It’s always wonderful when fellow creators working in other art forms are inspired by your work, so I was delighted when French Fairy Tales, my book with the wonderful illustrator Lorena Carrington (Serenity Press 2020), became the inspiration for talented musician and composer Reilly McCarron’s new album, Il était une fois (once upon a time in French). The album will be released in April by Serenity Press, and it features Reilly’s haunting compositions and soundscapes, brief readings in French translation by Cathy Abadie of snippets from my own retellings of the stories, and evocative singing by Cathy of the beautiful old song, A la claire fontaine. It’s amazing, actually, to hear Cathy’s translation of my retellings of the tales, because I created the English translations directly from the French originals, and now they’ve cycled back into French, but using my words!
You can read more about the album in this post by fellow fairy tale aficionado Louisa John-Krol, and watch a gorgeous trailer for the album below.
Absolutely delighted with the fantastic review by the wonderful writer Carmel Bird of French Fairy Tales, my book with Lorena Carrington. The review was published today in the Weekend Australian Review, and it’s the kind that every creator dreams of getting…really made my day!
I was thrilled when Sophie sent me the story The Magic Gifts, as it included the Herensuge, a mythical dragon from the Basque region. It often appears with seven heads (though not always), so I was somewhat relieved to see that Sophie had given hers just the one!
Dragons are so much fun to create, and I wanted our Herensuge to be huge and terrifying, but also ephemeral. Something as dangerous and smoke and fire, but like them, just as likely to dissipate into the air.
When thinking about this blog post, I decided it would be a good time to show you how I tweak photographs of ‘ordinary’ things into the magical forms I need. Happily I had already photographed the flames of a small bonfire we had in our back yard a few years ago. You can see below how I darkened the background to separate the flames. I do this mostly by exposure and shadow/highlight changes in Photoshop RAW, then by painting out any remaining stubborn areas of background. Here is the final plume of fire, and the original photo it came from:
Similarly, the ‘smoke’ is lifted out from its background. The difference being that the ‘smoke’ is actually steam. I find it easier to get interesting shapes in a studio setting, and less likely to set off the fire alarm! Below, you can see the plume of steam/smoke ready to use in an illustration, and next to it, the original photo. The saucepan of water is bubbling away on a portable cooktop, and it’s all lit from behind to make the steam glow.
I tend to edit the photos I need as I go, fixing and adding them to the illustration as I got. Here’s a brief snippet of the Herensuge coming together.
And here he is in all his glory!
Bonus behind-the-scenes detail: The green sheep-covered hill was actually photographed in Ireland, not France (shh!), so I toned down the lurid Irish green grass a little… Until Sophie told me that the Basque region in France is actually just as emerald green as Ireland. So I bumped up the vibrance again! (And removed the blue smit marks from all the sheep…)
French Fairy Tales was launched online yesterday evening–it was such a lovely launch, enjoyed it so much! Here below is a link to the launch video(the event was livestreamed). And now the book is well and truly out in the world! You can buy it as a print book here, or as a flipbook(like an ebook, only better!) here.
Delighted to announce that French Fairy Tales will be launched in a celebratory online event on Friday November 20, at 6.30 pm Australian Eastern Daylight Savings Time.
Here’s what the publisher Serenity Press says about the event:
Join us to celebrate the release of French Fairytales by Sophie Masson and illustrated by Lorena Carrington. Both Sophie and Lorena will be in conversation with the publisher Karen Mc Dermott. It will be an evening of celebration for this beautiful book and all things French Fairy Tales.
You can join us on zoom (Link posted before the event) or watch live on Facebook.
I wrote, in my first post for this blog, a little about my stay in the town of Azay-le-Rideau to photograph the chateau there for French Fairy Tales. I shared a detail from an illustration for Beauty and the Beast, and described collecting leaves and bits of plants to create the Beast himself, so I thought today I’d show you a little more of the architecture of the illustration, and share it in full.
The main room in which it’s set, is actually an in-between space. Almost a horizontal hallway between rooms, with an arched window at either end.
The chandelier hangs in the dining hall off the kitchen, a rather grand fixture for a sparse looking room. One assumes it was once full of warmth and people, and a dog or two under a much larger table.
The painting on the left was important for me to include. It depicts a stag, its antlers mirrored with Beast’s, being brought down by hunters and their dogs, reflecting the vilification wrought upon the Beast. Or perhaps, while he may be a powerful creature, he can be brought down by love….
And any Disney fan will know why I had to include the clock and gold candlesticks on that mantelpiece! They actually sit in the formal dining room, opposite the painting of the stag.
I would have liked to have included an illustration of Beauty and the Beast feasting at the very dining table at Azay, but it felt too bright with that white cloth; the chairs too modern.
