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 25, 2005


The British weather being what it is, it rained for my party and more than fifty people had to jostle elbows in our ground floor rooms. Three artists, two of whom brought me pictures, seven writers, five or six academics (practising or retired), three doctors, one judge, one conductor, three publishers, one agent, two actors, six students, one architect, five teachers past or present, one bookseller .... these are surely the chattering classes.

It was like the tower of Babel, hearing all the overlapping conversations. Or like a Charles Ives symphony, with different orchestras playing different melodies simultaneously. Several people were ill on the day and couldn't come and one forgot but the food was sensational, the company very good and I was overwhelmed by everyone's generosity and goodwill. When all the guests had gone and just immediate family and boyfriends were left, I spent an hour and a half unwrapping presents!

There was a demo outside the local airfield against the war on Iraq and I might well have been at it if I hadn't been otherwise engaged. As it was, it caused a bit of a headache to people trying to reach us. But they were gracious about it; perhaps they saw the rainbowe PACE flag fluttering outside our front door. It's been there for two years (actually the second one).

I spent most of Sunday answering the pile of fanmail e-mails which had arrived while I was away in Italy.Very occasionally I get one like this: I luv ur buks.R there going 2B mor of them? (The most recent one from a grammar school student.) So I expend my skills and extensive vocabulary writing quite demanding novels, which they read and enjoy and they write to me in textspeak! What do they think I will make of it?

I am going to Coventry on Wednesday to speak to 80 reading club students about Stravaganza. I've had a cheerful e-mail from one, telling me he hasn't read any of my books. What have I let myself in for?

Ah well, time to start writing thank you letters.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Hitler and me

It's my birthday today and I'm afraid it is Hitler's too. All those many years ago (today's is a big one) my mother couldn't have waited three days? Then I would have shared this anniversary with Shakespeare instead. It's his on Saturday and I'm having a real party but here is a virtual party for all those friends and readers who pass through here. You must imagione food, drink, balloons and confetti.

Still, if my mother HAD held on (and that would have been painful), I would not have been an Aries, which I like enormously - first sign of the year, fire sign, ambitious, curly horns. There is a pewter ram's head above the door in my study and other manifestations around the room. And I wear a gold ram's head ring on my right hand.

Since my last post I have been to the Bologna Book Fair, my seventh time. (My Finnish publisher was on her 28th!) In spite of a tiresome cold, I had a good time, staying in a hotel which made really excellent coffee and gave me a Repubblica every day. The headlines were virtually the same for nearly a week: "Berlusconi in crisi." And I've just heard he has resigned - yey!

Busy at the fair all day and with social occasions in the evening, I didn't see much of the city this time, except for when walking back from restaurants. But I met lots of my foreign publishers and saw a lot of my German writer friend, Knister, who is now making a live action film of his Lili Hexe books. He says his dragon is being created by the same New Zealand team and technique as Gollum, so I guess Richard Taylor and the Weta Workshop are involved.

I took only books in Italian to read - Rosetta Loy's "La Parola Ebreo" (The word Jew) and Niccolo' Ammaniti's "Ti Prendo e ti Porto Via" (I'll come and take you away). Just finished the second here but the first was short and finished in Bologna. It's a really good subject - the gradual awareness of a young middle class gentile girl in Italy of what was happening to the Jews in the '30s and '40s.

Pope Pius Xl commissioned the writing for an encyclical condemning racism, of which anti-semitism was a prime example, but died before it was published and it vanished without trace. He was succeeeded by Pius Xll, about whom and the Nazis volumes have been written. One thing is sure: he didn't publish such an encyclical. Who knows if it would have made any difference? Perhaps my birthday-sharer was unstoppable. But people like Padre Kolbe volunteered to die horribly so that a single Jew might survive. And we expect a lot of Popes, don't we? Benedict XVl included.

