown, others de-cluttering became interested in writing memoirs, organising family memorabilia and evaluating their lives for their families and themselves. So there was a wider demand than my adult students.
Requests came for a manual of strategies to help with writing in Lockdown. So I converted my notes and ‘Your Turn’ exercises.
Telling the stories of ‘extra-ordinary-ordinary heroes’ is worthwhile. So are ‘How To…’ books. And then there is the mutual help Hazelnuts offer each other by reading drafts or attending launches. And the research skills from visiting archives, historic locations, interviewing via digital devices or sleuthing family secrets.
‘Complete a book in a year’ is quite a challenge to throw down to authors! Tell us about something how the book works and what it covers. How did you decide what to include in it?
Based on the strategies, activities and notes I’d normally share in my face to face workshops but MINUS the companionship of learning from others and their WIP (Work in Progress). Often workshoppers become ‘step-parents to another’s bookchild and help craft it. Or they suggest titles. And they work through the various drafts, reading aloud, celebrating and finding relevant resources to share. Working alone, writers miss that. So the personal and quirky tone of the manual is as if I’m sharing anecdotes and hints with the reader. Zooming, the students can also use the manual.
Mid-project I woke up with the idea of having a cover which was a compilation of Hazelnut covers. To inspire. The publisher suggested including a Schedule for the Year’s Writing Needed to Complete a Book. I wrote a realistic timetable and scared even myself. But it works based on averaging 200 words per day. And the timetable has been renamed ‘You Can Do It.’
Others can use the manual as a substitute for Hazelnut style workshopping in these surreal times.
There are twelve main segments which match the monthly workshops. Projects include memoir, autobiography, non-fiction, biography, fiction, graphic novels, young adult and children’s books.
What is the manual about?
Strategies to overcome ‘Procrastination’ and get your book finished.
Includes: Choosing titles, writing Conversational Table of Contents, ways to structure, characterisation (Your Turn exercises), Common Q and A, making it non-boring, use of anecdotes, mini launches and publication options.
The ‘Your Turn’ exercises are very practical.
Participants voted The Ancestor Interview (see below) as the most valuable exercise. But you’ll need an in-house or online ‘helper’ for this one.
Interview Your Ancestor (in pairs, 8 minutes each).
Become your selected ancestor and answer the interviewer’s questions as honestly as you can, even admitting to crimes. Use ‘I’ not ‘he’ or ‘she’ and get into the perspective of your character and their times.
You’ll also find out what you don’t know and need to research.
How does this book differ from your earlier popular title, Writing a Non-Boring Family History?
It’s for procrastinators, so they can finish in a year. Not all projects are histories or memoirs. More emphasis on the strategies to finish to deadline.
I deliberately didn’t repeat myself so the books could be complementary. Plus the Non-Boring one was written over 20 years ago and much reprinted, so it was time for an online approach. At first I was going to have an e-book only, but the publisher convinced me to have print too.
You’ve also got a great fiction project on the go, writing a podcast for the ABC. Can you tell us about it, and how it came about?
Adult mystery ‘Celebrant Sleuth; I do or Die’ (BookPod) was inspired by a diverse gender woman who said, ‘How come nobody writes about a woman like me? Why don’t you?’ I’d been playing with the concept of a celebrant who conducted weddings and funerals, for a mystery series, so I did. She acted as my expert reader. I changed the terms she suggested. Chapters were written with future TV episodes in mind. E and print book and then I ‘voiced’ the audio, a challenging experience for a non actor but important to have an Australian voice on AUDIBLE. Then I wrote ‘ Wed, then Dead on The Ghan’ intending it as the first chapter of the sequel but now Geoffrey Wright and I have been commissioned to adapt it for the ABC as a podcast. I knew it had the ingredients of an iconic train, literary tourism role-play of Agatha Christie and a diverse sleuth, but….
‘Hijabi Girl Plays Footy Too” is a sequel which may be a bindup around the time the ‘Hijabi Girl’ puppet musical is performed post-Pandemic by Larrikin Puppeteers and tours regionally. We even have an Aussie Rules football puppet.
I’d love more of my books to be adapted for TV, audio or theatre. And to be translated into languages like Spanish and Turkish.
The Lockdown has forced me to evaluate. Although traditionally published by Penguin, my ‘riskier’ projects have been author-published in recent years.
I persisted with these ‘soul’ projects (of value for themselves and ironically later commercially viable). It has been the right decision. I also control the rights which enables faster decisions when new media offers are available.
Ironically in 2006 I wrote ‘Outback Ferals’ set in Darwin about a feral pig pandemic threat. Writers ask ‘What if?’ and then things happen. It’s called fiction prediction!
