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

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Damsons with everything

Fabuilous week in the Lakes - hot and suuny, lovely walks, meals, log fires in the evening and playing "A fistful of Dragon stones" which I was no good at. Jess beginning to pick up. Rhiannon and I both did a fair bit of writing - her next book was inspired by our first visit to that house in 2003.

Returned to 20 or so fan e-mails needing answers, 4 asking if there are going to be more Stravaganza books (answered in FAQs) one from a girl desperate to audition for Arianna in the "film." One from a boy called William Dethridge just like one of my characters. He was very chuffed to find his name in a book. One from a mother in a mother-and-daughter book club wanting to know how ice was made in 16th century Talia, one from a professor in Canada writing a book about crossover fiction, one from a university student doing a powerpoint presentation on me, wanting to know "why" I had written the Grace books and the Stravaganza series. One from a girl wanting me to answer questions for her book report which made it clear she wasn't very familiar with the content. One from a nice man whose surname was Giglia, who sent me his family crest, from Sicily. One from a regular male fan in California musing on the Queen's birthday and a sprinkling of ones from American kids who have been reading Amazing Grace.

My Narnia lamp is now in place, making up for the gloomy weather in Oxfordshire. On our last day in the Lakes we went to Damson Day in the Lyth valley, a sweet country fair dedicated to produce from that fruit. It put our one little tree to shame. It reminded us of the obsession with cranberries in Massachussetts, where we were offered them with everything. And much was made of the cranberry bogs. Damson blossom sounds much nicer.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Body and Soul

Last weekend was spent at a study school in Oxford on the Lady Chapel in Mediaeval Art and Architecture. A few too many of the speakers were not interested in the things that interest us, like the iconography. But there was one absolutely stonker of a lecture, from Jon Cannon, described as a freelance scholar, who talked about English cathedrals and got us all fired up with the desire to visit all 17 of the remaining mediaeval ones in the UK.

And a very high point was Saturday night's concert in the chapel of All Souls' College. The building was astounding. Looking towards the altar, one saw a solid wall of sculpture; Stevie offers "reredos" as the right term but I haven't checked. And there was an angel beam roof with all the angels newly gilt. Cambridge Voices sang 85% angelically - just a few not so good voices out of the 16, but I wished they'd sung more genuinely ancient Marian antiphons and fewer by their director. Still, it was mostly magical. Then one turned round and saw the hideous baroque screen at the west end.

2 more trips to the doctor with youngest daughter, who has had a mystery virus for four weeks. Thought I was succumbing too but my headches were prompted by what turned out to be a tooth infection. Emergency dentist drilled up into the tooth and poked a spike up it for good measure then prescribed antibiotics. "You won't be able to have any alcohol," he warned direly. "No alcohol with these," repeated the pharmacist, "not til 24 hours after you've finsihed the course." What did they think I was going to say? "Oh, I'll just have to ride the infection out - I must have my two bottles of claret a day" ?

Had a good editorial meeting here on Kings and Queens of the Bible and Princess Grace. I'll have to take both texts to the Lakes next week to do a little tinkering, now that we see how much space there is for pictures. But I was going to do some work in the evenings there anyway.

A writer friend has been here for a few days researching some Florentine history for a book. She's off to the city of heart's desire for a week next month, provoking great envy in Jess and self. But the former has won a travel award and booked herself on to a strenuous-sounding 44 day trip to India and Nepal in the summer, so that should help with the wanderlust.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

What larks

"There is nothing quite so boring as a siege," says Guinevere in my Women of Camelot, and I have identified with her heartily this week as the path outside my door and around the house was turned into a ditch. Stevie had to leave for work through the French windows of my study one day.

Only once have I felt like pouring boiling oil on the besiegers though and that was when one of them was just too surly to bear. By and large they have been very good, working stolidly through the downpours of rain (hooray - rain!) this week, including Saturday. And it does look wonderful in spite of what Mr Grumpy says.

Today we went to buy some iron lamp-posts and the big one is very Narnia; it will be a consolation if it snows next winter to stand under it with packages, like Mr Tumnus.

A week ago I had a magical walk near some local ruins with the friend who came from London. We sat on a crumbling stone wall watching the larks rise over the cornfields, drinking black coffee from a thermos and speculating about our daughters (we have six between us). As soon as she got on the train back to London, she found a text message from No 2 daughter in Africa, saying she was engaged.

We walked back through the village to the pub for lunch and I told her Jack Straw lived there though I wasn't sure in which house. At that moment he walked up his path and in the front door, so that put an end to any uncertainty. We'd have bought him a pint if he'd turned up at the pub but I expect he had some serious planning to do for Ms Rice's visit.

Almost every heap and piece of paper in my study has been scrutinised, acted upon, filed or thrown away this week as the drilling thumping and stone-sawing has reverberated round my ears. Some of these had been hanging around in my inboxes for over a year. Very cleansing.

Not a good week for the arts. Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, recently praised for its production of Love's Labours Lost, which we are going to see next week, said alarmingly on its website that it would have to close in a few weeks if it didn't get £25 from 1,000 patrons. And this while a First Folio is expected to fetch 3.5 million at Sotheby's in the summer. Respect for the text is all very well but these guys in Bristol are doing a great job and need so little to stay afloat.

And then came the news that the Competition Commission are likely to give HMV/Waterstones the go-ahead to bid for Ottakars in May. Have they unstood nothing of what has been said to them? My writers' group (SAS) has been hurling e-mails through cyberspace in a great flurry of indignation and despair. We all know horror stories about Waterstones virtually deciding what publishers will publish; how much worse will it be if all the High Street has is Wottakar's?

We have consoled ourselves by booking lots of Shakespeare at Stratford, just up the road - Hamlet, Cymbeline, Juilius Caesar, The Tempest - and we were already down for all three Henry VIs in a day this summer. We were too late for the Antony and Cleopatra with Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter, so I have to ring up daily for returns.

And this afternoon there were three hours of bliss with a BBC 2 transmission of Figaro from Covent Garden. Such a perfectly constructed piece of drama with such sublime music, and very well sung even though none of the cast was Italian. I hope Condoleezza Rice enjoyed her trip to the Blackburn Rovers football club a fraction as much.