A bit about the world of The Ghost Squad…

What if there was scientific proof not only that the afterlife existed, but that everyone had an afterlife marker, similar to a genetic marker, that coded them irrevocably for their existence post-life? What if that explosive proof had been hidden from the general public by a worldwide conspiracy of silence, supposedly in order to protect the population from panic, but actually to facilitate secret experiments being conducted to push the boundaries of government surveillance and control, even beyond death itself? 

In the world of The Ghost Squad, everything seems normal to most people, the new normal that is, with all electronic communication strictly controlled and social media banned. Twenty years previously, a major solar storm had caused a massive electro-magnetic pulse which not only knocked out all computer-controlled technology and power around the world for quite some time, but triggered what became known as the Anomaly, the first indication of the afterlife markers of human beings. Since then, the followers of Hermes, a secretive whistle-blower, who operate out of an underground network, the Base, have been attempting to bring knowledge of the secret to the population in general. They are locked in a constant clandestine struggle with the forces of the Ghost Squad, who work for secret government research centres known as PLEIFs (short for Post-Life Entity Index Facility) , who are known to abduct people whose unusual afterlife markers show them to be of particular experimental interest.

The Ghost Squad is set in a contemporary/near-future time, in places which have deliberately not been tethered to real-world geography, though several settings are inspired by real-world places, including in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the UK, and Russia.

New blog series: Writing an audio novel, part 1

Introduction

Readers of this blog may remember that just before Christmas I got some very welcome news: I was awarded a grant by Create NSW, the NSW Government’s arts-funding body, to create the ms of A Turn off the Path, a short novel for adults which I’m writing specifically for the audio format. This will be then submitted by my agent to Audible for consideration for their Audible Originals list.

It’s an exciting new challenge for me and I’m so delighted to be able to work on over the next few months, thanks to the generous Create NSW grant. I’ve been doing a bit of background research for it since early this month but have now started work on it, with the draft of the first chapter begun yesterday. Over the next few months, as I write it, I’m also going to post regularly about the book and what it’s like to write a novel with an eye(or rather an ear!) to the audio format: thought that might be of interest to other writers contemplating the possibility of doing the same. This post introduces that series with a bit about what A Turn off the Path is about, and in future posts I’ll write about the background to it, why I wanted to write it, and how or indeed if the writing of an audio novel differs from one that you intend for print.

Something about the story:

Set in the picturesque French Basque town of Saint Jean Pied de Port (Donibane Garazi in Basque) in May 2017, A Turn off the Path is centred around twin Australian sisters, Helen and Alex Dorian, who are in the town at the start of their planned walk on the famous Camino, the pilgrim route to Santiago del Compostella. It’s something they’ve wanted to do since they were very young, but it’s only now, as they approach their fiftieth birthday, that they’ve finally found the time to do it. But when Helen injures her leg on the very day of their arrival, she has to stay behind in the town while Alex proceeds with their plans, and a very different experience to what they’d hoped for unfolds for the sisters. And when Helen unexpectedly meets an old schoolmate who is in Saint Jean to explore his Basque family roots, events really take ‘a turn off the path.’

This will be a lively, warm and thoughtful novel, exploring relationships, the past’s effect on the present, and the dream and reality of the modern pilgrim experience. It also has a strong sense ofplace and culture: as my mother’s family is part-Basque and has always lived in the Basque country, and two of my own sisters now live there too, I know the area well and I’ve been to Saint Jean Pied de Port itself many times from my childhood onwards.

A street in Saint Jean Pied de Port (Donibane Garazi): photo by Sophie Masson

Something about The Ghost Squad…

In the next few weeks, leading up to the release of The Ghost Squad, I’ll be posting snippets about the book, its background and inspirations, but I thought I’d start today with a short outline of the story, which includes the back cover blurb but expands a bit on it…

Imagine a world where all seems normal and yet nothing is – a world very much like our own, yet jarringly unlike. A world where two clandestine organisations, the Ghost Squad and the Base, are engaged in a secret battle for control of information so dangerous it could literally change life as humans have always known it…

Sixteen-year old Polly Sikorski lives an ordinary life in an ordinary small town with her mother, a homicide detective. But when her mother goes missing while investigating a case, Polly is catapulted into a very different life, where nothing will ever be the same again. Running from the police, she encounters seventeen-year old Swan, a tough young Base operative. On their way to shelter, they come across a little boy, Kel, who’s on the run, and take him under their wing. It is a momentous decision that will take them into the dark heart of the shattering secrets that lie behind the apparent normality of the world. Battling to find answers and protect Kel from his pursuers, they run into greater and greater danger.  As the Ghost Squad and the Base close in on them and the story races to its thrilling conclusion in the eerie, steam-wreathed town of Hot Springs, Polly and Swan must face the most stunning discovery of all.

