Acclaimed writer and Invergowrie resident Sophie Masson has been made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), for her significant service to literature as an author and publisher, and through her roles with industry organizations.
“I’m extremely honoured and humbled by this award,” Ms Masson said. “It was a wonderful surprise!”
The French-Australian moved to Australia as a small child, and has called New England home for more than 30 years.
“I'm really grateful to the kind people who nominated me; for the support of my family and friends; and especially to a wonderful country that has given me a lot since I arrived as a little non-English speaking child a long time ago."
Ms Masson has written more than 60 books, in genres ranging from fantasy, ghost stories, mysteries and thrillers to historical fiction, romance, and family novels.
"I'm just happy that I've been able to write so many different types of books," she said.
She was chair of the Australian Society of Authors from 2011-13, working to improve conditions for authors – which involved a lot of lobbying, and listening to writers’ concerns.
She was former president of the Children’s Book Council of New South Wales, and is current president and chair of the New England and North-West Sub-branch of the Children’s Book Council of Australia. She also sat on the Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts (2004-08) and the Book Industry Collaborative Council.
“I’ve been extremely lucky in my professional career,” Ms Masson said; “it’s important to give back, and help other people who are starting out, or who are less experienced.”
She has been the chair of the New England Writers’ Centre for the past eight years. With the board, she has devised programs, run workshops, and created opportunities (like last year's Pitch Independent) for local writers and illustrators to meet publishers.
“I really believe in regional writing,” Ms Masson said.
She co-founded several small children’s publishing firms, including Christmas Press, specializing in picture books; Eagle Books, publishing fantastic adventure novels; and Second Look Publishing, reprinting Australian classics.
She is a member of the board of the Small Press Network, the peak body for small and independent publishers throughout Australia.
Her belief in children’s literacy led to her becoming writer ambassador for Room to Read, a non-profit children’s education organization in Asia and Africa.
“Literature,” Ms Masson said, “is important for everybody, but it’s extremely important in childhood and young adulthood. Children absorb things; they read a lot more than adults, because they have more time; and the memory of a book stays with them longer.”
Ms Masson was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, to French parents. She moved to Australia when she was nearly five, because her father had a job here with a French company. She spent her childhood moving between here and France, attending schools in both countries, before becoming an Australian citizen as a teenager.
She always wanted to be a writer.
“Even as a small child, as soon as I got hold of a pencil, I was writing and illustrating. I didn’t really have much idea of how you went about becoming an author. It wasn’t until the last years of high school that I realised that you could send things off to magazines and newspapers.”
She dabbled in freelance journalism when she left school, working for a short time on newspapers in Coffs Harbour, then in Armidale, while writing a couple of unsuccessful novels.
She came to New England in 1986, and graduated with MLitt in French and English Literature from the University of New England in 1990, the same year her first books were published.
The House in the Rainforest was launched at UNE, followed by the time slip fantasy Fire in the Sky, the first of her many children’s books.
They include The Hunt for Ned Kelly (2011), winner of the Patricia Wrightson Award for Children’s Literature; and The Hand of Glory (2002), awarded the Young Adult Category, National Aurealis Awards.
“In children’s writing, you have more freedom,” Ms Masson said; “you can go across genres, and nobody thinks it’s weird, because children will read all sorts of things. It’s been fantastic, and I count myself lucky.”
As a child, she was herself drawn to adventure, fantasy, and mystery: C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Enid Blyton, Jules Verne, Dumas, Hergé’s Tintin, Agatha Christie, and, later, the classics (Dickens and the Russians). “I loved fairy tales, legends, ghost stories, anything unusual.”
Her most recent books are Black Wings, a historical novel set in the French Revolution, and a picture book, See Monkey.
War and Resistance, a historical novel set in World War II, and three picture books will be published this year.
Ms Masson will also receive a PhD in Creative Practice from UNE in May.