{Interview} Sophie Masson, author of MOONLIGHT AND ASHES

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Renee of the NEHOMAS2 channel on YouTube
interviewed Sophie Masson on The Book Rat recently
for Fairy Tale Fortnight.
The interview is phenomenal and so in-depth, 
so check it out!

I've been wanting to get my hands on so many of Sophie Masson's books since first hearing about MOONLIGHT AND ASHES.  I've been pulling out all the stops, such as petitioning RandomHouse on Twitter!  And you know what? It's paying off!

MOONLIGHT AND ASHES releases in bookstores across the USA on Sept. 1, 2013,
and it's sequel, SCARLET IN THE SNOW, comes out on Oct. 1, 2013.

SNOW, FIRE, SWORD has previously come to the US, and I was lucky enough to snag a bargain copy from Amazon last year, but it may only be available to you as an ebook now because it's sadly gone out of print.  A couple of her other titles are available as well, but the fairy tales are the ones I'm coveting for now!

Sophie has had more than 50 novels published in Australia and internationally, mostly for young adults and children, but also for adults, including the internationally-selling Forest of Dreams, an adult fantasy trilogy based on the life and work of the medieval French writer Marie de France. Much of her work for children and young adults has also been in the fantasy genre, but she has also written ghost stories, mysteries, thrillers, family stories and a graphic novel

Visit Sophie on her website and Twitter!
An interview with 
Sophie Masson

With the release of MOONLIGHT AND ASHES, next month's SCARLET IN THE SNOW, and the upcoming THE CRYSTAL HEART, you're producing so many tales that take place in the same world. What is it like to work with the same atmosphere over multiple books? As a writer, what elements are easiest and hardest to work with?

It's absolutely wonderful to be able to work in the same world! I know it well by now and I understand how it works--the combination of magic and almost-steampunk nineteenth century technology--(I love the 19th cent atmosphere); a world where everything is infused by magic but where each different country expresses magic in different ways--and in the case of Ashberg and the Faustine Empire in MOONLIGHT AND ASHES, is driven underground when not controlled by official sorcery. 

Each book in this series is set in a different part of this world, and that's also what's fun, because each country is different, has different customs, understandings, etc, and yet there's also a fair bit of communication between them(except for the country in THE CRYSTAL HEART, which has been shut off for various reasons).

 So I can revel in creating each of those settings, not getting bored because I'm repeating the same patterns but embroidering new ones, on the same tapestry, so to speak. It's very satisfying. So that's if you like the 'easy' element--the hardest I guess is trying not to contradict basic world elements by introducing things that don't fit at all. A bit like writing about our world and while celebrating the wonderful variety of it, always keeping in mind that you need to obey the laws of nature. 

Incidentally, I was first inspired to create that world because I was thinking of how the classic fairytales take place in a world that is both real and not; both timeless and beautifully grounded. The world of 'once upon a time' or as the Russian fairytale prefix phrase has it, 'in the thrice times nine land'.

Can you tell us a little bit about each tale and what inspired you to use each particular fairy tale?

MOONLIGHT AND ASHES is inspired by Aschenputtel--the Grimm version of Cinderella, which I've always loved best of the Cinderella versions(though being of French background I also very much love the sparkling Perrault version, and I've also been inspired by the lovely English version, Tattercoats, for my earlier novel COLD IRON). But Aschenputtel is not only a more active Cinderella, there's also that intriguing, mysterious element of her mother coming to her in a dream and telling her to get the hazel twig. And that set me wondering--why? How did her mother know about the twig? What did it all mean? In the classic fairytales of course, things just happen--because they do, and that's the meaning of them in the tale if you like--but in a novel of course you do need to ask, why? who? what if? And so on. 

Also, there is so much pain in the Cinderella story--at its heart, it's about an abused, neglected, unloved child, treated cruelly by her step-family and abandoned by her cowardly father--but it gives hope that suffering can cease and love can be found, and a person valued for who they are, whatever their situation. That is the powerful emotional strength of the story--and working with it for MOONLIGHT AND ASHES really touched off many emotional reactions in me--in fact I was crying at various points as I was writing it, and utterly exultant in others. 