A bold, exciting YA novel with thrilling twists and turns, The Ghost Squad is a novel that will keep readers guessing – and keep them awake at night!

New year, new book, new projects

I

t’s the 6th of January, Twelfth Night in old tradition, and I thought it would be a good day to post something about what’s coming up for me, book-wise, in 2021, both new releases coming out and new projects I’ll be working on this year.

So first of all, I’m soon going to be celebrating the release of my first YA novel in three years. This is The Ghost Squad, which is coming out with MidnightSun Publishing on 1st of February. I am so excited about the publication of this novel, which already got a fantastic advance review before Christmas! Over the next few weeks, leading up to the book’s release and beyond, I’ll be posting some things about the book, its story and characters, but for the moment, you can check out the little introductory video I made about it.

I also have another book coming out this year, a chapterbook for young readers called Four All At Sea, a sequel to my 2020 chapterbook, Four on the Run. Like the earlier chapterbook, it will be illustrated by the wonderful Cheryl Orsini, and will be published by Christmas Press in September this year. Cover reveal coming up in next few months!

And I’ll be working on several new projects this year. This includes a wonderful new mystery project cooked up in collaboration with the fabulous Lorena Carrington which will follow up on our French Fairy Tales book: watch this space for details! And a short audio novel for adults, A Turn off the Path, whose writing has been funded by a generous grant from Create NSW, and which I’m starting work on this week. I’ll be documenting the writing of the novel on this blog: watch this space too for more details! As well, I have ideas for a couple of picture book texts, and the glimmerings of an idea for a possible sequel to The Ghost Squad…I don’t think I’m going to get bored 🙂

A new project for the new year..

Delighted to say that I’ve just heard that I’ve been awarded a Small Project Quick Response Grant from Create NSW, to work in the new year on a fabulous project: the first draft of a short adult novel (around 30,000–35,000 words), intended for the audio format, which I will write over the first four months of the year. As I write it, I’m also going to be documenting its creation through a series of posts on this blog. More soon about the book itself!

It’s going to be such a fun project, an exciting challenge to try my hand at something different, and I am so looking forward to it! And I’m very grateful to Create NSW for their generous support.

Podcast interview about French Fairy Tales

Delighted to announce the release of my interview with Claudine Tinellis’ fabulous podcast, Talking Aussie Books, which has gone live today. It’s very much a discussion focussed around French Fairy Tales and the stories I retold within it. I really enjoyed chatting with Claudine about it all! Also talked about some of my other 2020 books later in the interview.

You can listen to the full podcast interview here.

A seasonal gift to readers: Rebecca Doiley-Bird and the Christmas Case

Every year, I like to offer readers a fun little seasonal story. This year, it’s Rebecca Doiley-Bird and the Christmas Case, featuring a doll from the gorgeous Doiley-Bird series created by my talented friends at Granny Fi’s Toy Cupboard.

Rebecca Doiley-Bird and the Christmas Case

By Sophie Masson

Rebecca Doiley-Bird was fed-up. Out of sorts. Bored. Restless. Frustrated. And just about every other kind of tedious feeling of that sort.

She shouldn’t be bored. She knew that. She was one of the famous Doiley-Birds, a family of world-famous girl detectives who solved mysteries big and small. And each of the sisters had their own special skill. Rebecca’s was photography. With her trusty camera, she had snapped more shots of fleeing criminals and dastardly deeds than most of us have had hot breakfasts. She’d been in all kinds of sticky situations, and unmasked all kinds of villains. But that was the problem. Right now she was on a different sort of case, all on her own, one her sisters didn’t even know about. But what it mostly meant was that she had to sit by a window and wait for her quarry to come out of the house opposite. And they hadn’t moved. Not one inch, not one second! Nobody came into that house, nobody came out of it. It was hours since Rebecca had first got here and in all that time not a soul had been and gone in the place across the street. She was beginning to think she had made a mistake and her hunch had not paid off.