And if you look closely you’ll see these little beasts holding up the ceiling’s stone arches. One thing I loved about the Azay-le-Rideau, where Sophie set the tale, is that it’s absolutely riddled with beasts large and small: carved into stone, woven into tapestries, painted above fireplaces… It is truly a fairy tale castle populated with wild creatures.
So, by weaving together the images above, along with a few secret ingredients, I created the scene in which Beauty and Beast meet and come to a wary agreement:
(Quote text, from the story.)
…the Beast appeared, and she screamed. Just once, and just because his appearance was so sudden, and because all her father’s descriptions of the Beast had not quite prepared her for the living breathing reality who now stood beside her. But she soon recovered herself, and while her father scrambled to his feet, muttering frightened greetings, she walked to the Beast with a firm step, and keeping her eyes on his face, but not saying a word, she curtseyed gracefully.
The Beast seemed pleased by this gesture. ‘Good evening, Beauty,’ he said in his deep, harsh voice. Not expressing any surprise that he knew her name, Beauty replied, ‘Good evening Beast,’ not adding a ‘sir’ or ‘lord’ because her father had told her the Beast did not like titles.
‘Have you come here of your own free will and will you consent to stay?’ the Beast asked.
‘I have and I do,’ she answered.
He looked at her with his tiger’s eyes narrowed. ‘What will become of you, do you think?’
Today I’m welcoming my wonderful co-creator, Lorena Carrington, to this blog, to write about the travels in France that helped to inspire her glorious illustrations in French Fairy Tales. All photographs in this post are by Lorena.
French fairy tale travelling, by Lorena Carrington
In late September last year, I touched down in France with a backpack, camera bag, and a draft manuscript of Sophie’s fairy tales. I was so thrilled to get the chance to work with Sophie, and happily circumstances (and the support of my family) aligned in such a way that I was able to travel to France to photograph the landscapes and chateaux in which her retellings are set.
My time there seemed to be peppered with the most wonderful and delightful book related coincidences. Our friends happened to be staying an hour’s drive away from Azay-le-Rideau, so I had a friendly welcome and enthusiastic tour guides for the first few days. The first chateau they took me to was once owned by the man who was said to have inspired the Marquis de Carabas from Charles Perrault’s Puss in Boots. The hotel I booked in the town of Azay-le-Rideau turned out to be the same one Sophie stayed when she visited, and from which you can see the chateau peeking out from between trees at the end of the curved cobble stone street. Crows followed me, through both France and Ireland, and allowed me to create the flock that surround Crow Castle with birds from almost every place I visited.
Azay-le-Rideau was the main reason I was in France. It is the chateau in which Sophie set her retelling of Beauty and the Beast, so it was extraordinary to have the chance to create illustrations from the very place the tale is set. The town is popular with tourists – cobbled-stoned and romantic – but I was there at the very tail end of the season so, while waiters and shopkeepers looked tired, it never felt crushed with holiday makers.
It’s a strange and marvellous experience to spend a week on one’s own in a place where you can manage to order coffee and a croissant (barely) but have no other opportunities for conversation. I was alone with my camera in hand and Sophie’s tales in my head. Free to roam as I wished, I spent a full day exploring the Azay-le-Rideau chateau and gardens. I had explored for a brief couple of hours with friends Jim and Yvonne the day before, but now I had the place to myself (and a hundred or so other tourists). The wonderful thing about exploring on your own, surrounded by a language you can only pick the odd word from, is that you feel a bit like a ghost. I could wander from room to room, doubling back when I wanted, pausing to spend ten minute photographing the way a spotlight falls on velvet brocade and feathers, counting the gold stitches on red wall paper. I tucked myself into corners, waiting for a room to clear to I could get a clear shot of a painted fresco that covered the opposite wall, lingered on staircases to catch soft window light grazing across rough stone. I stood in the rain photographing ripples in the moat, and crouched awkwardly in wet grass to peer under hanging branches. It also gave me the chance to notice so many small details that I may not have if I hadn’t been alone: the still-fresh hay smell from the plaited straw wall coverings, the feel of carved hand rails worn smooth by thousands of hands over hundreds of years, and all the tiny beasties carved into stone and wood.
While at Azay, I collected dead leaves and twigs, and took them back to my hotel bathroom later to photograph on a makeshift lightbox (my iPad). These small pieces of detritus from the grounds made up the Beast who lived there. I’m always conscious of the origins of objects that go into the creatures I make. They are made of the landscapes they inhabit, and none have ever been as specific as the creation of the Beast.
In the lead up to the release of French Fairy Tales I’ll share some stories about the specific illustrations, but for now I’ll leave you with a detail of the Beast in his castle.