Masson, Sophie 1959-
Masson, Sophie 1959-
Born 1959, in Jakarta, Indonesia; married David Leach; children: Philippa, Xavier, Bevis. Education: Earned B.A. and M.A.
Novelist and author of essays and short fiction. Worked various odd jobs in Australia; former journalist.
Arthurian Association of Australia, Australian Society of Authors, Children's Book Council of Australia.
Fire in the Sky, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1990.
Birds of a Feather, Mammoth (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1996.
The Troublemaker, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1997.
Small World, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2000.
(Editor) The Road to Camelot (children's fiction anthology), Random House Australia (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2002.
Also author of A River through Time and No Place like Home, based on the television series Guinevere Jones.
"SEYRAC" NOVEL SERIES; FOR CHILDREN
The Opera Club, Mammoth (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1993.
The Cousin from France, Mammoth (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1994.
Winter in France, Mammoth (Melbourne, Australia), 1994.
The Secret, Mammoth (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1996.
Family Business, Mammoth (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 2000.
Sooner or Later, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1991.
A Blaze of Summer, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1992.
The Sun Is Rising, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1996.
The Gifting, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
The Tiger, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
Red City (sequel to The Gifting), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
Clementine, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1999, St. Mary's (Winona, MN), 2000.
Family Business, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2000.
The Green Prince, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2000.
The Firebird, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2001.
The Hand of Glory, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2002.
The Lost Island, Hodder Children's Books (London, England), 2003.
Dame Ragnell, Hodder Children's Books (London, England), 2003.
The Tempestuous Voyage of Hopewell Shakespeare, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2003.
In Hollow Lands, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2004.
Snow, Fire, Sword, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2004, Eos (New York, NY), 2006.
Malvolio's Revenge, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2005.
The Tyrant's Nephew, Random House Australia Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2006.
The Maharajah's Ghost, Random House Australia Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2007.
The Secret Army, ABC Books (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2008.
"STARMAKER" NOVEL SERIES; FOR YOUNG ADULTS
Carabas, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1996, published as Serafin, St. Mary's (Winona, MN), 2000.
Cold Iron, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1998, published as Malkin, St. Mary's (Winona, MN), 2000.
The First Day, St. Mary's (Winona, MN), 2000.
"THOMAS TREW" NOVEL SERIES; FOR YOUNG ADULTS
Thomas Trew and the Horns of Pan Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2006.
Thomas Trew and the Hidden People, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2006.
"LAY LINES" ADULT FANTASY SERIES
The Knight by the Pool, Bantam (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1998.
The Lady of the Flowers, Bantam (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1999.
The Stone of Oakenfast, Bantam (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2000.
The Forest of Dreams (omnibus), Bantam (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2001.
The House in the Rainforest (adult novel), University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1990.
The Hoax (adult novel), Mandarin Australia, 1997.
(Coauthor) The Prince (play), produced in Armidale, New South Wales, Australia, 2001.
Walking in the Garden of the Mind, Altair Australia (Blackwood, South Australia, Australia), 2005.
Contributor of reviews, short fiction, and essays, to numerous periodicals, anthologies, and Internet journals, including Phantasies, Slightly Foxed, Good Readings, Magpies, and Quadrant.
Several of Masson's novels have been adapted as audiobooks.
Sophie Masson is a writer of fairy tales and novels for young adults that have earned critical acclaim for the depth of their historical detail. Amidst settings that range from medieval France to a modern-day drama club, books such as The Firebird, her "StarMaker" fantasy series, and the modern-day fantasy Snow, Fire, Sword feature characters who struggle with their self-identity and seek to forge closer ties with others. Books for younger readers include her novel Thomas Trew and the Hidden People, which joins several other series installments in following a ten-year-old misfit who learns that he possesses a special skill when he discovers the secret world of the Hidden People. As the Australian-based Masson asserted, her primary goal in writing is "to tell a good story"; "to make readers escape into a wonderful world; to take them on amazing journeys, including into other people's hearts; to make them feel what it's like to be someone else. And to have fun."
