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, November 29, 2004

Sequins and Poltergeists

I’ve had the most wonderful fan letter from the States. It was from an 11-year-old girl and was typed on swirly turquoise-blue paper which was then decorated with sequins and shiny stickers, to make masks, lanterns etc. The content was pretty pleasing too! Much as I love the instantaneous nature of e-mails, you can’t beat a beautifully ornamented letter. (And I really don’t like smileys).

Everyone has had flu here – it’s like a plague house. So I was glad to escape to London for two days. First, to the World Book Day party at the Cafe Royal in Piccadilly, where I was guest of Bloomsbury, along with Celia Rees, Angie Sage, Cathy McPhail and Graham Marks. We all have books out in the spring and it was good to catch up.

The entertainment was “The Jimi Heneage Experience”, i.e. James Heneage, the MD of Ottakars and his colleagues, such as Wayne Winstone, the children’s buyer. And they were very good!

The next day to the AGM of Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group at the Society of Authors, where Justin Somper talked to us about Showing Off Our Assets. He had done this at more length for the Scattered Authors Society in Oxford the Saturday before and I’ve picked up a lot of good self-promotional points – watch this space!

Both nights I stayed with Ann Jungman and after the CWIG event five rather raucous female writers and illustrators piled into a taxi to Muswell Hill and joined Ann for a Chinese meal opposite her flat. It was a sort of reunion for some of the old Northern Lights group that ran from 1995 – 2000: Jane Ray, Kate Petty, Ann and I, plus Fiona Dunbar and Ros Asquith. A merry evening.

When I got back there was a phone message from Kaye Umansky, who was another Northern Light, so it was all a little nostalgic.

I don’t really miss London, though – not even lovely Crouch End. For a start I’m always going there and secondly, I love living here. It’s a great house and all the three Stravaganza books have been written in my study here, so it’s obviously inspiring.

I didn’t file a blog last week. We had a most sleep-deprived weekend: first what appeared to be a break in, followed by having to stay up with the emergency locksmith till 2am. This subsequently seemed to have been a false alarm, but we now have the most secure garage in West Oxfordshire!

The next night the smoke alarm system went off at 3am and 5am. It’s a wonderful system: an electrical circuit, backed up by 5-hour rechargeable batteries! So we couldn’t stop them. (There was, of course, no fire). My youngest daughter and I jumped to the obvious conclusion – that we had a poltergeist – but husband favoured the “faulty alarm” theory.

So did the electrician who had installed them 4 years ago. He came round the next day and semi-detached them.

All week wonderful books have been arriving – The Craftsmen’s Handbook and Mediaeval Painting Techniques from Amazon and a three-volume work on pigments from the London Library, who also produced a book on art patronage by Franciscans in the late Middle Ages – this is relevant research too.

My husband says he now understands how I write a book. First there is a lot of faffing about, trying to get hold of the right references and sources, then a long quiet period of reading and note-making, finally I settle down and start to write steadily. And then there is a book. Amazing! It still amazes me – every time.