Sophie Masson was born in Indonesia of French parents and spent most of her childhood in Australia and France, between different worlds and different languages. She has had more than 35 novels published, mostly for children and young adults. She has also written articles and short stories for anthologies, magazines, newspapers and internet sites. Her latest novel is The Curse of Zohreh, and her Malvolio's Revenge will be published by Hodder Children's Books later this year. A collection of essays and short stories for adults, Walking in the Garden of the Mind, was recently published by Altair Australia Books. Sophie is married and has three children. She lives in country New South Wales.
Sophie Masson on The Seven Crystal Balls / Prisoners of the Sun by Hergé
I've chosen a childhood book because not only was childhood the most exciting, emotional and highly-coloured time of my reading life, it was also the most influential, and it has played a large part in my later career as a writer, mainly for children. Out of the many, many books I loved and cherished as a child and still love and cherish as an adult, I've chosen (cheating a little) a fabulous two-part Tintin adventure that was part of the reading for pure pleasure that so marked my love of reading and writing. I adored this adventure and wore out the books reading it over and over again - as indeed I did with most of the Tintin books, except for the Moon ones which didn't enthral me as much. I think I first read this when I was about 10 (in French, and then also, later, in English - the Tintin books are examples of faultless translation, in my opinion) and I kept returning to it through childhood and adolescence, and then as an adult with my own children, rediscovering it with great joy. This one has everything: danger, adventure, melancholy, suspense, mystery, the supernatural, and wonderful slapstick comedy, plus an assured delicacy of line and colour, character and setting. And an extraordinary deftness and lightness of touch, plus a great facility with language. These are all elements that I loved instinctively as a child, appreciate more and more as an adult and try to live up to as a writer.
Literary people can sometimes be very snobbish about reading for pure pleasure, for entertainment. There's this idea that if something is entertaining, that must mean that it is 'trashy' or at least without literary or artistic value. This is what I call the Bran Theory of Art and it's codswallop, as well as very lazy thinking. Great popular art is great because it effortlessly combines both literary/artistic value and huge popular appeal. Its quality is directly related to its timelessness and the ability it has to create its own distinctive world and atmosphere. It has no pretensions; it just wants to entertain, to give pleasure - and yet it's in itself consoling, nurturing and illuminating. (Often, when I've been sick or sad, I have turned to such loved books.) Though it often touches directly, and yet subtly, on things that are disturbing, tragic or horrifying, it does not crush you under a self-indulgent weight of moralising, preferring you to reach your own conclusions. (Reading The Seven Crystal Balls / Prisoners of the Sun as a child, for instance, I became aware for the first time of the pain and turmoil of South American history.)
Within such art we can take an exciting, gripping holiday from our particular, personal circumstances into a gorgeous world of the imagination and yet come back refreshed and reinvigorated into our everyday lives. Like other classic examples of popular 20th century art which I've returned to again and again for that pure pleasure - the novels of Agatha Christie, the films of Alfred Hitchcock, or the joint recordings of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald - the Tintin adventures, and this one in particular, make me feel happy to be alive.
[A list of the pieces that have appeared to date in this series, with the links to them, is here.]