Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Born in Indonesia of French parents and brought up in both France and Australia, Sophie Masson is the award-winning writer of over 60 books for children, young adults and adults, published in Australia and internationally. Her work covers a wide range of genres, including: mystery, fantasy, thriller, comedy, romance, historical, contemporary, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, picture books and graphic novels. She has also written under the pen names Isabelle Merlin (YA romantic thrillers) and Jenna Austen (romantic comedies for tweens).
In 2014 alone, Sophie published: The Koldun Code, an adult thriller/romance with supernatural elements, set in modern Russia, and first in the Trinity series (Momentum Books); The Crystal Heart, a YA fantasy (Random House Australia); 1914, a historical novel for children (Scholastic Australia); Emilio, a contemporary novel for children (Allen and Unwin); and The Adaptable Author: Coping with Change in the Digital Age, a non-fiction book on the present situation for authors and the publishing industry in Australia (Keesing Press).
Sophie is also one of the founding partners in Christmas Press Picture Books, a small children’s publisher specializing in beautiful picture books featuring traditional tales retold by well-known authors. She is closely involved in the Australian literary scene and has served on the Board of the Australian Society of Authors, the Board of the New England Writers’ Centre, the Literature Board of the Australia Council, the Book Industry Collaborative Council, and the New England and North West sub-branch of the Children’s Book Council of NSW.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS A WRITER?
I began writing as a small child—I just loved stories and there were never enough for me! I used to create lots of illustrated books as a child to give to family and friends, and at school, English composition was my very favourite subject. I kept writing all my childhood and adolescence—and reading as well—so without even knowing it I was practicing for my life’s work as an adult!
My first published story was bought by a newspaper when I was about 19, and from then on I just kept sending off lots of things to magazines and newspapers and getting quite a few published. My next break came in my twenties when I read in a magazine that some editors were looking for stories for an anthology, so I sent them one of mine and they took it! I was also writing novels but it wasn’t until I sent off the third manuscript that I got an acceptance. By then I was nearly 29, but the year I turned 30, I had two novels published, almost at the same time—my first adult novel, and my first children’s novel! Pretty exciting times.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
Trinity: The Koldun Code (Book 1) is an adult thriller/romance with supernatural elements. It was published late last year in both print and e-book format, by Momentum Books. Here’s a bit of a blurb for it:
An unexpected encounter with a handsome stranger in a Russian wood changes the life of 22-year-old traveler Helen Clement forever, catapulting her into a high-stakes world of passion, danger, and mystery. Tested in ways she could never have imagined, she must keep her own integrity in a world where dark forces threaten and ruthlessness and betrayal haunt every day.
Set against a rising tide of magic and the paranormal in a modern Russia where the terrifying past continually leaks into the turbulent present, Trinity: The Koldun Code is a unique and gripping blend of conspiracy thriller, passionate romance and elements of the supernatural, laced with a murderous dose of company politics. With its roots deep in the fertile soil of Russian myth, legend, and history, it is also a fascinating glimpse into an extraordinary, distinctive country and amazingly rich culture.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
I work at a desk in the living room, with a view over our front garden. I’ve never liked shutting myself up in a separate room to write. I come from a big noisy family and so as a kid, I just had to learn to concentrate on writing and reading whilst being in the midst of chaos. I carried that ability into my adult life—when our kids were little, I liked them being able to see me work, and they soon learned to let me do it! Even now when they’re grown up and there’s just me and my husband at home, I prefer to stay at my desk in the living room rather than take over one of the spare rooms!
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
I work 4-5 days a week, depending on what else I have on. Typically, I start work at around 8.30 or 9 and finish around 6. I have a walk first of around 30 mins before I sit down at my computer, and I break for lunch, but otherwise, I work steadily all day—if I’m having cups of tea or coffee, I have them at my desk.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
I am a fast writer and usually write at least one chapter, sometimes two, per day. When I’ve embarked on a novel and am past the first couple of chapters, I’ll start each day looking back over what I wrote the day before, fixing maybe one or two things in it, then on with the next chapter. This means that I’m constantly revising as I go so my first draft is usually pretty reasonable. At the end of a book, I read it all the way through, quickly first, then more closely, and then I send it off to my editor. I love the editing process, working with someone else—it feels like shaping a great statue out of a piece of nice but unshaped marble!
I also do quite a lot of school visits, talks etc, and have to travel often for them. And I’m also involved with a lot of book-centred organizations, so some days are taken up with those kinds of things rather than writing per se.
WHY DO YOU WRITE?
As a child, I heard lots of stories—my family’s always told them—and I’ve always seen the world through that prism. To me, creating stories is as natural as breathing, and I need it pretty much as much! That is still exactly what compels me—creating stories, living in their world, and sharing them with other people.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
I get ideas from all sorts of places: life experiences, observations, items from the news, traditional stories like myths, legends, fairytales, from classics and dreams and travel and from random thoughts—everything goes into the story pot! I have never had writer’s block. I can’t imagine ever running out of ideas!
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
It’s the same as it ever was—the constant challenge of staying published, of interesting publishers in your work, of reaching readers. I’ve been very lucky as a writer in that I’ve made a living at it for many years now, but I never take anything for granted and I keep an eye out for opportunities; I stay flexible while also never sacrificing my integrity.
Also, I never allow myself to dwell on rejections but simply pick myself up and try again. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy to do that though! There are always times when you think, what if the publishing dries up? What if I can’t get anyone interested? But I don’t dwell on that either. It sharpens the wits but you can’t allow it to sour the writing!
WHAT IS YOUR VISION AS A WORD ARTIST OR BOOK INDUSTRY PROFESSIONAL?
My personal goal is just to keep writing and being published for as long as I can tell a story!
In the literary world in general, I’d like to see more risks taken by big publishers, better royalty rates for authors from traditional publishers, especially when it comes to e-books, and no piracy!
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE AUTHORS?
Agatha Christie, Sigrid Undset, Charlotte Bronte, Mary Stewart, JK Rowling, Jane Austen, Liane Moriarty, Tove Jannsson, Katherine Pancol, Juliet Marillier, Kate Forsyth, Wendy James, Angela Carter, Daphne du Maurier—and many, many more!
One unusual one I love too is Marie de France, a 12th-century French writer of what we would now call fantasy. She was the first to use Arthurian legends in her work, before even Chretien de Troyes, and in France she is well known. Her romances—set both in the real world of the court and in the fairy world—were very popular in her time, as were her fables. I think she should be better known as a great prototype wordmother who really influenced literature! I even wrote a 3-part historical fantasy saga about her and her work; it’s called Forest of Dreams (Random House Australia).
WHICH FEMALE AUTHOR WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Wendy James, a wonderful Australian author whose novels are a riveting cross between family dramas and psychological suspense.
Thank you, Sophie Masson!
— Nicole Melanson
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