Dream Come True: Bringing a Great Classic Back to Life

Flickr Creative Commons: Ulrike
Flickr Creative Commons: Ulrike

The changes in the publishing industry in recent times can seem really daunting and, like most writers, there are times when I’ve thought dark thoughts about just what the future might hold. But if there are many challenges in the new landscape of publishing, there are also great new opportunities. The rise of self-publishing is one of those opportunities that has been discussed at length, but another that hasn’t been quite so prominently discussed is the fact that the fall in printing prices caused by the advent of digital-based typesetting, design and proofs, as well as new methods of raising money, such as crowdfunding, has meant also a rise in small presses: people, sometimes authors and artists, sometimes not, following their passion and taking on publishing projects that in the past would simply have seemed like a pipe-dream. For me, one of those dreams is actually coming true: being actively involved in reintroducing to English-speaking readers a classic French novel that was one of the great books of my own life.

As a French-speaking child living in both Australia and France, Jules Verne’s great adventure novel Michel Strogoff was my favourite book in the world when I was around 12. The book was enormously influential on me, both as a reader and a writer, leading to a lifelong fascination with Russia and a lifelong love of both reading and writing adventure fiction. I’ve re-read the book many times over since then and love it just as much. An epic chase novel set in Tsarist Russia, it’s also beautifully written. With its mix of vivid characters (including, unusually for Verne, strong and interesting female characters), cracking pace, colourful settings, non-stop action, adventure and suspense, leavened by deft touches of romance and humour, it’s reckoned in France to be Jules Verne’s best novel, and not only has it never been out of print, it’s also inspired dozens of film and TV adaptations.

The one that started it all off: my childhood copy of Michel Strogoff!
The one that started it all off: my childhood copy of Michel Strogoff!

But it always frustrated me that when I mentioned it to English-language friends, they had never heard of it because the only English translation had been done back when the original French edition was first published. That translation was very much of its time, and in my opinion did not capture the liveliness and freshness of the French original, as 19th century popular French novels are much more ‘immediate,’ pacey, and less densely wordy than was the prevailing literary taste in 19th century English-language novels. ‘Michael Strogoff’ as it was titled in English, had been popular in its day—indeed, in the US it was popular enough for not only the first film ever of the book to be made there, in 1914, but also for a small town in Texas to be named after one of its main characters, Strogoff’s tough and indomitable mother, Marfa.

But the translation had dated quite badly and by the time I was growing up, the novel had fallen out of favour in English speaking countries, though in France its enormous influence continued unabated. There, not only writers speak of being first turned on to the love of reading by Michel Strogoff, but people in many other walks of life do as well, including the former President, Nicolas Sarkozy.

As I’m bilingual, I had toyed with the idea of creating a new translation myself but other books and other projects got in the way. And then one day I met the wonderful translator and writer Stephanie Smee, who had just translated the works of another great classic French author, the Countess de Ségur, another childhood favourite of mine.  [Read more…]


On Not Giving Up

cartoon-determination-diamonds-dig-Favim.com-649941This week, my new adult novel, first in a big new series called Trinity, is coming out.

I’m going to be celebrating even more than usual, because this one’s had a long hard road to publication, with nearly four years and several rejections before it was accepted. Even though I’m a well-established author with many books to my name, it looked like this one was fated to remain homeless. ‘Too different’ seemed to be the verdict. A mix of urban fantasy, romance and conspiracy thriller, set in modern Russia, it was outside of my usual genre of YA fiction, and clearly also outside the comfort zone of many publishers.

But I was unwilling to give up.

I really believed in this book. Writing it had been a challenging, enriching and extraordinary experience and its characters and world haunted me.

It was a risky book to write, in all sorts of ways, but deeply thrilling, and I knew there were readers out there who would love it like I did. So I hung on, and in between writing other books, I kept revisiting the novel.

I sent it to good friends who are also writers and listened carefully to their advice and suggestions, and was greatly heartened by the fact they were immediately gripped by the story. I refined it, sculpted it, trying to re-read it with fresh eyes. When we went back to Russia the second time, in 2012, (this time, knowing enough Russian to keep up basic conversations) I rewrote entire paragraphs and even chapters, folding in new impressions of the country and culture into it, waiting for the right moment to send it out once again.

