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

Friday, July 29, 2005

Writing and retreating

It was a short weekend, preparing for the annual Scattered Authors’ (SAS) retreat. It’s held in an Elizabethan Manor about half an hour’s drive from me and this is our fourth time. I had to give a session on money matters, which had been complicated by the press coverage of our survey results.

However, it all got done and I drove into the Manor grounds just after 4pm on Monday, feeling, as always as if I were coming home. The first evening session involved introductions and Susan Price said she was going to writing about Vikings. I remembered that Kath Langrish had been on a reconstructed Viking ship in Denmark recently for a five day sail, while working on the third Troll book.

I had the same room as last time and it was easy to nest in it. It’s a bit short of power points – one hiding behind the bed and one under a chest of drawers – and I discover I use a lot of electricity. Laptop, radio, phone charger etc.

Money matters went well on Tuesday morning and I skipped the optional groups on particular aspects of writing, in order to get back to my adult novel. Managed what we are now calling “a swift K” before lunch. It was wonderful to return to it – everything has been so disrupted by the Italian holiday, getting out an edition of Armadillo, going to Toronto/Chicago, getting the kittens, doing three events last week and the press release. It’s sometimes hard to remember that what I’m supposed to do is write!

Tuesday afternoon was about warm-ups and I was fully warmed up already so I got back and finished chapter five; this is two further than I have got with an adult novel before! And I had managed to get Susan and Kath talking Viking ships at breakfast, so it had been a good day. I decided to go to the evening session, which was about definitions of success and was followed by champagne and strawberries.

Wednesday morning was a mind-expanding session on PowerPoint, given by Diane Hofmeyr and Alison Boyle. It gave me lots of ideas. We also have “five-minute reads” at the end of each session and I apprehensively read from chapter one of Christina. Fortunately for me, lots of people liked it and came up to compliment. Phew.

I wrote less on Wednesday – only about 1700 words although I skipped the annual walk – but that put me well into chapter six. Stevie and Jess came to join me for supper and after they had gone there was a quiz, which my side lost! I’m sure it was because one of the questions was the name of the heroine of the Animal Ark series and someone on the other team had been one of the myriad Lucy Daniels. I still don’t know it.

On the last morning we did a mixture of Tai Chi and Chi Gong, if I have got those spellings right, out on the lawn. It had a lot to do with balancing, which I have never been good at so perhaps my life is about to be revolutionised. And a very important lesson about being stronger than your opponent if you yield a bit. Publishers beware!

I caught an awful cold on the retreat though and have been malfunctioning ever since I got back. Our last session was recommended holiday reads and I chose The Time-Traveller’s Wife. Strange to think that people haven’t yet been on holiday when mine is all over.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Lost and Found

Well, Lorenzo did throw all the relationships up in the air. Surprisingly in was Lonza who accepted him first and Lila was hissed and complained for four days. But they all love each other now.

It has been an exhausting week, so hot and humid and so much going on.

On Monday I got horribly lost both ways going to a teachers’ centre in Northants. If you remember my post “The Fat Lady has Sung” from last October, here is another vow: I shall not drive to places I don’t know unless there is another person in the car to read the AA route for me! Gradually I am learning.

On Wednesday to the East End to launch four new dual-language editions of Amazing Grace at the Newham bookshop. Jessica Souhami and Prodeepta Das also had new books and we all did a live radio interview on an Asian network the night before. We all had a great Indian meal at a vegetarian cafe afterwards and were joined by Benjamin Zephaniah, who has also done a book for Frances Lincoln and is writing J is for Jamaica to Prodeepta’s photos.

After a night in London I went by cab to King’s Cross and saw the banks of flowers for the first time. I observed my 2 minutes’ silence on a train to Nottinghamshire for the Lowdham festival. That was because the train was late – I was supposed to be starting at a school by 12.

It sort of carried on like that – the teenagers in the afternoon hadn’t heard of me or my books. But one lovely girl had been taken out of school by her mother to come and hear me and was a great Stravaganza fan. So as in Toronto, one reader saved it from disaster.

The whole day was mad because of journalists ringing me on my mobile about the press release – it even made BBC Radio 4 news at 6pm, though I didn’t hear it. On Friday, to do a live TV interview on BBC News 24. Then Radio Oxford bagged me and I think Radio 4 picked it up from there.

The cats have found out what fun paper is and I fear they don’t distinguish between scrumpled up bits in the waste paper basket and vitally important documents like my tax bill. Must teach them to read.

Friday, July 08, 2005

All change

I really should have kept my promise and blogged last week, since all news of festivals and kittens seems so trivial now.