The third of seven children, Masson was born in 1959, in Indonesia, where her father was then working. Before her first birthday, she was brought to her parents' native France, where she was raised by her grandmother until her parents' return five years later. Due to her father's job in international construction, Masson spent the rest of her childhood alternating between her family's home in rural France and their second home in Sydney, Australia. As the author later explained to an interviewer, "having to cope in two languages and two cultures was a good thing …, because it enriched my experience and my vocabulary."
"I was aware of stories from a very early age," Masson recalled. "I come from a family where stories are very important—stories of real life, of legends, of adventure, of all kinds. We know a lot about my dad's family particularly—they have traced it back to the sixteenth century—and so we grew up listening to stories of the ex-
ploits of our ancestors. But also stories of the woods and rivers and mountains and villages of France. Dad would also make up scary stories for us, and tell us stories of the past, often in spots where great or tragic events had happened…. I loved stories with a passion, straight away; one of my earliest memories is of sitting in the sun in my grandmother's apartment in Toulouse, reading and dreaming over a book I had called Le livre bleu de contes de fees—the Blue Book of Fairy Tales—which had ‘Rapunzel,’ ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ and ‘Toads and Diamonds’ in it."
As a teen, Masson continued to indulge her childhood love of reading and also drew and spent time with friends. She also began writing "heaps of stories. You'd think being a writer of stories would be the first thing that would enter my head, but in fact it didn't. It wasn't until I was nearly at the end of high school that I realized I could do that. So you see not every writer, even if it's obvious to everyone else around them, actually knows they want to be that thing called a writer…. Once I knew, though, from about the age of sixteen or seventeen, I started sending poetry and short stories off to magazines and newspapers. I mostly didn't get anywhere, but I kept trying. I also sent samples of my stuff to other writers, to famous poets for example, such as Les Murray or Bruce Dawe or A.D. Hope, who in Australia are really, really famous. And they took the trouble to write back…. They were so generous with their time and advice and encouragement for a young writer just starting out."
By the time Masson was a university student, she had amassed several publication credits. Paying for school required her to work a number of odd jobs—including stints in a Laundromat and a pizzeria, as a childcare worker, and delivering newspapers—while continuing to write. "There were days when I had to choose between having lunch and catching the bus home—and home was three hours' walk away from college!" she recalled. Taking time off from school to secure herself financially, Masson worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, finally finishing her degree several years later.
Masson's first published novel, The House in the Rainforest, had its origins in a short story she wrote at age sixteen. While working as a journalist, she expanded it into an adult novel about a young woman returning to the village where she was born. After submitting this manuscript to a publisher, she started right in on a second book: this one a children's time-travel novel in which the main characters move between modern Australia and medieval France. In 1990 both The House in the Rainforest and Masson's first children's book, Fire in the Sky, were published, starting her on her way to a career as a full-time writer.
Focusing most of her fiction on a young-adult readership, Masson has authored stand-alone novels as well as several installments in her "StarMaker" series. Her love of history as well as story allows her to range freely throughout time and place, and her characters frequently encounter hidden worlds. In The Firebird she mines Russian folklore to tell the tale of three brothers who go in search of the mythical Phoenix at the whim of their capricious and greedy father. The Green Prince revolves around Jack Fisher, an orphan living in medieval England. Visiting a local fair, Jack is fascinated by a half-man, half-fish creature named Vagan, who informs the young man that he must leave home to claim his inheritance. As it is soon revealed, Jack is actually the Champion of the Green Kingdom, an underwater land presided over by the Green Prince. The ensuing drama includes a struggle with the evil lord, Grimlow of the Abyss.
