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

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

F for Freddie

Tremendous excitement on the home front as Stevie’s half sister gave birth to her first child last Thursday – Frederick Rufus Hawkeye. He will be known as Freddie. And he’s the first child in the family since our youngest, twenty-three years ago, as well as being the first boy for thirty-five years.

The news came just as I was leaving for a CWIG meeting in London, preceded by lunch with a Swedish journalist. She was very nice and wanted to do an interview about Stravaganza for a newspaper whose name means Daily News and which she says is the largest circulation paper in Sweden.

Can you imagine the equivalent the other way round? I suppose it would be the Telegraph going to Stockholm to interview Inger Edelfeldt. I suppose it wouldn’t have been impossible in the days of Astrid Lindgren. Anyway, I can say without giving too much away that a character dies in City of Masks and Lotta said she had just re-read it. “I kept hoping it would end differently this time!” she said. I was very charmed.

In the evening we had a meeting with Lawrence and Catherine Anholt, and a publisher and agent, on how to make a living as an illustrator. It was a rather gloomy prospect. The publisher had been made redundant between our invitation and the meeting and said that her publishing house (one of the big ones) was cutting down from forty to between twelve and fifteen picture book titles a year.

The only positive angle was that “these things go in cycles” and there was time when children’s fiction wasn’t selling well. And I managed to have a good talk with young Italian artist Sara Fanelli about a possible collaboration.

I’ve seen some very different kinds of story-telling in four films recently: Kinky Boots – very predictable, every cliché in the book, but enlivened by the central performance of Chewitel Ojiefor as transvestite Lola; Serenity – Chewitel again this time as a space villain in a story that relied heavily on viewers already knowing the original 15-part TV series Firefly; Mean Girls on TV – another stereotyped movie, like Clueless, but more vicious and Wallace and Gromit – full of jokes set in a near mythical 50s Britain, where bobbies walk the beat and villagers vie for who can grow the largest marrow.

I enjoyed them all, which only goes to show how little enjoyment has to do with quality. (Though I did feel like walking out of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy earlier this year and we switched off Elizabeth on TV halfway through the second episode). It’s like calling a book a “page-turner.” Plot will do a lot but not everything. You need stuff to happen but the desire to know what happens next is very easily stimulated.

Stuff is happening in The Falconer’s Knot at last; it was really hard to get back into it after working on the adult novel but I think I’m there now. Full steam ahead between now and the end of January. I think 2006 will have to be the year of seclusion if I’m to get everything written that I’m committed to.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Saint Sherbert and the women

I’ve done two more events since my last blog. At the Italian Cultural Institute earlier this week about fifty people assembled to hear Francesco d’Adamo and me talk about our writing. He is a writer of adult novels described as “noir” (shouldn’t that be “nero”?), who has also written four books for teenagers. One of them, Iqbal, has been translated into English. Francesco has no English and our Chair Nicholas Tucker has no Italian, in common with at least half the audience.

So the event was conducted in English, with a wonderful interpreter for Francesco. He and I don’t have much in common in our writing, though he is a charming man. His Iqbal tells the true story of a boy who spoke out against the child slavery scandal of the Pakistani carpet industry, was rewarded with an International Prize and a scholarship to Harvard and was then shot by the carpet Mafia.

Grim stuff but it was delightful to hear Francesco speak of a “Pakistan inventato,” when asked if he had ever been there. I suppose invented countries might be the link though mine is more obviously so than his.

I have just got back from a frustrating trip to the Durham Literary Festival. I was as always beautifully looked after by the organiser but only four of the twenty-plus students who were supposed to be there actually came. The group had been working on inventing “an alternative Durham” supposedly inspired by Stravaganza, though only one of them had read “City of Masks.”

Their work was really promising, with a city ruled by a woman whose name was made entirely of vowels. The woman who sat beside me at the Sung Eucharist in the cathedral on Sunday sang in a high accurate piercing metallic soprano, without any consonants at all. Perhaps the students who called their imaginary city's female ruler Aeiou were reflecting a local speech pattern?

They had converted Saint Cuthbert into Saint Sherbert. More than thirty years ago I had my first encounter with old Cuddy in the cathedral at Durham. I walked up to see his burial slab of black marble, with four huge silver candlesticks, one at each corner and, by chance, my foot touched the edge of the slab.

A shock went through me like a mini-electrocution. It was as if every bone in my body was a funny one and I had jarred them all. I read later that St Cuthbert hadn’t approved of women in the church. Yesterday I sat in that same cathedral and heard a very bad sermon about women priests. The preacher said he “didn’t agree with either side,” which is palpable nonsense and then compared the issue to providing access to churches for the physically disabled! I imagined the saint lying quite comfortably in his grave behind the High Altar and not turning at all.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


To London last week for a Management Committee meeting of the Society of Authors - my last one. I'm on it only by virtue of being Chair of CWIG and I stop that at the end of November. There was much discussion of the proposed takeover bid by HMV/Waterstone's of the Ottakar's chain. I'd already sent in my submission to the Office of Fair Trading. Let's hope they got enough to refer it to the Competition Commission.

Then on to hear The Children's Laureate, Jacqueline Wilson, in conversation with the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, at the Soho theatre. Met lots of old friends there, including Nicholas Tucker, who told me he was chairing my event at the Italian Institute next week. Good.

The big domestic news was the spaying of Lila and Lonza last Friday, which slowed them down for all of half a day. I needn't have worried so much about them. They have shaved sides but are otherwise fine. I spent Friday evening watching that Lorenzo didn't jump on them.

Workwise, ten chapters of my adult novel have gone off to my agent and I've returned to The Falconer's Knot. It's quite hard to wrench my mind back from murders on Clapham Common in the 1950s to those in Umbria in 1316! But I should be through the present lot of research and back to writing by next week.

On Sunday we bought a Wisteria, much taller than me, to plant in the back garden. The plan is that it will grow along the wall and round to over my study windows. It is in honour of the one we had from 1977 to 1993 in London, which grew up and over the house twice and had to be cut down when we had the subsidence treated. I've missed it, but didn't realise how much till we bought the new one. I'd been writing about one in the adult novel, you see.

Italian Literature class began again yesterday; I've missed that too, because I was too busy to do the summer term. I've been reading La Citta' dei Fiori, which is very well translated. I specially like the way the Italians spell "Wow" It is "Uau!" Had a fan letter today from a girl who said she liked Luciano and Arianna because they were "usually sensible." That has to be a first!