I wrote a little about Sophie when I linked to her interview with me on this blog, but you could never run out of things to say about her passion for good books and commitment to building a successful, respected writing life. Given Sophie’s eloquence and generosity, it seems best just to let her speak, so her answers to my #bookbybook questions are below. I will say this: no interview could capture the extraordinary range of writing. I’ll bet if you asked her many fans about the books they treasure most would like other readers to try, you’d get a vast array of different but valid responses.
- What was the first book you wrote?
It depends which way you look at it! The very first ‘book’ I created was at the age of seven when I wrote and illustrated The Adventures of Princess Alicia, which I stapled up so you could turn the pages – sadly, no copies survive! Then, the next big milestone was the first book I actually completed as an adult (after several false starts with novels I started and then abandoned). This was a big historical novel called The Canadian, based on some of the history of my father’s side of the family, in 19th century Quebec, against a background of rebellion. I was around 23 or so. I sent it around everywhere but it got nowhere though I got some nice comments about it from publishers who nevertheless rejected it! That was the case also with The Witch from Crow River another historical novel set in Quebec, this time in the 17th century (when my ancestors had arrived there from western France). I had not even been to Canada at the time and I think that might perhaps have shown.
Anyway, just a few years later, when I was 27 and had just had my second child (in fact just a week later), I picked up a short story I’d written back when I was 16, which was set on the far north coast of NSW (which I thought terribly exotic but had in fact visited!) and thought, I could turn this into a novel. I did – and the result was my first published novel, The House in the Rainforest, an adult novel set partly in the ‘90s (when it was published) and partly in the ‘70s (when I’d first gone to the north coast). It was not autobiographical, it was just the setting I knew well. While I was waiting to hear back from the University of Queensland Press (to whom I’d sent the novel – they took more than a year to get back to me!) I wrote a children’s novel, a timeslip story set partly in country NSW, partly in medieval France. That was Fire in the Sky, my first published children’s novel. It was published the same year as The House in the Rainforest.
- For which book would you like to be remembered?
Wow, not sure I can answer that – with more than 60 books to my name, it’s hard really to say which one! I suspect that my award-winning historical novel for kids, The Hunt for Ned Kelly, will keep going for a long time: it’s very, very popular and though it came out in 2010 it still sells and sells and sells! But I hope I will be remembered for many others of my novels, of course.
- Is there a book you abandoned partway through?
Yes! When I was a teenager, I started a massive fantasy novel which I intended would use every mythology in the world: nothing like teenage ambition! And of course I ran out of puff about a third of the way through this mammoth story with a cast of thousands. Since then, as a professional author, there have been novels I’ve thought of doing, have written up proposals and sample chapters for, but somehow they didn’t catch the attention of publishers and I’ve never got around to writing them.
- Is there a book you know you’ll never write?
I don’t think I’ll ever write an autobiography. A memoir perhaps of other people in my life – but not focused on myself. I would find that too dull.
- Which book do you believe should have fared better?
The Trinity books: The Koldun Code and The False Prince. Genre-bending adult novels, combining thriller, supernatural, crime, romantic and historical elements, and set in modern Russia, probably the most fascinating place in the world, they were published by Momentum in 2014 and 2015 but somehow did not reach enough people, though people who did read them seemed to really like them (aside from a few gratuitous slams from Goodreads reviewers who seemed to take it badly that I was mixing genres!) I had intended originally to write a third book but don’t think I will now. But you never know, perhaps one day people will rediscover them!
- Have you been surprised by readers’ reactions to a particular book?
Yes – many times to different books actually. More often it’s a nice surprise – a touching one, where people tell you that such and such a book holds a very special place in their life, like more than a few readers have told me about various books; very occasionally because of weird negative reactions that seem quite out of proportion.
- What book do you wish you’d written?
I don’t really think like that. I enjoy reading other people’s books and there are some that I love so much that it’s a deep delight, a pleasure to be alive in a world that had such wonderful writers – but I don’t really wish I’d written those books. I’m just glad there are so many different minds and hearts and souls creating beautiful, funny, clever, powerful books! I just hope some of my books might evoke those feelings too, in other writers as well as readers.
- What are you writing now?
I’m writing a few things: firstly, a YA speculative fiction novel called The Ghost Squad, set 20 years after an event which has completely changed society but in subtle ways (it’s not a dystopia – something rather more complicated than that!) I’m writing it as part of a Creative Practice PhD which I’m undertaking (the other part, the more academic part, is an exegesis looking at afterlife fiction for young adults – a flourishing branch of speculative fiction incidentally!) It’s a novel I’ve wanted to write for years but never had the time to as I was going from book contract to book contract and this novel, being a rather unusual subject and premise, is one I know I have to finish before I can show it to a publisher (usually I work on outlines and sample chapters). Doing it within the PhD is perfect, I’m just loving it. It also means that it’s the only novel I’ll really be focusing on in terms of writing for a couple of years, and meanwhile I’ve been branching out into fiction for much younger readers: especially picture book texts. I’m delighted to say that this is proving to be a very successful new direction: I’ve already got three picture book texts accepted – the books will come out next year, and I’m working on more. As well, wearing my other hat as a small-press publisher, I’m working on preparing and editing other people’s books!
To find out much more about Sophie’s wonderful books – and to be taken to her fabulous blog – click here. You can also follow her on Twitter: @SophieMasson1.