Praised by Kliatt contributor Leslie Farmer as "an accessible tale for younger YAs," Snow, Fire, Sword takes place in an island nation based on Indonesia and finds sixteen-year-old Adi and fellow traveler Dewi enmeshed in a struggle involving an evil sorcerer, a pantheon of petulant gods and spirits, and a group of fanatical motorcycle-riding assassins known as the hantumu. Praising Masson's talent for evoking an "elaborate, vividly detailed setting" in her novel, a Kirkus Reviews writer added that the plot of Snow, Fire, Sword moves forward "with artful hints and misdirection to a satisfyingly decisive climax." Sue Giffard wrote in School Library Journal that Masson's fantasy tale "is exciting and action-packed."
Masson's "StarMaker" books include The First Day, Carabas, and Cold Iron—the last two published in the United States as Serafin and Malkin respectively. Here her teen protagonists find themselves in moral quandaries that force them to draw on their personal religious faith in order to triumph over adversity. The First Day centers upon Skye, who is auditioning for the part of Mary Magdalene in her school's planned stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar. The part is instead given to Judith, and Skye is cast as the apostle Peter. Skye now finds herself attracted to the play's lead, Marco, the only actor among the main characters who, like Skye, is also a committed Roman Catholic. Judith was raised among born-again Christians, while Skye's mother is a lapsed Catholic who neglected her daughter's religious education. Adding to the conflict, the
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play's Jewish director now lives with Skye's mom. "Characters are convincingly individuated, and no single perspective or pattern of belief is made to seem more valid than the others," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer, the critic calling The First Day a "provocative" work of fiction.
Loosely based on the "Puss in Boots" fairy tale, Serafin takes place in early eighteenth-century France, and centers upon the teenaged Catou, who is an outcast in her village. Catou's neighbors believe that she possesses magical powers, and they attempt to lynch her as a witch. When the local miller's son, Frederic, comes to the girl's aid, both are exiled and decide to ask the king of France for help. Unbeknownst to her new friend, Catou does indeed possess supernatural powers, including the ability to change into a cat at will. However, she follows "the Law" and uses her powers only to do good. On their journey to the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV, Catou wields her power to obtain food and shelter for herself and Frederic, but feels a growing resentment because she must now look after the young man. Meanwhile, Frederic wonders why Catou is so mysterious about her activities. When the teens encounter Balze, a charismatic stranger who claims to work for Lord Tenebran, Catou senses that the man is a threat. Convincing Frederic to disguise himself as the marquis of Carabas, a purported Spanish aristocrat, Catou dons Frederic's clothes and passes as Carabas's servant boy, Serafin. Reaching the home of Lord Tenebran's brother, their host's daughter falls in love with Frederic in his marquis guise. Meanwhile, Catou, in feline form, secretly visits Tenebran and discovers that the lord has made arrangement with the Devil. "Both young people are prickly but likable characters," noted School Library Journal reviewer Elaine Fort Weischedel, the critic dubbing Serafin an "entertaining and thoughtful story."
In Cold Iron a disinherited, impoverished young woman named Tattercoats has been invited to the earl of Mairnsey's ball, and her friends Malkin the servant girl and Pug the gooseherd urge her to go. Helping her to escape the watchful eye of her autocratic grandfather on the night of the festivities, they also accompany Tattercoats on her arduous journey to the castle. In her novel Masson draws upon an English fairytale, "Tattercoats," as well as on the Cinderella story and Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, for inspiration.
In The Gifting and its sequel, Red City, Masson takes readers even further back in time, setting her tale of mystery and adventure in the last years of the Roman empire. In The Gifting, after Sulia's merchant father dies, she decides to seek out her mother, who abandoned the family years ago when she crossed the seas and returned to her home country, Alainan. During her journey, Sulia meets Rufus, a disturbed boy, and the mysterious Lugan, who claims to have come from the mythic land known as the White Kingdom. Together, the trio become companions and Rufus and Lugan help
Sulia in her search. In Red City Sulia reaches her destination and now must discover the city's key in order to locate her mother's whereabouts.