Stevie came to join me on Friday and we transferred to Florence, where the hotel coffee was terrible, but we had a lovely room with a view of Giotto's campanile and a small slice of Dome. Lots of amazing meals here too but the highlight was Monday morning in San Marco, which I've missed the last few times. Ghirlandaio's Last Supper means so much more to me than Leonardo's and the Fra Angelico cell frescoes were as luminous and spiritual as I remembered. The Noli me Tangere particularly. And there was a special exhibition of early artists which had some examples of ground colours - very useful for The Falconer's Knot.

I have come back with three pages of Bologna follow-up notes but I think they'll have to wait till next week. For now, I'll raise a glass of virtual champagne.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Building Bridges

To London last Thursday to hear Thomas Heatherwick lecture at the Royal Institution. He is an architect/designer who created the “B of the Bang” sculpture in Manchester and is also well-known for his caterpillar bridge in Paddington that curls up to let shipping through.

These were two of the eight projects he presented in just over an hour and every single one was fascinating. He is 35 but looks younger, in the way that Simon Rattle did before he went grey. And he is self-deprecatingly modest; his charisma is all through the work. Everything is done with immense style, but the style arises from the functionality and isn’t an add-on.

His latest bridge is to be made of compressed glass and he walked across the small scale model of it in the lecture. Fabulous! I wouldn’t have even known about it if Jess hadn’t whisked me off to it.

Bridge-building of another kind from Grace Kempster at my other trip to London this week. She is director of Read on, Write away! In Derbyshire, working to develop literacy with everyone from babies to nonagenarians, including offenders and travellers. She already has an OBE but deserves every honour going.

I have been reading La Citta’ delle Stelle, the Italian translation of City of Stars. It is very good for my Italian because I already know what it OUGHT to say – at least, more or less. Am enjoying it hugely.

Off to the real thing on Tuesday, for the Bologna Book Fair, followed by a few days in Florence, with a side trip to Siena, the real City of Stars.

Monday, April 04, 2005


(It has been pointed out to me that my last post was full of typos - must try harder!)

For many years now the daughters have called their father Mr Pension and me Mrs Villa, because I have a horror of stocks and shares (particularlarly since the crash in 2001/2) and favour bricks and mortar. Also because of this decades-old dream of having a place in Italy. And I do find everything to do with pensions crashingly dull as well as depressing. Or should I say "did"?

Because as of next April, my pension could BE a villa! Well, not actually a villa - more an apartment in a small complex with a pool. But in Tuscany. Also I don't have enough, yet. But suddenly it looks as if the dream could become reality in a few years. I once heard on an Oprah Winfrey show the magical phrase "the difference between a dream and a plan is a timeline."

So instread of being either/or it can be both. Thanks to Gordon Brown. That's what I call a new kind of alchemy, commuting leaden old pensions into a golden place where I could have holidays in Italy.

To the Cherwell School last week to take part in a quiz. I was on a team with Linda Newbery and others but we were up against a team with Philip Pullman, Jan Mark and publishers David Fickling and Liz Cross. However there was one glorious point when our team, the Senior Moments, was in the lead. That was before the round on Sport. Philip's team, the Tottenham Hotpants, won by a small margin and we were 6th out of 22. It was a good cause: to send to New Zealand the team for Cherwell that had won the UK section of the Kids Lit Quiz, started in NZ. They will compete there in the finals.

Then there was Easter, which contained a lot of food and a big family party. Amazingly there were more males than females for once.

This weekend's event was the FCBG conference in Hatfield. I was on a panel discussing fantasy with Chris d'Lacey and Catherine Fisher. Loads of people I knew were there - lots of SAS members as well as some of the original Northern Lights group from London days, like Ann Jungman and Jane Ray. I stayed the night before with old friends in St Albans who have two cats (half-Bengal). They weren't cuddleable but allowed lots of stroking, which was balm to the heart.

On Sunday we constructed the swing seat I had bought for the garden. This is part of a plan to write outdoors on my laptop over the warmer months. Plan thwarted this morning by solid downpour of rain. The seat cushions are all on my study floor, making a phantom sofa.

More Alchemy needed or a least a bit of weathermagery.