Mary's musings

Mary Hoffman, author of over 90 children's books, including the Stravaganza series and Amazing Grace, has begun a web journal which will be updated roughly once a week. You can read more on

Monday, April 26, 2010

A personal post

In a period dominated by volcanic ash, when we thought youngest daughter would not be able to have the trip to Florence she was giving her partner as a birthday present and had booked months ago, there was another more poignant event.

In December, my cousin's wife Sylvia died after a long and painful illness but my sister and I couldn't make it to the funeral. Our cousins lived in San Diego and flights were booked up in the week before Christmas, plus the planned BA strike was playing havoc with the schedules. And you had to have a permit from the US embassy which had to relate to a specific booked flight and took a while to organise.

So when we heard that our cousin was bringing Sylvia's ashes to Hampshire for scattering at Southampton Crematorium, we were pleased to have another chance to say goodbye. The sun shone brightly and all Sylvia's siblings were there, three brothers and a sister. The volcano in Iceland had its effect - it took her husband 30 hours to get to the UK, via Paris, the Channel, Victoria and Henley. And their youngest daughter had been unable to get a flight, even though she works for an airline. But there must have been thirty or forty people there.

Her ashes were scattered in the Garden of Rest where her parents' had been years before. Henry read Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet How Much do I love Thee? and there were tears shed. Sylvia's sister was comforted in a huddle of brothers. Then we moved to a hotel where a DVD played stills from her life. From an impossibly slim pretty teenager, to a beautiful bride, young mother, domestic goddess, glamorous mother of the bride and frail but luminously happy wife celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary in a gold dress.

When we had dispersed to our various homes, my sister rang to say she had got back safely. Gad to hear it for there will be no brothers to comfort me if she goes before I do. We were just sitting down to our dinner. "I'm going to get myself something to eat and watch TV," she said. "What programme?" I asked. "Ashes to Ashes," she said and we both had another little pang.

It all brought home how important it is to have rituals to mark these rights of passage; it almost doesn't matter what they are, as long as they are shared and leave everyone feeling that an important event has been suitably acknowledged. RIP, Cousin Sylvia, a lady who lit up the world and not just for her family.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

All the fun of the Fair

What a busy bee I've been this last month! There has been a lot more work on the website, which you should see the fruits of soon, more David, classes in Italian Literature and Art History, a book signing in Abingdon, an interview with a journalist about author support networks, a telephone interview to help a student with her dissertation, a Day School on Courtly Narratives of the Italian Renaissance and, Oh yes, a trip to the Bologna Book Fair!

Bologna began a day earlier for Rhiannon and me when we drove up to London to have lunch with our Japanese publisher from Shogakukan. We met Kyoko at last year's fair and have formed quite a friendship with her.

Then on Monday 22nd we launched with some trepidation on our journey. We'd known for a week that our BA flight had been cancelled, so were flying to Verona instead. At the far end we met two people from our literary agency, plus another agent, Sarah Molloy, and Rod Campbell, who had had their substitute Easyjet flights cancelled because of a baggage-handlers strike in Italy. We piled into two taxis to the station and travelled to Bologna together on the train. How glad we were that our hotel was right opposite Bologna station!

You can read all about the Fair on my Book Maven blog over on

I'm also writing it up for Armadillo and Carousel. But next week sees me off to London for the first two days: a meeting on Monday and a talk, with Rhiannon, on Tuesday at the Society of Authors on Social Networking for Authors.

Somewhere in the middle of all this Stravaganza: City of Ships was published in the UK!

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I've been so busy with web material that only one chapter of David has been written; I hope to get back to it next week.

And we've celebrated two birthdays - a daughter of 33 and a "surrogate granddaughter(parents' own term) of 1. This was all done very thoroughly, with another trip to London involving furniture moving and visits to the dump in between.

Half term was delightfully full of visitors, writer friends, and long chats about books and writers and writing. More Nordic walking (I have my own poles now)and Italian literature. And I started a new short course on The virtù of six Renaissance masters.