Free downloadable Schedule to Finish Your Book in a Year
More about Hazel and her work:
Hazel Edwards writes quirky, thought-provoking fiction and fact for adults and children. Coping successfully with being different is a common theme. Co-written ‘junior novel ‘Hijabi Girl’ soon to be a ‘Larrikin Puppets’ musical post Pandemic and YA novel ‘f2m;the boy within’ which has inspired a graphic novel , explore cultural diversity.
Best known for ‘There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake’ series, recently touring as a musical, Hazel has grandkids for whom she writes a story each birthday. ‘Outback Ferals’ her YA novel set in Darwin, is a sequel to ‘Antarctica’s Frozen Chosen’, researched during her 2001 Antarctic expedition.
Hazel runs book-linked workshops on ‘Authorpreneurship’ and ‘Writing a Non Boring Family History’. ‘Complete Your Book in a Year’ is a yearlong master class at PROV (Public Records Office) and all her mentored ‘Hazelnuts’ finish their projects.
’Trail Magic; Going Walkabout for 2184 Miles on the Appalachian Trail ’ with her son Trevelyan is an adventure memoir. He did ALL the walking.
A National Reading Ambassador, in 2013 Hazel was awarded an OAM for Literature. Her memoir ‘Not Just a Piece of Cake-Being an Author’ explores longterm creativity.
Interested in stories crossing mediums, ‘Celebrant Sleuth;I do or die’ an adult mystery with an asexual sleuth is her latest AUDIBLE fiction, plus the sequel ‘Wed Then Dead on The Ghan’ available on Kindle and being adapted as a screenplay for ABC.
Hazel served on the board of The Australian Society of Authors’ for 20 years and is the current patron of the Society of Women’s Writers (Victoria)
Husband Garnet does her BAS, daughter Kim advises on marketing and three grandsons act as readers, so writing is an Edwards’ family trade.
She also reads in the bath.
Today I have the great pleasure of interviewing Charlotte McConaghy, whose extraordinary, beautiful new novel, The Last Migration (published as Migrations in the US) has taken both the US and Australia by storm, garnering rave reviews and great sales. I’ve known Charlotte a long time, ever since she and my son Xavier went to the same high school in our hometown. I’ve been aware of her talent and persistence as a writer from that time on, too, having read her writing early on, while she was still at school, and it’s been wonderful to see her going from strength to strength ever since then. She has not only written several other books than The Last Migration, but also worked on screenplays, and has a Master’s degree in Screenwriting from the Australian Film and Television School.
Welcome, Charlotte–and congratulations! You must be thrilled to see the response to The Last Migration, despite the difficulties caused by the current situation, and the fact that the planned book tour of the US had to be cancelled. Can you tell us something about the background to the publication of the book, and what’s it been like, to see those reviews rolling in? Will there also be further editions of the book, in translation, for instance?
Thank you for having me, Sophie!
It’s certainly been a long publication process – longer than it took to write the book, actually. I finished it 3 years ago and signed with Flatiron, which is an imprint of Macmillan in America, and it’s been such a long wait until publication that I thought this day would never come! It’s amazing to finally be here, and to have the book come out in my home country (Australia) at the same time. We’ll be publishing in the UK in January (this was meant to be released simultaneously but due to corona virus it was pushed back to 2021) and then I think we’ve also sold to about 22 other countries for translation, which is very exciting. I’ve just been absolutely stunned to see the reviews coming in, and the response of the readers. I’m so incredibly grateful for the generosity, and to know that the book is being enjoyed. It’s the whole point of writing, I think, to reach people, to connect.
The Last Migration is beautiful and gripping but also challenging, in that it dares us to imagine a world in which nature–and human life–has been hollowed out by the disappearance of wild animal life. What was the inspiration for the novel, and how did you go about creating it? What challenges and discoveries did you face in its writing?
Toni Morrison said ‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’ And this book was like that for me. It just felt necessary for me to engage with this climate crisis in a personal, intimate way, to write about something that’s breaking my heart. For me, when I write, the main priority is to move a reader, to make them feel something, and I think that happens when you can write from an honest and intimate place. And I think it’s true that we’re all starting to feel the loss of our natural world in a viscerally painful way. We’re connected by it. But I didn’t know quite how to engage with that, not at first.
First I went travelling. I wanted to explore Ireland and get to know the land my ancestors were from as I’ve always had a fascination for it. I also went to Iceland, an extraordinary place, and saw the beautiful graylag geese, which got me thinking about migratory birds and the incredible journeys they take, and the type of people that study these birds. I think that’s how the story of an ornithologist who decides to chase the last flock of Arctic terns from one end of the earth to the other came about.
