If you wish to buy this book, you will still find some copies on the imprint website, but hurry! It's a limited edition of which they have sold about three quarters.Last night I went to a much-belated launch for the Jules Verne novel Mikhail Strogoff, newly translated by Stephanie Smee, illustrated by David Allan and published by Christmas Press. It's unusual to have a Christmas Press event in Melbourne, as Sophie Masson lives in northern NSW, but she was in town for a small press publisher conference and thought she might as well do it here.
And what a lovely place she chose, too! The Alliance Francaise de Melbourne is in a beautiful 19th century building in St Kilda, right across the road from where I lived as a small child.
I admired the light and airiness inside, the cream-coloured high-ceilinged rooms. Apparently, it was restored by a modern architect, who was there last night.
There were a lot of people chattering in French before the launch began. Not all of them were native French speakers, some just felt like speaking it. I was asked a number of times if I spoke it and had to explain that while I had studied it till second year of uni, I had forgotten a lot. I can read it without trouble, but you have to speak slowly if you want me to understand. A lady I was speaking to told me, "Well, I'm a professional translator and even I sometimes have to say, 'Can you repeat that?' "
Alas, the translator was stuck in Sydney with a bung back and the illustrator also couldn't be there, but Sophie held up the side for everyone. She was introduced by the head of the AF, a gentleman called Gilbert Ducass, who bought two copies of the book later and got Sophie to sign the introduction, which she had written.
For those of you who don't know, Mikhail Strogoff is hugely popular in France, where it has never been out of print, and regarded as Verne's masterwork. It has been translated into English twice before, but poorly, and in the Victorian era. Sophie Masson, who read it five times in a row as a child, in the original French, was determined to give it a good translation.
One thing she said was that Christmas Press is currently in negotiations with Puffin in the UK for the rights. If it works, a whole lot of children will be able to read this translation. Fingers crossed!
Afterwards, I went to dinner with Sophie and a Russian reader called Anna Popova(pronounced Papova) who lives in Melbourne but comes from Perm, the setting of part of the book. She said that Verne was huge in Russia. He got the geographical details absolutely right, despite never having been in Russia.
We went to Topolino's, a very popular pizza/pasta restaurant. I just had a small basic Margherita pizza, as it was getting late; my stomach wouldn't have held more. Sophie had a Bolognese, which she said was very good, a compliment from her - Sophie Masson is an amazing cook, judging by her food blog. It was a pleasant meal and chat. Anna and I saw Sophie on to her tram to the city and went to catch our own tram, as she lives on the same tram line as me. I got home quite late, but I don't regret the lengthy day. It was worth it!