We began with a big hero of mine, Filippo Brunelleschi, whose dome or cupola for the cathedral in Florence is above. I have loved this building, especially the dome, for 45 years. Ghiberti this week.

We saw Midsummer Night's Dream at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol - one of our favourite places for seeing Shakespeare. It was so good, with a really funny Wall. I read Snobs, by Julian Fellowes, with pleasure and great relief that I don't live in that world - or want to. Am now devouring Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scriptures - such a good book!Also read a short story by Beppe Fenoglio called Golia (Goliath) about a German soldiers captured by partisans.

And I've heard Suk's Asrael Symphony twice: am listening to it now. What a find!

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Big changes on the way

I have been talking to the Kimptons at Wordpool, who designed this site, about a brand new website. It's needed for early March when Stravaganza: City of Ships comes out, and Bloomsbury need me to update materials for the Stravaganza site too.

So busy, busy, and it all takes time away from the actual writing. But sometimes you have to put that on hold because the other things have a more pressing deadline.

Anyway one of the changes is that this blog will become more of a newsletter, every week or two and that people will be encouraged to comment and ask questions, which I can reply to. At the moment I answer fanmail every week or so and often spend a long time answering one whose writer has given the wrong email address. Then it bounces back and there's nothing more I can do. The disappointed reader just thinks I'm a mean author who didn't reply.

As well as working on website ideas I have written a piece for the Big Issue about "5 Books your child should read before they're 11" and a story in 247 words for World Book Day on the subject of Time Travel. That was really hard!

I've also been to London twice - once for the Costa award party, which you can read about on my other blog (at - scroll down because there are a couple of later posts) and once to see the RSc production of Twelfth Night at the Duke of York's. We absolutely loved it!

Some people say that Richard Wilson was born to play Malvolio but this production isn't built around him and he plays it very straight. The ensemble is terrific,with the twins sufficiently alike to carry it , a convincing Orsino and a lovely Andrew Aguecheek in James Fleet (The Vicar of Dibley and Old Mr Dorrit's much nicer musical brother).

We'd both had a hard-working week and it was lovely to sit back and be lavishly entertained for three hours, especially by a play we know so well.

I'm still reading Alan Bennett and will miss him when it's over.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

A moving post

Since my last entry, life has been very much dominated by daughter's move.The Sunday before last we went up to London to collect my car, see the flat and take the new home-owners for a pub lunch.

Then the whole of last weekend was spent packing up the rented flat and eventually making the final move on Monday. After that I drove back here in my car, which had done sterling service ferrying items to the dump, flatpacks from IKEA and generally making the move easier.

I do not want to see another cardboard box or any bubble-wrap again for a long time!

So not a great deal of work has been done, though I have written a little piece for The Big Issue on "5 books your child should read before they're 11." And I have been working on new material for the Stravaganza website to coincide with publication of City of Ships.

And, very excitingly, this website should have a whole new re-design by then.Busy, busy.

I've also been to one Nordic Walking class and given blood - but not on the same day!
I've read Alan Bennet's Writing Home and a lot of his Untold Stories. And since I've had a writer friend to stay while husband was away at a conference, I've seen things I never normally watch, like Silent Witness. We also watched Shooting the War on BBC4 - incredible and often harrowing footage of WW2 from both sides.

My Italian Literature Class has started again and we read a "bleeding" chunk from a novel by Alvise Corrado. I hate de-contextualised passages like that.Must get back to revising the adult novel now.

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

The weather outside is frightful

Well, MOST things went according to plan. Everyone got here in the end and we had a wonderful Christmas. What didn't happen was our anniversary trip to London. The snow was bad there and we saw there had been accident on the M40. We've postponed seeing the play till February.

But that meant my car wasn't in London and husband heroically drove up on Christmas Eve to fetch one couple, while I, less heroically, fetched another from Oxford. The third couple and my sister had arrived on 23rd. So we dug in, with log fires and lots of lovely food and drink.The big carafe of cognac I won in, well, Cognac was very popular.

