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.
Direct Facebook link to the event is here.
The wonderful Sue Lawson interviewed me for her fabulous Portable Magic video series recently, and though it’s not specifically about fairy tales, I thought readers might be interested to hear more about my background, writing process, etc. Here it is!
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?’
Beauty swallowed. ‘I do not know.’
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
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.
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.
Without this seventeenth-century writer, the fairy tale as we know it today might never have have emerged from the oral tradition: he could in fact be rightly called the founder of a new and hugely successful literary genre. I’m speaking here of Charles Perrault (1628-1703), writer of such famous gems as Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, Bluebeard, Donkey Skin, and several others. The tales he collected and retold in his 1697 book, Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé (Tales and Stories from Past Times), also known as Contes de ma Mère l’Oye (Tales of Mother Goose) are from anonymous folk sources, embellished in his own sprightly, elegant, sharp and inimitable way, with ‘morals’ that are often raise an ironic eyebrow at the ways of the world. His retellings of these traditional stories are famous throughout the world even today and have inspired many generations of other writers. Including me–in my own collection, I’ve chosen to retell Perrault’s Le Maître Chat ou le Chat botté (Master Cat or the Booted Cat), usually known in English as Puss in Boots.
From a wealthy bourgeois family, Perrault had an illustrious if occasionally turbulent career at the glittering court of King Louis XIV, and was a prominent figure in the literary and cultural scene of the time. Retiring from government service at the age of sixty-seven, he wrote Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé , which was an immediate success and which inspired other of his literary contemporaries, such as Madame d’Aulnoy–who first coined the term contes de fées –(fairy tales)to create their own. And thus the craze for fairy tales was born.
In the next few posts about French Fairy Tales, I’ll be writing a bit about some of the classic French fairytale-tellers who either wrote down, in their own words, stories they collected from anonymous folk sources; or who created new literary fairy tales using some elements borrowed from older stories.
France has had a long history of the writing-down of fairy tales: from at least the late seventeenth century onwards, French writers have interested themselves in le conte de fées, taking it from its origins in folklore and anonymous storytellers, and transforming it in the process into a huge literary phenomenon. In later posts I will write about some of the individual original writers of the tales I’ve retold, but in this post I want to briefly introduce an extraordinary late eighteenth-century series of books which collected together hundreds of these literary fairy tales from the previous 100 years as well as providing potted biographies of all their writers (more than forty in all). I’m speaking here about Le Cabinet des fées, which was compiled in 41 volumes by writer and editor Charles-Joseph Mayer (1751-1825), and published between 1785 and 1789. It is a hugely important series as it not only helped to preserve many of the classic tales abut also spark continued interest in them not only in France but across the world, in the process inspiring many other collectors and writers of fairy tales well into the ninteenth century and beyond.
I am fortunate enough to own one of the volumes from Le cabinet–volume 37, which is the one contained the potted biographies of the writers. It’s in an edition from 1786 which is pretty battered but whose pages are still eminently readable. It was one of my sources for details about three writers: Charles Perrault, Madame Leprince de Beaumont and Madame de Villeneuve, who
I will write about in a later post.
The style in these potted biographies is quite discursive and personal, and it’s fascinating to leaf through the book and read about all these many writers who formed part of such an important literary movement whose influence continues to this day. And one of the things that struck me as I did that was how many of those writers were women; this was a literary movement in which female writers could enjoy as much attention and inspire as many followers as male writers. And they could do so openly, under their own names, not under male pseudonyms.
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.