Similarly, with SCARLET IN THE SNOW, which is inspired by two beautiful Russian fairy tales: The Scarlet Flower, their version of Beauty and the Beast (one of my favourite tales ever) and the gorgeously romantic Fenist the Falcon. I was inspired both by the character of the girls who are the heroines in those stories--spirited, loving girls who are also extraordinarily stoical and brave, going into the unknown without flinching. I was also inspired by the figure of the shape-shifted hero under a curse--which occurs in both stories and thought about what it meant to lose your humanity, to be forced into a situation where you are helpless and cannot do anything to change your situation of your own will--no wonder they are angry! (SCARLET IN THE SNOW also contains elements, by the way, in one part, of another classic Russian tale, Vassilissa the Fair--there's a character in it, Old Bony, who harks back to the Baba Yaga figure, always a fascinating one to me. ) 

THE CRYSTAL HEART--which is my new project, and which I'm working on right now, is inspired by elements of the 'princess in the tower' motif, but not so much Rapunzel as the Celtic tale of Deirdre--which isn't strictly speaking a fairytale but has many suggestive elements--especially when Deidre dreams of a young man with 'lips red as blood, hair black as a raven's wing, skin pale as snow'..It's also about fate and whether we can escape it... Also, THE CRYSTAL HEART has elements inspired both by a story I loved as a kid, George McDonald's THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN--and a real place--the amazing salt mines of Wieleciszka in Poland which we visited last year--one of the most magical places ever, full of fantastical statues and carvings in rock salt made by miners between the 17th-19th cent, including an extraordinary cathedral cut in the rock salt, with everything made of salt, including glittering chandeliers of pure white salt. Utterly enchanting, and a completely fairytale atmosphere--both beautiful but with a hint of threat. Incidentally each of the settings in these three books are inspired by real places: Ashberg in MOONLIGHT AND ASHES by Prague(and Faustina by Vienna); Ruvenya in SCARLET IN THE SNOW by Russia, and Palume by Paris.

-I'm so excited that MOONLIGHT AND ASHES is coming to the USA this fall. Can you talk a little about bringing your books over from Australia?

I'm very excited too! Random House Australia have world rights, and they sealed a very good deal with a big US distributor which is why the book is being released there--that's happening a lot more these days, as it's not always possible to secure a publishing deal overseas. And it means that readers worldwide can buy it, which is absolutely excellent. Actually, a series of books I wrote under a pen-name: Isabelle Merlin, have also been released in the USA recently in the same way-(they are also RHA titles)--they are YA romantic thrillers set in France, each with a fairytale/mythic/supernatural element and an Internet element too. 
SNOW, FIRE, SWORD was certainly one of my books that was taken on by a US publishing house--and so was THE MADMAN OF VENICE, which came out a couple of years ago in the US. Before that, in the early 2000's, a couple of my earlier fairytale novels had been published in the US by a small press, St Mary's Press from Minnesota--COLD IRON was released as 'MALKIN' and CARABAS as 'SERAFIN'. 

For foreign authors, it's not easy to get picked up by US publishers, but getting much better now that all sorts of different approaches can be taken. So fingers crossed, many more of my (paperback)books will be available in the US soon! (The e-books are already coming.)

As much as we may love any particular tale, each has its own "problematic" aspects (for me, I can't get over the fact that Prince Charming has to find Cinderella, the glorious love of his life, by matching up her feet. I mean, really?). Which problematic aspect of a tale really gets under your skin?

In Rumpelstiltskin (which incidentally I used in a short story of mine, The Old Woman and the Imp, which has been published several times including in the wonderful children's magazine Cricket) I just can't get over the fact that the girl in the story would actually want to marry the king who had threatened to kill her if she didn't spin the straw into gold! I mean, really, how could you ever feel safe with someone like that?

Which fairy tale would you most like to spend 24 hours inside of, and which the least? 

Beauty and the Beast in the first instance, and Hansel and Gretel in the second instance.

Your favorite obscure (or less well-known) fairy tale?

It's not exactly obscure but certainly less well known than it should be(and it's one I'll be using in the future): Rose Red and Snow-White.

Most overrated fairy tale?

I wouldn't call it over-rated because it's a brilliant story but I guess it is totally ubiquitous: Cinderella.