While most of her books are written with a young-adult readership in mind, Masson has penned several adult novels in addition to The House in the Rainforest. The Hoax revolves around an Australian writer and schoolteacher named Alex who was raised by his scholarly Uncle Julius after the tragic death of his parents. Summoned to his uncle's stately home to celebrate Julius's seventieth birthday, Alex finds his uncle busy working on a book about French composer Maurice Ravel. He also meets a fellow guests, the mysterious Charles Pym. As The Hoax progresses, Alex learns that Pym had written his uncle from France regarding his discovery of documents referencing Ravel's lost sonata, "Le Gouffre" ("The Abyss"). Ultimately, these documents are falsified, and the uncle"s reputation is shattered after Pym vanishes.
Also geared for adult readers, Masson's "Lay Lines" trilogy, which includes The Knight by the Pool, TheLady of the Flowers, and The Stone of Oakenfast, focus on Lady Marie de France. A poetess living in the Middle Ages, Marie encounters strange and sometimes frightening circumstances in her earthbound world as well as in the magical Otherworld. As the novels unfold, she must battle werewolves and other mythic creatures while also navigating the treacherous political intrigue of her day. Like many of her other novels, Masson mixes history with fiction, and actual historical figures make appearances within Marie's story.
"Usually an idea comes into my head months or even years before I work it up into a book," the prolific Masson once explained. "I keep a notebook in which I jot down ideas, impressions, bits and pieces of research and so on. I have to let an idea take its course; it has to ‘ripen,’ in a sense, it has to work away silently in my mind." Masson's writing process involves little planning. Instead, "I write fairly freely," she noted, "instinctively following threads, and though I have a general idea of where things are going, I don't usually have the details. The writing of the first draft usually takes me
anything from a month to five months; then I do second and third and whatever drafts, after I've had comments from other people. I need that input from others very early on, because I'm so close to my work and I write so instinctively. The whole process from starting to write to finishing the last revisions usually takes up to a year. But I'm often working on more than one book at any one time." Research is also important, and for Masson it is one of the exciting aspects of her work. "You often discover amazing things," she noted; "your education never stops! And quite often it leads you on to other ideas for books."
When asked why she decided to write for children, Masson explained that, "actually, writing for children chose me! I'd had such a good time reading as a child, and I really wanted to see if I could reproduce that pleasure myself! Also, many of the stories I wanted to write fitted children's and young people's books especially; it's a much freer, more fun, more magical atmosphere in children's literature, and I thoroughly enjoy it, though I also like writing for adults. The audience I have in mind is the child part of myself that loves stories and always has, though I also think of my kids a bit. The story takes over really and you forget about audiences.
"Young readers are freer, more open in their reading; they pick up all sorts of things but are also impatient if people are preachy or too descriptive. You have to remember to make your sentences strong, supple, but they can still be full of images; your characters must be convincing; the story must be good, a bit of suspense or mystery doesn't hurt, and so on. Young readers don't care if a book's won a prize or not—they are honest readers, who will tell you if they think a book is boring. Equally, though, I think young readers need to have their experience of the world widened; we learn a lot in our childhood books, without realizing it. One has to be aware of that. And I try to be. I think my work does speak to young readers on both those levels."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, May 15, 2006, Jennifer Mattson, review of Snow, Fire, Sword, p. 53.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July-August, 2006, April Spisak, review of Snow, Fire, Sword, p. 509.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2006, review of Snow, Fire, Sword, p. 410.
Kliatt, May, 2006, Lesley Farmer, review of Snow, Fire, Sword, p. 11.
Magpies, March, 2006, Jo Goodman, review of Malvolio's Revenge, p. 40.
Publishers Weekly, March 13, 2000, review of The First Day, p. 82.
Quadrant, November, 1997, Clement Semmler, review of The Hoax, p. 84.
School Library Journal, August, 2000, Elaine Fort Weischedel, review of Serafin, p. 186; October, 2006, Sue Giffard, review of Snow, Fire, Sword, p. 162.
Shakespeare Newsletter, summer, 2003, Paula Glatzer, review of The Tempestuous Voyage of Hopewell Shakespeare, p. 53.
Sophie's Fantastic Castel (author's home page), http://users.northnet.com.au/˜smasson/ (June 20, 2007).