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, 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.