And then that moment came, and so did the right publisher. Joel Naoum of Momentum Books read it, loved it, and ‘got it’ immediately. It was such a thrill, reading his email about my ‘amazing manuscript’ , talking to him in detail about it, and later, meeting the rest of the Momentum team who clearly loved the book, and the idea of the series, as much as he did.

I’ve had a lot of acceptances over the twenty-four years I’ve been a published author, with more than sixty books to my name. And every book is special to me. But this one feels especially sweet, and sitting at my desk writing the sequel as I wait for the first book’s release, I am filled with deep satisfaction. Trinity has found the best possible home. It was well worth the wait.

This experience taught me once again why, as a writer, you should not give up. [Read more…]


Poetry for Children

image from Poetry Center Clip Art,

The arrival of a first grandchild is always a big event in any person’s life, and when that person is a writer, then a lot of the amazing and often unexpected emotions that are triggered by this joyous event find release and expression in what we find as natural as breathing—writing.

But it can be surprising how it comes out, and in my case, the arrival of beautiful little George, my daughter and son in law’s first child, has triggered two forms of writing that I’m not really known for: poetry and picture-book texts. Hardly surprising you might think, given that George, at nearly four months, is already loving being read to (how can he fail to grow up to be a reader, with a literary agent mother and author grandmother?). But in fact though I have already got one one picture book out, and working on others, the rebirth of my poetry instinct is what’s been most unexpected for me.

I say rebirth, because as a teenager that’s practically all I wrote, aside from short stories—I didn’t start tackling novels till I was well out of school. I filled exercise books and notebooks with lots of poetry, with varying results—some I can still read without wincing, others I can hardly bear to look at! But that was then—the poetry was full of angst and romantic adventures (or lack of them) and also attempts at writing in the style of poets I admired, such as WB Yeats and John Donne. What I’m writing now is very different—a return to the patterned, fun, rhymed forms of children’s poetry.

[Read more…]


In Between Worlds

fairy tale trioEver since I can remember, I’ve loved fairy tales, myths, legends, and fantasy. It’s something I responded to instinctively as a young reader, and something I took to easily as a young writer, too. In my imagination and my dreams, journeying to those magical worlds seemed to me as natural as breathing. Of course I was an imaginative child; but it’s only lately that it’s struck me that perhaps there was also another reason why I so took to those genres. For the classic fantasy themes of the journey between worlds, the sojourn in strange places, and the sudden irruption of a different reality into the everyday is at the very heart of my own lived experience.

I come from a family whose ethnic history is to say the least, complex. Taking in French, Basque, Spanish, Portuguese, and French-Canadian, our history was always more than a bit player in all of our lives. People to whom I’ve told even a fraction of the vivid family stories are thrilled by them; they say, No wonder you became a writer!

But it’s more than that, for three things happened to me as a child that were like fairytale gifts: First, though my parents were both born and brought up in France, I was born in Indonesia, as they were expatriates working there at the time; second, because of ill health, I was then taken as a ten-month old baby to live with my paternal grandmother in France for four years, was told many traditional stories by her–and did not see my parents in all that time; and third, I was then taken, at the age of five, to yet another new place, Australia, where I first discovered English. And what’s more the first book I read for myself in English was a Little Golden Book comprising three fairytales–Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel and Toads and Diamonds–in it (there it is, in the centre of the picture). [Read more…]


Take Five with Sophie Masson: The Romance Diaries

January 1st marks the official release day for Sophie Masson‘s latest YA novel published in Australia, The Romance Diaries: Ruby (ABC Books, Harper Collins, available both as paperback and e-book). We’re so pleased she’s with us today to tell us a little more about it, and give us some extra inside scoop, following our Take Five with her. Enjoy!

Q: What’s the premise of your new book?

Sophie: The Romance Diaries: Ruby, which I’ve written under the pen-name of Jenna Austen, is a romantic comedy for tween and early teen readers, inspired by Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’. It’s the first in a series I’m writing, inspired by Jane Austen’s novels. In this one, the main character, 16 year old Ruby, keeps a diary in which she records her matchmaking efforts for her family and friends. Of course, things go wrong–and she almost misses her own romantic boat!

Q: What would you like people to know about the story itself?

Sophie: It’s a warm and involving story of love, friendship and discovery, which offers plenty of laughs, some tears, romance, drama: a real feel-good story with a happy ending but plenty of missteps along the way. All in Ruby’s very particular way of seeing things, which includes her vivid and unusual use of language.

Q: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them? [Read more…]