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

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Angling for an Oscar

I went to see Brokeback Mountain yesterday and must be in only person in the world who hated it! It was SO boring. I felt no sadness at the end, while both the daughters who came with me were visibly moved, because I didn't believe in Ennis and Jack for a minute. What I saw was two Hollywood stars fishing for awards by obviously Acting. This is done mainly with the mouth, in Heath Ledger's case as if eating a big handful of pebbles.

I had wondered how a short story would make a fully-fleshed out 90 minute movie but the answer is that it hasn't. The characters are two dimensional and the situations predictable. It looked very fine but that's a tribute to Wyoming (?) and the cinematographer, rather than Ang Lee or the scriptwriters, who have all won awards for it already.

The two men are inarticulate, uneducated and utterly without any inner life or outer aspirations.They are both selfish and yet not selfish enough to dare to be together. It takes a great writer, as great as Joyce, to make that interesting and neither E. Annie Proulx nor her adapters are that. While I went all prepared to be moved by a story of necessarily covert love between two men (from 1963 for 20 or more years but in real Hicksville) what I got was acres of achingly dull stuff, in which almost nothing happened. The only moment of surprise was an unexpected grizzly bear.

Am now wondering whether to bother with the similarly hyped Walk the Line or Good Night and Good Luck. Don't think I could face Capote, for which my namesake Philip Seymour Hoffman has already won a Golden Globe and Bafta and is tipped to pip Ledger for the Oscar. But I don't mind if he does now.

Work wise, the good news is that my agent rang - on a Sunday - to say how much she loved The Falconer's Knot. Still waiting to hear from Bloomsbury. I gave a talk at a Carnegie/Greenaway dicussion day with a group of 130 librarians. And I was allowed to sit in on a discussion group whittling their Carnegie shortlist down to one nomination. That was absolutely fascinating.

Ever since then I've been researching a-stereotypical princesses and am nearly there with Princess Grace. And I've done something that has been waiting for months: putting together a batch of writing tips for my website. Now I'll be able to direct the fans there. It's incredible how many of them want to write their own fantasies or have done so and would like me to read them.

But nothing beats the teacher from the States who began by asking me if there was an activity book on Amazing Grace and, several e-mails later, asked me to write him a teaching unit. Is it so hard to understand that what a writer does is write the books?

Saturday, February 11, 2006


Clearing up the debris after finishing a novel is a bit like the joys of Twelfth Night. Books restored to shelves, borrowed titles returned to the London Library, notes filed and several wallet files put into a cupboard. And at last all those jobs that have had to wait are getting done - two batches of marmalade, sorting through my entire collection of family phoitographs as part of the great renewal after several albums were destroyed by damp, having a big book sort out etc.

We ordered two new bookcases in November to help with the overflow but they have only just arrived. We collected them from Wantage and spent a happy few hours yesterday re-organising large Art books (I had bought so many of Simone Martini and Assisi for The Falconer's Knot), history and also contemporary paperback novels. I decided not to keep Maggie O'Farrell's "After You'd Gone." It is SO miserable and I shall never read it again.

It seems to me easy to write about misery and sorrow. What is hard is to leave the reader convincingly uplifted. I've just finished reading The Kite Runner, which is a great favourite with most people, including Book Groups, but I found the redemptive ending both contrived and predictable like eveerything else in the book. Very readable nonetheless.

I've been thginking about film a lot this week. Fiona Kenshole came to the Society of Authors to talk about her job as Head of Scouting [sic] for an animated film company in the States. What is needed for a successful animated "family film" appears tro be a plot that requires little by way of emotional reaction on the faces of characters, plenty of humour, sentiment (for the US audience particularly), something like a Quest structure, and preferably talking animals. I must write something with all this in mind.

Linda Aronson spent the afternoon here on Thursday. As well as being a very funny writer for teenagers (Kelp, Rude Health, Plain Rude), she has a second career as a script doctor for TV and film internationally, as well as writing her own scripts. She was lovely: perceptive, bright, interesting and with some great ideas. We talked our heads off for five hours and I was really sorry to see her go. She'll be back in August (they live in Sydney) and we'll try to get her husband, a Professor Emeritus of Law, to come out here too next time.

One of the highlights of the week was a lovely fan e-mail from a French girl.Phrases like "As of the first time when my eyes fell on the cover of your book I had a thunderbolt and I am say: this book has the brilliant air it is necessary absolutely that I buy myself him" were very cheering.

Friday, February 03, 2006


This has been an elegaic few weeks, containing two funerals.My cousin's was in a crematorium, with communal hymns and a very personal address by the celebrant. We went in to "The Wichita Lineman" and out to Louis Armstrong's version of "When the Saints go Marching In." The latter was comprehensible and my sister nudged me to say that she wanted that too (she is older than me and I am one of her executors) but I don't know the significance of the former. Maybe she just liked the song; it's certainly very haunting. There were a lot of people there and it turned out that her father had been one of six children, so there was a lot of family on that side. Just my sister and me left on ours, since my father was the only one in his family to have children.

It was good to meet again people I haven't seen since we were children. I realised with a shock that my mother would have been a hundred on her birthday in January. My father too in July. What a far distant world 1906 seems now to me and how strange my childhood must now seem to our girls - no TV, computers or fridge-freezers and our holidays in boarding-houses in English seaside resorts.

Then Jan Mark's funeral a week latert. The music was all recordings, including Peter Maxwell Davies' Farewell to Stromness for piano and one of Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs. It was very moving. She too was taken very much before her time, with meningitis-induced septicaemia. A sudden, silent killer. It was a bright and sunny freezing cold day, which seemed appropriate for a person of such fire and ice. A warm and generous person who could be frosty on the surface; she didn't suffer fools at all, let alone gladly. Rhiannon and I have promised ourselves a Jan Mark binge, sharing books and re-reading all she ever wrote.

Holocaust Memorial Day fell on Mozart's 250th birthday. Could there be a better conjunction to remind us of the worst and best that human beings are capable of? Even as I write there is a discussion on the radio on whether Holocaust denial could or should be a prosecutable offence. No-one would defend the right to free speech more vehemently than me but what are we to make of the reckless irresponsibility of reproducing cartoons so offensive to Muslims in various western newspapers this week? This is a hopelessly stupid and inflammatory act, which will have grave consequences. We should wear our freedoms with grace and exercise them with restraint, not thrust them in the faces of others like a drunken lout mooning passers-by on a Saturday night.

Oh, and by the way, I have finished The Falconer's Knot. It did make exactly 21 chapters and I should be able to post it to my agent and editor tomorrow. I'm waiting to hear some answers from my mediaeval consultant in Oxford but they may have to wait till the next round of corrections.