The big snow arrived last Tuesday and it already feels as if it has been here for ever.
This is a picture of it from my "magic" window.

I got a terrific haul of books and have read two of them: Leanne Shapton's Important artifacts ...etc, etc and Susan Hill's Howard's End is on the Landing. I hope to blog about them both over on the Book Maven (

I've also seen quite a lot of TV, including Cranford and Dr Who (the latter was pretty dire). But what I enjoyed most was Avatar in 3D at our new local cinema. We can now do a 15 min drive, park for free and stroll across to the multiplex and see films in comfort. So much nicer than driving at least twice as far to Oxford and paying to park miles away from the cinema.

The story is pretty clunky but the visuals are spectacular.

We didn't stop entertaining till 29th and since then I've written two essays - one in English for Art History and one in Italian on Vitaliano Brancati. So I can start revising the adult novel next week.

Oh, and I didn't win the Costa; Patrick Ness did, with The Ask and the Answer. But I DO get to go to the presentation on 26th and to take a guest. Not a dinner this time, just a champagne reception, but how nice to go to something like that without feeling nervous about whether you might have won!

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Monday, December 21, 2009

'Tis the season to be very jolly indeed

This was our tree in 2007 - but it looks the same every year. None of this tasteful, colour-themed minimalist nonsense. The three daughters decorate it - this year on Christmas Eve - and throw everything we've got at it. And we have a LOT. Husband buys one new bauble in every shop we visit in the Christmas season and we have this year been given some as presents.

After feeling frighteningly behind with everything, I am now more ahead than I have ever been. Cards and parcels all got done on time in spite of fewer than half the cards we had ordered arriving. The crackers never did arrive but I got some more at M & S. And all the presents ordered on line will be here on time, except for one, which is for someone we aren't seeing anyway, so it can be posted on. Our Christmas shopping in London was very successful.We even managed a carol service with mulled wine afterwards.

I got that Grace picturebook written and both editor and agent like it, so that's a relief. Also wrote a Guardian review for January.

The most eventful day was 10th December, though this was a mixed blessing:I had my last Art History class of term, then a quick glass of champagne at one party and off to London for the Bloomsbury bash.Before the first party, there was a call from middlest daughter to say she and partner had exchanged contracts on their flat. (The offer had been accepted in September so that was a relief!)

The Bloomsbury party was fun and I basked in the congratulations on the Costa shortlist.It was a pleasure to meet up with old friends and put faces to new ones I'd met on Facebook (Gillian Philip, Chris Priestley). I was delighted to discover that Chris draws the Payne's Grey cartoon in the New Statesman, which is coming back! Seven of us went out for a Lebanese meal afterwards but I got a call in the middle of it to say my cousin had died in San Diego. This had been coming a while but was very upsetting, especially since my sister and I realised there was no way we could get to the funeral, which was on 19th.R.I.P Sylvia, a lovely lady taken too soon.

I stayed the night with a writer friend, who had invited someone to meet me at breakfast. We woke up 20 minutes before friend was due, thus giving support to the idea that all writers are a bit louche and disorganised.

Husband's work had two parties and my "office party", i.e. the local SAS Christmas lunch happened in Stroud. I drove there in powdery snow with another writer friend and we all signed our books in the children's bookshop next door to the bistrot

The weekend was spent cooking up a Christmas storm and there are many good things sitting in the freezer or fridge.

I saw the Turner and his masters exhibition at Tate Britain, with two friends. I like him much better when he stops being influenced by other people and develops that wonderful dissolving gold style.

And I watched the Cranford creative extension this Sunday. Some of it delightful but harsh in places.

I read Fontamara by Ignazio Silone, which is our set text and really enjoyed it, even though parts of it are grim.

Tomorrow is our wedding anniversary and we are off to London to do complicated car exchanges and see the matinee of The Habit of Art. So this evening will be spent wrapping presents and putting up more decorations. The time to be very jolly indeed!

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