What made you fall in love with fairy tales--and decide to write one?

I grew up with them as a child--I was born in Indonesia of French parents, who were working there, but when I was still a baby I got very sick so they took me back to my grandmother in France and I spent the next four years with her. She told me lots of stories including fairytales and i just adored them. From the beginning, I clicked instinctively with these stories, and their magic mix of drama, magic, humour and scary stuff! 

When my parents picked me up again and took me to Australia after they got a job there, the first real book I learned to read in English (I could already read in French) was a Little Golden Book containing 3 fairytales: Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Toads and Diamonds. The book was beautifully illustrated too and I used to spend hours poring over the pictures and imagining myself in that world. 

My parents also took us to see Disney animations such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and though I had been brought up with the original Perrault and Grimm versions, I still loved those Disney films--they are made with such delicate, sparkling artistry, they are little gems in themselves. (but they were never the be-all and end-all for me) I've never lost that love, that instinctive attraction to fairy tales--to me they are both intoxicating and refreshing, they lodge in your bones and your blood and in your dreams. And for a novelist, they are just a gift!
This or That?

Tower or Dungeon?


Evil Queen or Wicked Witch?

Evil queen.

 Castle or Cottage? 


Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm?

Brothers Grimm. (but i love Andersen too!)
Would You Rather...
Have a prince who makes out with your, um...corpse, essentially, or a prince who can only remember who you are by your shoe size?

Second type, please!

Drink an Alice-ish "Drink Me" potion or eat part of a witch's gingerbread house?

I'll take the drink any time!

Be able to spin straw into gold or have precious gems drop from your lips when you speak?

Hmm. it could be uncomfortable coughing up gems every time you speak.  On the other hand, spinning is hard work and talking comes naturally! So the second option then.

Be cursed with blindness (Rapunzel) or knife-like pain when you walk (Little Mermaid)?

I think i'll go with the blindness because that did go away when Rapunzel's tears fell--whereas the knife like pain never stopped and the poor little mermaid died with it still.

Thank you so much, Sophie!
I'm even more impatient than ever to get my greedy mitts on your books!
I'm ready to scrounge around for the older titles as well if they aren't re-released as ebooks!
O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Sophie Masson
Release Date: Out July 2, 2012
(Sept. 1, 2013 in the USA)
Publisher: Random House Australia

The story of Cinderella as you've never heard it before ... 

A girl whose fortunes have plummeted from wealthy aristocrat to servant-girl. A magic hazel twig. A prince. A desperate escape from danger. This is not the story of a girl whose fairy godmother arranges her future for her. This is the story of Selena, who will take charge of her own destiny, and learn that her magic is not to be feared but celebrated. 

Pure fairytale - with all the romance, magic and adventure that goes along with it. 

Author: Sophie Masson
Release Date: Out May 1, 2013
(Oct. 1, 2013 in the USA)
Publisher: Random House Australia

A deserted mansion. Empty picture frames. A perfect red rose in a snowy garden. There is rich and powerful magic here, and a mystery to unravel . . . 

When Natasha is forced to take shelter from a sudden, terrible blizzard, she is lucky to see a mansion looming out of the snow. Inside it's beautiful: the fire lit, the table set. But there is no one there. And on the walls, instead of paintings, are empty frames. In the garden, she finds one perfect red rose about to bloom, a vivid splash of scarlet against the snow. 

Dreamily she reaches out a hand . . . Only to have the master of the house appear - a terrifying, gigantic creature who looks like a cross between a bear and a man - and demand vengeance on her for taking his rose. 

So begins an extraordinary adventure that will see Natasha plunged deep into the heart of a mystery. She begins to realise she has stumbled onto a great tragedy - a spell of revenge laid on the young man the Beast once was, devised by a powerful sorcerer. But even if she can break the spell, the Beast she has now come to love will be snatched from her. 

Natasha will have a long journey, and many ordeals, ahead of her before there can be a happy ending. 

Inspired by two beautiful Russian fairytales - The Scarlet Flower (the Russian version of Beauty and the Beast) and Fenist the Falcon, SCARLET IN THE SNOW is a beguiling mix of magic, romance, adventure and mystery..