So it was Franny who came first, it’s always character first for me. And as I got to know her, and understand this journey she was on, and why, I started to realise the kind of world I needed to place her in to really be able to tell her story with impact, and to safely engage with my own fear around the climate crisis. So that’s how the environmental side of this book got slowly drawn in – to support her. And the truth is that the more I wrote about it, the more I explored it, the more concerned I became. I discovered that in the last 50 years alone, humans have killed over 60% of all wild animal life on the earth. That statistic is almost incomprehensible in its enormity and it broke my heart, and I knew instantly that I needed to set the book in this future, to show how close it really is.
Like all your books, The Last Migration has a strong visual, indeed cinematic quality, as well as a lovely poetic sense. How do you think your work as a screenwriter has influenced your work as a fiction writer? And is there any talk of a screen adaptation of the book?
Learning the craft of screenwriting was an amazing way to learn about story. I learnt about how to structure stories and where to place certain major moments for a character to get the most emotional impact, I learnt about drawing a complex character and challenging them to transform, I learnt about genre and theme. It was also very good training for my prose, which I tend to overwrite; screenwriting schools you to be simple and strong with your word choice. You need to convey a lot in few words, and I think that’s great advice for any writing style. So all in all, it helped me improve my writing enormously.
And yes, there has been talk of a screen adaptation – we’ve fielded a few offers and are still in the negotiating stages. I have my fingers crossed it could one day be a film or tv series!
The Last Migration is sometimes described as a ‘debut novel’, or alternatively as a ‘first literary novel,’ but of course you have written several other excellent novels, most of which are in the speculative fiction genre. Indeed, it could be said that the near-future dystopian world of The Last Migration has a definite speculative-fiction element. What are your thoughts on this? How do you yourself view The Last Migration as against the background of your other books?
Yes it’s interesting that it’s being called my debut novel, which I think came about because the US publishers who picked the book up first wanted to ‘break me out’ in America as a debut author, so it was called my US literary debut, but as you’ve said I’ve written multiple fantasy and sci-fi books published in Australia. And I agree, The Last Migration is speculative, certainly – as I mentioned above, I decided to set the book a stone’s throw into the future, during the peak of the animal extinction crisis. And maybe this is a comfortable space for me, looking ahead to the ‘what ifs’. I got good practice at it in my dystopian sci-fi series, but I wanted this book to feel different. I intentionally didn’t want it to feel dystopian because in a way that places human suffering at the heart of the story, whereas I was more interested in removing us from the centre of all things and looking at the loss of the animals as a tragic thing, not just because of what they have to offer us, but because they’re wondrous in their own right. We’re not the only living things that matter. And so I guess that shift in focus, and leaving the world of the novel as otherwise unchanged, places the book less in the sci-fi realm and more in the fiction genre.
As a young writer just out of school, you self-published your first novel, which was acquired a few years later by a trade publisher and republished. And you’ve gone from strength to strength since then. Can you tell us a bit about your journey as a writer, from those early days to now?
I started writing books when I was 14, totally in love with telling stories. As you mentioned I self published that first book and then was very lucky when it got picked up by a trade publisher. That led to me acquiring an Australian agent, and publishing several more books with multiple Australian publishers. I think I was about 25 when I realised I really wanted to learn more about the craft of telling stories, and so that’s when I enrolled at film school to study screenwriting. And that led me to want to travel and see the world, which in turn led me to The Last Migration. I’ve worked in film and television development too, but currently I’m writing novels full time and couldn’t imagine wanting to spend my life doing anything else. I feel so lucky that I’m able to, and hope it can continue!
What’s next for you as a writer–what is the next project you are working on?
I’ve spent the last year and half (while I waited for The Last Migration to be released) writing and editing my next literary novel ‘Creatures, All’, which is the story of a wolf biologist charged with reintroducing wolves to a forest in the Scottish Highlands in order to rewild the landscape. It’s a mystery and a love story and a story about the healing power of nature – which is a common theme for me these days! That will be released in the US this time next year, and hopefully here in Australia too.
Find out more about The Last Migration here.
Charlotte’s website is here.
Facebook author page here.
Twitter page here.
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!
This week is launch week for A House of Mud, and to celebrate, there’s all kinds of things planned. A ‘real-world’ launch is happening today at 4pm at Reader’s Companion in Armidale, and a virtual launch on Saturday (July 25) . The virtual launch will include both some great pre-recorded videos which you can view at your leisure on the United Publishers of Armidale website(will provide the link on Saturday), and also a live Zoom Q and A session with me, the illustrator Katrina Fisher, and publishers Peter and Kathy Creamer of Little Pink Dog Books, on Saturday at 3.30 pm. The Q and A session is free, but you need to book, here.
