Prolific writer and UNE doctoral student, Sophie Masson, always looks forward to Christmas — not for the activity, but the lack of it.
First there’s the gift giving — and books are always under the family tree — and then the long, languid month of January in which to savour them.
“I love this time of year, when the publishing industry shuts down,” Sophie said.
“I love the suspended animation of Christmas and January, when all the stars are aligned; I receive books and I have time to read them.”
And the accomplished Australian author, who is completing her PhD in Creative Practice at UNE, is pleased to be taking a break after an exceptionally busy year.
As well as continuing to work on her young adult novel The Ghost Squad and an exegesis (critical analysis) based on the creation of the book (for her PhD), Sophie has released three children’s picture books, a young adult book (Jack of Spades), completed the final edit on an adult historical novel (Black Wings) and spent a month as a visiting scholar at Cambridge University.
She has also continued to run the children’s literature publishing house she co-founded, Christmas Press.
Prolific is certainly one way to describe the popular author, who has now published more than 60 books across various genres. But her UNE studies have taken Sophie into another realm.
“It’s been wonderful having the luxury of time to concentrate on The Ghost Squad,” she said.
“More often, as an author, you receive a contract and a deadline. My PhD gives me three years to work on the manuscript and to develop it exactly as I would like, without a publisher looking over my shoulder.
“It has enabled me to develop the book in the deepest and richest way possible, with complete freedom.
“The university is a great environment for creativity. I can take risks, which is much harder in a normal publishing environment.
“The only people I have to please are myself and my supervisors, who have been very encouraging and nurturing.”
“Editors at publishing houses don’t have time for that sort of commentary as the author is writing,” Sophie said.
“I think the manuscript will turn out tighter and stronger, and perhaps more polished as a result of the feedback and rigorous reads, as well as the chance to analyse the creative process itself. It’s the sort of experience every writer would love.”
Sophie said she relishes working from her peaceful home base just outside Armidale, free of the “distractions and criticisms” of the city.
“Living in a regional centre has been an enormous advantage creatively and I think it enables me to be bolder,” she said.
And what will Sophie be reading this summer?
“I am looking forward to reading the new Philip Pullman work, The Book of Dust, and Mirror Sydney by Vanessa Berry, a non-fiction book about the quirky and strange parts of the city,” said Sophie, who spent some of her childhood in Sydney.
“I have also just finished two great crime novels — The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz, and Crossing the Lines by Sulari Gentill — which I will probably try to read again.
“Books are such a long-lasting gift that you can revisit and enjoy again and again.”