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

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Your friendly neighbourhood author

An e-mail this morning asked if I could come and read Amazing Grace to Kindergarten chilkdren at a school in Virginia in the next few weeks. Now this teacher had contacted me through my website, so had ample opportunity to discover I did not live on her side of the pond. But even if I did, I might have been in California, or Alaska or Washington, so why assume I could drop in on her class in VA? That would really have worked only if I lived round the corner.

Maybe that's what we writers do - give the impression of living round the corner from the reader. I should be flattered really and not be such an old grouch. But I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with my American public. Dial (my US publishers) were so anxious that Grace should appear an American girl, or perhaps that they had orignated the books, that they Americanised not only spellings and expressions but even settings to an extent. That has made the storybooks hard to write, since Grace is aged around ten/eleven in them and would obviously be on the verge of going to secondary school here. Not so in the US, where the school switch is at 13.

When the second storybook was published in the States (Encore, Grace!), a reviewer said (I quote from memory) "Why does Ms Hoffman choose to set her book in the US and then include English expressions?" I still seethe about that, as you can tell, since I emphatically did NOT choose to set any book about Grace in the US and the least my American editors could have done, with all their many linguistic tinkerings, was to have saved me from such a dreadful calumny.

Well, the third Grace storybook (Bravo, Grace!) will be distributed in America by Publishers' Group West, in its English edition from Frances Lincoln, with all its English expressions, like "mobile phones" intact. Let's just see how the reviewers like them apples! BG has just arrived in bound proof, with a shiny purple cover, the first time Grace has made it into bound proofs. It will be a collectors' item (ho! ho!).

I had another e-mail today, from a delightful Dutch parent, who had read the Dutch edition of "My Grandma has Black Hair" to her children, The book ends: "My grandma is married to my Grandpa, but that's another story!", with a lovely picture (by Joanna Burroughes) of a denim-clad, bearded middle-aged hippy. They had searched in vain for a copy of the book about grandpa, but I'll have to tell them it was never published! It was a victim of one of the many editorial changeovers at Methuen and was turned down. (one of the very few items in my bottom drawer - a notional "drawer" only: really a box among the twenty-five or so that make up my archive and clutter up the office here).

The cover of City of Flowers appeared in yet another e-mail today - very handsome in dark red marbling, with the familiar silver cut-out in the shape of a perfume bottle with a fleur-de-lys stopper this time. I am very lucky in my Bloomsbury covers.

Have been trying to book next year's Italian holiday in Umbria, to help with research for my mediaeval book set between Gubbio and Assisi, but you absolutely can't get to Italy by Motorail any more and the house we wanted has been withdrawn from the brochure. So back to the drawing board after hours of Internet research. It looks like fly-drive after all. Tried to tell husband this would all be easier - and a great saving - if we had a second home in Italy. He looked very unconvinced.