There’s also a wonderful activities page for the book on the United Publishers of Armidale website, which includes a presentation by me on the story behind the story of A House of Mud, a link to some great activities created by Katrina for kids, and this fascinating video by her on the stage-by-stage process of creating the beautiful visual world of A House of Mud. Enjoy!
I am delighted to reveal the gorgeous cover of Four on the Run, my chapterbook for young readers, illustrated throughout by the wonderful Cheryl Orsini. The fabulous cover illustration is by Cheryl of course, and the lively design is by Authors’ Elves. The book is coming out with Christmas Press in September.
I absolutely loved writing this fun little book, about the adventures of a quartet of lovable vintage vehicles who run away from home, and I was thrilled when Cheryl, whose illustrations of friendly, characterful vehicles I’ve loved in others of her books, agreed to illustrate my story.
Here’s the blurb of the book:
Maxie, Fergie, Flash and Lady are good friends who live in Mrs Brown’s farm shed. Life isn’t exciting, but they’re happy. Until the day they learn that Mrs Brown wants to sell them–to the scrap yard! So they decide to run away, and life suddenly becomes very exciting for the four lovable machines in a series of adventures that puts them in more trouble than they ever imagined!
Written by award-winning author Sophie Masson, with lively, appealing pictures by acclaimed illustrator Cheryl Orsini, Four On the Run is a fresh, funny and original chapter book which is great fun both for reading aloud and for young readers to read by themselves.
I am one very lucky author: last month I got my beautiful first advance copy of The Snowman’s Wish, my picture book with Ronak Taher, to be published by Dirt Lane Press in July. And today, I got my gorgeous first advance copy of A House of Mud, my picture book with Katrina Fisher, to be published by Little Pink Dog Books in August! (The book can also be pre-ordered at that link).
A House of Mud is a gorgeous production, with lively, warm and characterful illustrations by the very talented Katrina Fisher and fabulous design and layout by the wonderful team at Little Pink Dog Books. It’s very special too because the story is based on our own real-life experience years ago of building our beautiful mudbrick house near Armidale in northern NSW—an experience which included the lively involvement of our young children—and our family dog, Tess!
Seeing A House of Mud become a picture book has long been a dream of mine and I am delighted to hold it in my hands at last, and turn its pages while still living in the very same lovely hand-made house that inspired it!
Below you can see some of the wonderful internal pages–includes some great endpapers for which Katrina used photos of some of David’s actual plans for the house!
Yes: THAT moment! Every writer knows what it’s like, when you’ve worked on a novel for months and months, maybe even years, and finally you get to a point where you know, you just know, everything’s worked, all the strands have been woven in satisfactorily, your work for the moment is done–and you can write THE END! Even though I take out those words before I send the ms off to my agent, I do find it satisfying to type them in before that, as I actually finish, just for the sheer, if maybe childish 🙂 pleasure of seeing it there in black and white, even for a moment.
And with this particular novel I’ve just finished, it was even sweeter to do that. In a post last month for the international writing blog Writer Unboxed, I wrote about the difficulties I was having in finishing this novel, in these very ‘singular times’. Although it was literally almost finished–I had just written the second-last chapter- when the pandemic shutdown first started really making an impact on our lives here in Australia, back in mid-March, the novel just came to a stuttering halt and for weeks and weeks I just couldn’t bring myself to even go near it. It’s an adult novel this time, a multi-POV narrative with many enjoyable twists and turns, set in France, with both Australian and French characters, and I’d loved writing it up till that time. Coming to a stuttering halt wasn’t an experience I’d had before, not at this point in a novel, anyway–normally, when I get so close to the end, there’s no way I want to stop. But the turmoil of feelings brought on by the situation we were all so suddenly in had led to a lack of purpose, a sense of irrelevance, which made it pretty much impossible to finish the novel, try as I might. In the end I just laid it aside and worked on other things, as I describe in that Writer Unboxed post–creative activities to put online, journals, bits and bobs of all sorts. Slowly, doing that began to change things–and by the time I wrote the Writer Unboxed post in mid-May, I had gone back to the novel, advancing again, albeit much slower than I was used to. And then, just a few days later, suddenly, the ‘oomph’ for the novel came back, I knew exactly how to finish, and for days after I wrote and rewrote the last chapter and the epilogue and went back over the novel, carefully. Until yesterday, the first day of a new month, the first day of winter, when, filled with more than the usual exhilaration, I finally typed those magic words: THE END!
Today, on Writer Unboxed, the international writing blog to which I am a regular contributor, I write about the impact that these very strange times we are all going through has has on my writing life, and how I’ve tried to deal with it in various ways.
I wrote it in the hope it may help other writers struggling with the same things, and on Writer Unboxed, I’ve asked to hear about other people’s experiences–and I hope readers of this blog might visit Writer Unboxed and consider sharing theirs.