Prolific French-Australian author Sophie Masson has charmed both children and adults with her richly beautiful fantasy stories. Her most recent book is Trinty Book 2 – The False Prince.
Tell us about your Trinity series.
The Trinity series is a duology which is set in modern Russia, against a background of hard-nosed corporate skulduggery, dark historical echoes and supernatural and magical elements that thread themselves in and out of the story. It’s a fairly unique series, I think, in that what I’m attempting to do is paint a kind of metaphorical portrait of the extraordinary nature of Russia and its culture while telling a gripping, genre-bending story with vivid characters and unexpected elements. Trinity–Book 1, The Koldun Code; and Book 2, The False Prince, are centred around the viewpoints of main characters Helen Clement, a young Londoner who by background is part French-part-American; Maxim Serebrov, an experienced, disillusioned Moscow homicide detective, and in the second book, another couple of characters who are very ambiguous but very interesting too(don’t want to say exactly who they are for fear of spoilers!).
What initially inspired you to write the Trinity books?
Russia–and a fascination I’ve had with that country and its culture since I was a child–and the two visits I’ve made there, in recent times, really increased that and also gave me the rich texture for Trinity as well as opening me up to some unexpected discoveries–such as the fact that magic and the supernatural are very present not only in traditional pre-Revolutionary culture, but very much today as well. You can read more about that aspect of it here: http://firebirdfeathers.com/2014/10/31/trinity-inspirations-old-magic-and-new-psychics/
What are you working on now?
I;m working on a novel called The Ghost Squad, a speculative fiction YA novel. It’s part of my PHD work–I’m currently enrolled as a PHD student in Creative Practice at the University of New England, and part of the project is writing that novel, plus an associated exegesis which is looking at YA speculative fiction with the theme of the afterlife! It’s really fantastic and I’m much enjoying both the reading and the writing. As well, I have several picture-book texts I’m working on(two have already been accepted) as well as a book of light fantasy short stories for younger readers.
You’re also very involved in Eagle Books translation of Jules Verne’s Mikhail Strogoff which is due out in April 2016. How did that happen? Will Eagle bring out more Jules Verne translations?
I’m one of the co-directors and founding partners of Eagle Books, which is a new imprint of small publisher Christmas Press, which we founded in 2013. Eagle Books will specialise in wonderful adventure novels for readers 11 and up, that can also be pleasurably read by adults. Our launch title is the wonderful limited edition of Jules Verne’s Mikhail Strogoff, in a fantastic new translation by Stephanie Smee, and illustrated by David Allan. That book is very important to me–in its original French(titled Michel Strogoff), I read it at age 11, and it was the book that made me fall in love with Russia and that has really marked me both as a writer and reader. But the English translations of it(from 19th century) were stodgy and dated and did not fairly represent the original book. Stephanie is a friend–I had first met her when she translated some fantastic classic French children’s fiction by the Countess de Segur, bestselling translations published by Simon and Schuster–and it was just so wonderful that she agreed that Eagle Books should publish her wonderful translation of my favourite childhood book! It really is a dream come true. I edited the book as well as writing the foreword–a real privilege to be helping to bring back to English speaking readers a book that in France is considered to be Verne’s masterpiece and very influential there.
We might bring out more Verne translations–we’ll see! There are many that he wrote that are not well known in English speaking countries–but Mikhail Strogoff, which some critics have called the ‘best adventure novel ever written’, is clearly the most exciting!
Many of your books are have background in folk and fairy tale. What do you like about using fairy tales as a source material?
Fairy tales are wonderful because they are both so deep and so wide–so capacious of meaning but also light on detail so that you really have a wonderful framework to work on from the start. They have a great richness about them and yet a great simolicity which I find very appealing.
You write for both adults and children. Which group do your prefer writing for?
I like writing for both–depends on the story! That said, I feel freer in a sense when I write for children and young adults–there are not so many categories and restrictions in terms of genre–nobody minds if you blend them, whereas in adult fiction, it seems sometimes that people don’t like it if you do that!
What’s your writing process for books? Do you throw a lot away? Do you write every day? Are you a planner or do you fly by the seat of the pants?
I write at least a chapter or two a day–go over the previous day’s work before I start the next–so that the book is built up in such a way that I’ve already revised by the time I get to the end of the first draft. I do write most days, and I always write more than I need and am happy to cut, then. I’m not a planner as such but I do know where I want my story to end up, and I do know the first few chapters pretty well before I start. And because of the way I work, I do a kind of reverse planning process which means that things slot in very nicely as I’m going.
How do you go with social media? What do you do to increase interest in your work and how much time do you spend on it? Any tips?
My main social media activity is with my blog, www.firebirdfeathers.com where I don’t just post about my own work but in fact mostly do lots of interviews and feature guest posts. It’s got quite a few readers, which is great! I also use Facebook a lot and Twitter is linked to that and that seems to work well. Tips? Well, I think, with a blog, it’s a good idea to have a variety of things you post about, don’t make it wholly focussed on your own work(for your own sake as well as readers!) And with FB/Twitter etc, my experience suggests it’s best to link FB to Twitter rather than the other way around.
What 3 artworks (books, music, visual arts, films) have most inspired you?
Jules Verne’s Mikhail Strogoff; the Tintin books–as works of art as well as stories–I adore Herge’s work and other French ‘bandes dessinees’ which I was brought up on, that ligne claire style especially; and The Godfather (film) as well as Shakespeare in Love. If I can squeeze in another artwork, I love an unusual little Renaissance portrait of a little boy(attached), son of the artist Francesco Caroto(1480–1555) –the little boy is showing off his own stick-figure artwork in a most endearing and delighted way. Really makes the centuries fall away…
In terms of music, I am very eclectic and like all kinds of genres, from folk to jazz to rock to medieval and baroque; but I guess, sticking to the Russian theme, that The Song of the Volga Boatmen(as sung by the Red Army Choir!) has resonated for me down the years since I first heard it as a kid–my dad being very fond of the music of the Red Army Choir. When I heard it sung in Russia itself, in a lovely little room in a small kremlin(citadel) by the side of the Volga in the ancient town of Uglich(where much of the first Trinity book is set) I just burst into tears, it was so magnificent and so resonant with my own past as well as that of the place I was in…