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’ve made a video presentation featuring slides and narration, to talk about the inspirations and sources behind my retellings in French Fairy Tales. These include personal and family connections, as well as information about the tales themselves. Hope you enjoy!
And by the way, on November 7, I’m running an online two-hour workshop on how to retell fairy tales, and how to use them in your fiction: you can check it out here.
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?’
Madame de Villeneuve in 1759, painted by Louis Carrogis Carmontelle.
Beauty and the Beast is one of the world’s most-loved fairy tales, but it isn’t sourced from folklore tradition or an anonymous teller: instead, it was as an original fairy tale, in two different versions, by two French women writers of the eighteenth century, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve(1685-1755) and Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beamont( 1711-1785).
Madame de Villeneuve, as she was known as an author, came from a prominent noble family and led a rather colourful, even scandalous life. She wrote many popular novels and fairy tales, but it is for the creation of La Belle et la Bête, Beauty and the Beast, for which she is most well-known today. It was published as an 185-page novel in 1740, within a longer volume of her original fairy tales called La jeune américaine, et les contes marins (The young American girl, and tales from the sea). Her Beauty and the Beast was an immediate success, and was reprinted several times, including in Le Cabinet des Fées.
Madame Leprince de Beamont came from a humbler background than Villeneuve, but also had a rather colourful life, and earned a living as a writer and teacher, publishing over 70 books. She wrote her version of Beauty and the Beast (without , it has to be said, any acknowledgement of Villeneuve’s original) as a 20-page story, published in
Madame Leprince de Beaumont, artist unknown
1756 in her Magasin des enfants (Children’s Magazine, or Compendium) an educational book which includes several other fairy tales as well as dialogues discussing life and morals. It also was a great success; and it is her shorter, sharper, much more striking version which has stood the test of time. I very soon learned why that was, as I read both original versions side by side–the Villeneuve novel in a digitised manuscript held in Gallica, the online repository of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (the French National Library), and Madame Leprince de Beaumont’s short story in a 1799 print edition of the Magasin des enfants, which I obtained online from an Italian second-hand bookshop.
And you’ll discover why I so much preferred Beamont’s version, when you read my introduction to my own retelling of Beauty and the Beast.
First page of Madame Leprince de Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast in a 1799 edition of her book which I own.
Today I’m going to talk a little about an illustration I did for Puss in Boots. While in France (exactly a year ago, as I write this) I spent much of my time in various Chateaus. The first I visited was Chateau d’Oiron. After staggering off the plane into Charles de Gaulle airport, I caught a train to Poitiers and fell into the care of our friends Jim and Yvonne. They bundled my hiking pack into their hire car, took me out for lunch and a fortifying glass of wine, then endeavoured to keep me awake for the rest of the day. It turns out the best cure for jet lag is grandeur. After 30 wakeful hours of travelling, I trailed around the rooms of Chateau d’Oiron, camera in hand, babbling deliriously, and in true Australian-in-Europe form, ‘It’s so old!’… ‘It’s so beautiful!’ Thankfully they brought me back the next day so I could photograph it properly.
Chateau d’Oiron was built in the 15th Century, and to my (at that point slightly feverish) delight, served as the inspiration for the castle in Charles Perrault’s version of Puss in Boots. Claude Gouffier, who was born and died at Chateau d’Oiron, served as the model for his “Marquis de Carabas”. It felt too good to be true. I photographed vaulted stone ceilings and gilded walls with both Sophie’s and Perrault’s versions in mind.
The final Chateau I visited in France was Chateau de Saché, now a museum dedicated to the writer Honoré de Balzac. Sophie’s version of Puss in Boots is set in a homely manor house in Perigold, similar in size and style to Saché, so it’s here that I found myself sitting on a wooden bench, eating a stolen apple, and thinking of her Marquis de Carabas.
At home, weeks later, I pulled together the stone arches from Chateau d’Oiron and the stairs from Chateau de Saché. The checkered floor came from Chateau Chenonceau, and the carved wooden chest from Chateau Azay-le-Rideau. The cat belongs to a friend, and the mouse is a stuffed shrew in disguise (shh) from Melbourne Museum. The boots and hat are my own. It really is an amalgam of places, like most of my illustrations, but it holds – I hope – the spirit of both Sophie’s and Perrault’s Puss in Boots.