To make matters worse, it was nearly Christmas and Rebecca had not even started shopping for presents. Each year, it was the same. Each year, she promised herself she’d start earlier. Each year, she was the last one to finish. Often it was at the last minute on Christmas Eve that she finally rushed out and bought something. The others all had such good ideas, and sometimes they didn’t even buy presents, but made them. Like Lizette, for instance, who created cool individual handbags—Rebecca treasured hers from last year—and Veronica, who made up new crossword puzzle books for everyone. Rebecca could have given photographs. But she didn’t think those were good enough presents, especially as all her photographs were of crime scenes and stolen loot and crooks caught on camera.

At that moment, there was a movement in the house opposite. Not much, just the twitching of a curtain, and the glimpse of a face, but it was enough. Rebecca raised her camera and took a quick shot, and another, and another. Her heart beat fast. This could mean the case was about to break at last.

Forgetting all about the agony of choosing Christmas presents, Rebecca watched with eagle eyes as the curtain twitched back and in a few moments longer, the front door of the house opposite opened and someone came out. Rebecca took photo after photo. As the person headed down the steps and into the street, Rebecca was already grabbing all her things and racing down the stairs and into the street herself. Keeping a discreet distance between herself and her quarry, she followed them with an unhurried step. 

On they went, into the next street and the next. And there they were, in front of the biggest department store in town. Rebecca’s quarry walked in. Her heart beating even faster, Rebecca took a quick shot of the person going into the store, then hurried after them.

The store glittered with Christmas garlands and lights. Green and white and red trees were decorated with shining baubles, and jolly music filled the air. The store was packed with people, with armfuls of gifts, wrapped with big bows, and children running around everywhere, saying, oh look at that! And that! And that!

But Rebecca took no notice. She was much too busy. Grimly, she followed her quarry up the escalators, to the next floor and the next and the next.  They didn’t turn around. They did not seemed to have noticed they were being tailed by a camera-wielding Doiley-Bird in red shoes. Thank goodness!

At last, the quarry reached their destination. After all the glitter and noise of downstairs, it was dark there, and quiet. The figure plunged through a doorway without looking behind them. Rebecca stopped. Dare she go in after them?

Of course she would. She was a Doiley-Bird! Taking a deep breath, she marched over to the doorway. As she did so, lights snapped on, revealing a sign. SANTA CLAUS CAVE. More lights came on. Rebecca blinked. Her heart beat the fastest it had ever done. And then she stepped boldly into the light and called out, ‘Diamond Dan, alias Santa Claus, you’re nicked!’

In the next breath she gasped, ‘Oof!’ as a figure in red and white came barrelling out of the Cave, sack over his shoulder, knocking her down. But either Diamond Dan was dazzled by the lights or it was Rebecca’s lucky day, but the thief tripped and fell, twisting his ankle as he went down. The sack flew out of his hands, and a glittering shower of jewels—necklaces, bracelets, rings, earrings, and even tiaras—spread all over the floor like a river of stars.

Rebecca’s hunch had been right. Diamond Dan had been using Santa’s sack to store all his ill-gotten gains and that was the very day he was planning on taking it all away!

‘How did you guess?’ croaked Diamond Dan, as Rebecca, snapping photos (for evidence, of course!) stood guard over him, before the police arrived to take him away. ‘Yes how did you?’ asked Rebecca’s sisters, later.

‘It was simple,’ said Rebecca. ‘I couldn’t stop thinking about Christmas shopping. And that made me think of Santa. And his sack. And so when I saw Diamond Dan come out of his house, dressed in a Santa suit, I knew what he was up to!’

‘Curses!’ said Diamond Dan, but Rebecca’s sisters said, ‘Wow!’ And that made Rebecca feel good. Very, very good. Until she remembered. She still had one case to solve. And that was a hard one to crack. What was she going to get her sisters for Christmas?

But maybe you can solve that for her 🙂