Sophie portrait blue and redI’m really excited to welcome one of Australian’s best know fantasy authors Sophie Masson to my blog, so she can share details of her exciting travels in Russia and how they inspired her latest novel TRINITY: The Koldun Code (Book One). I’m always interested to see the link between an author’s lifelong fascination and the story it produces. But first a little about Sophie:

Born in Indonesia of French parents, and brought up in Australia and France, Sophie Masson is the award-winning author of more than 50 novels for readers of all ages, published in Australia and many other countries. Her adult novels include the popular historical fantasy trilogy, Forest of Dreams (Random House Australia). Sophie has always had a great interest in Russian myth and history, an interest reflected in several of her books for younger readers.

Louise: Welcome to the blog Sophie. Please tell us about what inspired the Trinity series:

Sophie Masson: Trinity grew out of my long fascination with Russia and its amazing culture. I’ve been enthralled by it since I was eleven and read Jules Verne’s thrilling Russian-set adventure story, Michel Strogoff. Progressing rapidly as a teenager to Russian novels, with side excursions into Russian fairytale and folklore, and influenced also by my French father’s interest in Russian icons and Russian music, my interest grew and grew.

But though I dreamed of visiting Russia, the Iron Curtain made it seem just that, a dream. Even after the Soviet regime fell, the hurly-burly of personal and professional life stymied the idea of a trip, and the horror stories of the 90’s, with the threat of gangs and street violence, didn’t help either. But still I kept an abiding interest in Russia, and finally in 2010, we decided there was no time like the present—and booked the big trip!

Spooked by warnings about not going there on our own (outdated warnings, as we soon found out!)we decided to go on a cruise, rather than by ourselves as usual. Despite our reservation about group tours, the cruise proved to be not only enjoyable but the perfect introduction to the country, giving us not only a taste of a fair number of places, from the great cities of Moscow and St Petersburg to marvelous historic provincial towns and villages, but also exposing us to grand natural scenery and unusual sights that you only get while traveling along waterways rather than roads.

Uglich kremlin (citadel or castle)

Uglich kremlin (citadel or castle)

In some ways it was like being back in the pages of Michel Strogoff, where so much of the hero’s journey had been by water, and it touched me very deeply. Everything was so vivid, each sensual impression, each small experience, each casual conversation and observation worthy of being recorded in my writing journal. One afternoon, in the lovely small town of Uglich, on the Volga, sitting in a hot room in the little wooden kremlin (the word means citadel) by the side of the river, not far from the gorgeous cathedral of St Dimitri on the Blood (which appears in Trinity), I actually burst into tears as I listened to a four-man choir singing traditional Russian songs in glorious, unaccompanied male voices. Tears of deep pleasure because of the beauty of the voices and the surroundings: but also tears of disbelief. It seemed almost incredible to be in this country which I’d imagined for so long that it had become a part of my deepest personal references. Far from not measuring up to those imaginative expectations, however, the reality of Russia had exceeded them: so that even the great ugliness which existed alongside the fairytale beauty became an indispensable part of an unforgettable experience.

Lily of the Valley seller who inspired the character of Mrs Feshina

Lily of the Valley seller who inspired the character of Mrs Feshina

As soon as I got home, I began work on the research and planning that was to culminate in the creation of Trinity: The Koldun Code. But I wanted to return to Russia, to further enrich the novel, and this time also with enough Russian to get by. Enrolling in an excellent online course called Russian Accelerator, I discovered to my delight that I found it quite natural to learn it (being bilingual, in French and English, certainly helps!) and so when we went back to Russia in 2012, I was able to be the family spokesperson in everyday interactions—this time I was with my husband, sister and nephew. This time, we’d decided to focus on Moscow, which we’d loved back in 2010 and wanted to know better. So we rented an apartment for two weeks on Tverskaya Ulitsa, or Tverskaya Street, only three blocks or so from the Kremlin and Red Square, and right across the road from one of Moscow’s biggest and best bookshops. Magic!

St Basil's cathedral, Moscow

St Basil’s cathedral, Moscow

Every day was an adventure, discovering more and more of the city as we trekked on foot and by metro from central sites to those much more far-flung. We went to the circus, to the ballet, to open-air concerts, to beautiful parks, museums, fabulous patisseries and colourful markets. We took side-trips into the countryside with a Russian friend. We drank fabulous vodka and indifferent wine and ate really well and cheaply too in little restaurants and cafes and at home in the flat, using the most wonderful ingredients from the markets and supermarkets. We combed through the fantastic Izmailovo flea market where you can pick up the most amazing and interesting bargains in antiques, artwork and crafts. And all the time, my writing journal was filling with more and more ideas, glimpses, vignettes which would make their way eventually into the book, and indeed the series. Including magic and the supernatural: for Russia, where many people still believe strongly in the uncanny and unseen, has got to be one of the world’s most natural settings for fantasy!

Louise: I’ve always wanted to go to Russia and now I’m inspired! If you’d like to know more about the fantasy novel that grew out of this adventure, here’s The Koldun Code book blurb:

Trinity Koldun Code coverAn unexpected encounter with a handsome stranger in a Russian wood changes the life of 22-year-old traveler Helen Clement forever, catapulting her into a high-stakes world of passion, danger, and mystery. Tested in ways she could never have imagined, she must keep her own integrity in a world where dark forces threaten and ruthlessness and betrayal haunt every day.

Set against a rising tide of magic and the paranormal in a modern Russia where the terrifying past continually leaks into the turbulent present, Trinity is a unique and gripping blend of conspiracy thriller, erotically charged romance and elements of the supernatural, laced with a murderous dose of company politics. With its roots deep in the fertile soil of Russian myth, legend, and history, it is also a fascinating glimpse into an extraordinary, distinctive country and amazingly rich culture.

The Koldun Code is the first book in the Trinity series by Sophie Masson.

Today is the release date of the print version of The Koldun Code, and you can also purchase it as an ebook. If you’d like to catch up with Sophie online, you can do that several ways, on her Website, Blog, Facebook or Twitter. And if you’d like to win a print copy of The Koldun Code on Goodreads, you can enter that competition HERE.

I’d also love to hear if there’s a place that’s always fascinated you, and why. Did you ever go there? Did it live up to your expectations? Please feel free to drop that into the comments below. I’m always looking for new locations to be inspired by!