Snapshot 2012: Sophie Masson

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoNEW South Wales writer Sophie Masson has written more than 50 books ranging from fantasy to history, mystery to graphic novels. In 2011 her historical novel, The Hunt for Ned Kelly, won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, while her alternative history novel, The Hand of Glory, won the Young Adult category of the 2002 Aurealis Awards. She has also written several novels for adults, and four romantic thrillers for teenagers under the pen-name of Isabelle Merlin.

Her latest novels are The Boggle Hunters (Scholastic), a fantasy adventure for young readers 8-12, and My Brother Will (AchukaBooks), a novel for adults and young adults about a year in the Shakespeare family’s life, as told by William Shakespeare’s younger brother Gilbert. Forthcoming are the YA fairytale thriller Moonlight and Ashes (Random House) and the historical adventure novel for younger readers, Ned Kelly’s Secret (Scholastic).

Your list of fairytale books is getting long! The latest, Moonlight and Ashes, is out this month. What was it about Cinderella that attracted you?
Well, I’ve always loved the story and been fascinated by it and how it’s probably the most common fairytale theme across all cultures and different times — the theme of the neglected, abused, oppressed young girl who is gifted a better life and love of her own. It is a common human longing. The versions of the story I know best are the classic French one, Cendrillon, as told by Perrault (with the fairy godmother); the English one, Tattercoats, collected by Joseph Jacobs (which has a flute-playing gooseherd as the magic-worker, and which I used for my earlier novel Cold Iron) and the German one collected by the Grimm brothers, Ashputtel , which has no fairy godmother or gooseherd but instead a magic tree which grows from a hazel twig that Ashputtel hears about in a dream sent to her by her dead mother. I always liked that version because the Cinderella figure there is much more active than many of the others, and a lot depends on her own strength of character. It’s that which drove the creation of my own Cinderella character, Selena — though I’ve pushed it even further with her. And I’ve made a complete setting for her too — a fully fleshed out world, which is actually an alternative-world version if you like of the late 19th century Austro-Hungarian Empire, with the main setting, Ashberg, based on Prague, which I visited a couple of years ago. Fairytales are extraordinary and always reveal so much when you work with them and this one was no exception. It was an intense emotional experience, writing it.

Your bibliography covers so many genres. In the recently published The Boggle Hunters, you seem to have mixed science fiction with fairy folk fantasy — did that pose any particular challenges?
Not really. What I’ve done is updated many fairytale and folklore motifs and given them a modern twist, so that the Fays and Grays, the rival faery tribes in The Boggle Hunters, invent all kinds of very science-fiction sounding gadgets and suchlike, but in truth they are jazzed-up versions of very traditional things: the IWish card is an update of three wishes, for instance; the ‘glammer’ which the boggle hunters carry with them is a cross between a magic wand, a computer, camera and many other things! It was immense fun to do!

With such a diverse back catalogue of genres and readerships, have you noticed any common themes? Or have you found that some genres suit different themes better than others?
Well there certainly are common themes — among them that Cinderella theme of the neglected and left behind winning through to love and happiness; also an examination of courage and its antithesis, which to me isn’t cowardice so much as cruelty; the world within the world rather than beyond it — I am firmly imbued with the idea of what the Welsh called Annfwn, the ‘In-World’ — the magic world is not outside of ours but living by it and behind it. I think my own experiences growing up as a child between two worlds — France and Australia — and two languages — French and English — have contributed to that. I am also very much interested in metamorphosis in all its forms, and dreams.

What Australian works have you loved recently?
Very recently, I’ve loved Kate Forsyth’s gorgeous riff on the Rapunzel story, Bitter Greens, which weaves three different stories within its historical and magical framework. Richard Harland’s extraordinary steampunk Worldshaker series is also a great recent favourite. And though it’s not brand new, I’ve just read Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier, which is a beautiful, suspenseful and unusual version of another of my favourite fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast, which Juliet has set in Ireland around the 12th century, I think — anyway, there are Norman invaders, so I thought probably that time. (Incidentally, I’m at present writing my own Beauty and the Beast novel , titled Scarlet in the Snow, which is inspired by the Russian version of the story, The Scarlet Flower and set in a country called Ruvenya, within the same basic world as Moonlight and Ashes.)