I was a Londoner till four years ago and know all those places; it was horrendous watching the news coverage. But my London daughter phoned me before I'd heard anything so I was not anxious for her. Unlike those poor people on News 24 today showing pictures of the loved ones they haven't heard from. 9/11 all over again. I expect in time it will be known as 7/7.

But in the spirit of "life must go on," I will post some of my news. The best thing about the ALOUD festival was meeting Alex, my fan, who came out for a coffee break afterwards and had a typed list of Stravaganza questions - marvellous. Oh, and finding a newly-arrived and somewhat jetlagged Jackie Wilson standing by the lifts in our hotel. She did very well and stayed up till the equivalent of 3am.

My flight to Chicago was cancelled, but I was fast-tracked on to an earlier one, being rushed through the whole fingerprint-and-photo business so fast I didn't know what was happening. "Your fingers are VERY dry," said the immigration official, disapprovingly.

Got to Chicago in time for the Listening Library reception in the Civic Opera House, where Judy Blume gave a pretty speech and met Gail Carson Levine (Ella Enchanted), who looks like the Fairy Godmother - tiny and potent. My hotel offered a goldfish for company so I accepted. I called him Ringo, because we've had the other three Beatles over the years.

ALA was great - I signed lots of copies of Bravo, Grace! at the Frances Lincoln stand in the morning and ditto of City of Flowers at the Bloomsbury one in the afternoon. In between I had lunch with both sets of publishers in a restaurant at the conference centre. When we reached coffee and Victoria (Bloomsbury USA) ordered a cappuccino, they said they couldn't do it because there was a Starbucks in the centre and they had the monopoly on cappuccino! This is absolutely true.

After fitting in another quick party, I went to the dinner that Bloomsbury were giving for me and American author Rick Yancey, to meet librarians and journalists. That was wonderful and stimulating. We walked back a few blocks to our hotel afterwards which was the first real experience of Chicago I'd had and I loved it.

I skipped breakfast because Frances Lincoln were having a two-hour brunch at the Four Seasons and I have never seen anything like it! Yes, you could have croissants and fruit and coffee, but also soup, sushi, roast beef, greek salad, couscous, prawns, mini-bagels, pasta, meat stew, and a range of puddings. Oh, and I forgot the eggs Benedict, stacks of pancakes, and omelettes made to measure. At 11am they opened the Bloody Mary bar. It's amazing that we managed to engage with our group of librarians at all but we did, most effectively.

Then I had about two hours free befor the next event and spent it first dashing to Urban Outfitters to buy tops for girls, then at last getting to the Art Institute. They have room after room of Monets, Van Goghs, Matisses, Seurats etc. And there will be a new wing built by Renzo Piano by 2009.

Back for one last party - the VOYA reception, a magazine which had chosen City of Stars as one of 24 best fiction titles of 2003/4 - and then off to the airport. It left me with a great yen to return to Chicago. Toronto, too since I had no free time there.

Once the jetlag wore off this side, we were ready to fetch the first two kittens. Lonza is a small cat really, stunningly beautiful and very sensitive but loving and companionable too. She didn't think much of being given a sister the next day but Lila didn't care. (she specialises in not caring). Lila purred all the way home in the car and started playing the minute she got out of the cage.

It took three and a half days for Lonza to stop hissing and for the two of them to snuggle up and wash each other. Now they are inseparable. But we'll be adding Lorenzo to the mix the day after tomorrow and anticipate fireworks well into next week.

I haven't written much beyond a Press Release on children's writers' earnings since we've had them. But I'm going on an SAS retreat the week after next and will take my laptop.

London on Tuesday to chair a committee meeting of CWIG and then a session on illustrating. Anthony Browne, Jane Ray and Korky Paul were brilliant, showing us their roughs and even passing round finished artwork. The audience was full of other artists - Shirley Hughes, Ted Dewan, Ros Asquith, Colin West, Nicola Smee, Caroline Holden, were all spotted.

To Oxford on Wednesday for the launch of Troll Mill, the second of Kath Langrish's troll trilogy. Very good. I met Julie Hearn, who said she doesn't use e-mail. Or rather she reads it but doesn't reply. However she does occasionally read this blog, so Hi Julie!

And so to 7/7. Today should have been the announcement of the Carnegie and Greenaway Awards in London, but it was postponed out of respect for the victims and consideration for the emergency services. Frank Cottrell Boyce won the Carnegie medal for his book "Millions", now an exciting motion picture, as they say.

Both cats are "helping" me write this blog so I'm going to stop whil it's still intelligible!