What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
I’m not sure — but perhaps the biggest change, and challenge, has come actually from general trends in publishing including the global financial crisis, which sort of made things harder for both writers and publishers, and the disruption but also opportunity afforded by e-publishing. Things are still shaking down from all that.

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

Wendy Rule, Midsummer fairies and the Christmas club

wendy rule

Wendy Rule

It’s Midsummer tomorrow here in Melbourne and we’re in the swing of the season with drinks tonight and what should be a fab outing to the Botanic Gardens for A Midsummer Night’s Dream tomorrow. We kicked off last night with Wendy Rule’s Fairy Ball at the gorgeous Thornbury Theatre (except for the loos, which smelled like a bat cave by the end of the night, and the absence of napkins to accompany the scrummy finger food).

Rule is a Melbourne singer-songwriter with an international reputation in pagan circles. She and her guitars were backed with cello, vibraphone, percussion, violin and clarinet last night, playing two sets that included songs from her forthcoming album, Guided by Venus, as well as favourites such as Wolf Sky, Artemis and Hecate.

The first set, heavy on slow songs, struggled to make an impact over the chatter and the delightful squeals of children dancing and playing with balloons, but the second, ramping up the tempo and volume, got us where we needed to be, and filled the dance floor.

The most powerful gig I’ve seen Rule play was in a delicious venue in Brisbane, a converted church, where, to judge by the vibe and appreciative quiet in the room, the audience was mostly pagan, there not just for the music but for the message as well. There was a similar atmosphere last year when Rule and cellist Rachel Samuel played a gig in our backyard. That was a different ‘our’, and a different backyard, but the magic of that night endures.

A highlight of last night’s gig was Zero, a song Rule dedicated to the energy of creativity. Midsummer was a good time, she said, for looking ahead to projects about to begin, and back to those accomplished. A time to take stock, and draw up energy for the year ahead.

Sitting at the gig, watching the parade of fairy wings and glitter faces, I was reminded of a recent discussion on Radio National about atheism. The discussion itself was illuminating, offering a wide variety of experiences explaining why callers did not believe, or had abandoned their belief, in a deity. (The Life Matters episode was anchored off a new collection of essays about atheism, 50 Voices of Disbelief co-edited by Aussie Russell Blackford.)

The program’s website has a comment board, where one delightful respondent opined that those who didn’t belong to the Jesus club had no right to celebrate Christmas. So, presumably, all these little fairy kids in front of me, prancing and laughing in their colourful costumes, were denied a present under the tree because of their parents’ non-Christian beliefs. As if Santa Claus has anything to do with the Christian faith. Given the festival has been appropriated from pagan origins anyway, how downright cheeky and short-sighted. And, of course, how bloody typical of the fascism that turned me off organised religion in the first place.

Humans are social animals who like to feel they belong. I get that. What I don’t get is that we make this feeling through a policy of exclusion. You can belong to God’s love club, but only if you meet certain requirements. Otherwise, you burn, and good riddance to you. Is this “with us or against us” approach really the best social construct we can find?

Don’t get me wrong. I fully appreciate the commonsense laws, fundamentally Christian, that grease the wheels of modern Western society. The do unto others, the shalt not kills and covets… a lot of these make perfect sense. But to tell me who I should love? To dictate my path to understanding my spirituality and my relationship with the world and the people around me? To tell a whole lot of other people that they’re damned because they belong to a different club, and treat them as such? I don’t think so.

Christmas is a time to get in touch and share the love. We should be doing it all year round, but we’re busy, aren’t we? But to take time out as a community, to draw a breath, once a year, and remind ourselves of who and what’s important, of our blessings and our achievements and our goals, well, that seems a good idea to me. Regardless of which club you belong to.

Merry Christmas. Or whatever you call it, and however you celebrate it. Enjoy, and share the love. Blessed be.