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, August 29, 2006

Spreading it thin

I have been rushed off my feet getting these "last" corrections to The Falconer's Knot done but I think we'll get it off to the printer just about on time. I feel very split, since I now have only two chapters left of the adult novel to write and the ideas are tumbling over themselves and must be disciplined. I've also satrted to research the next teenage novel so it's hard sometimes to find a quiet space in which to rest my brain. Insomniac again, which is not surprising.

Non-writers don't understand that we almost all work on more than one book at a time, at any of a book's possible stages. I shall be on a Scattered Authors Society (SAS) retreat next week and it will be good to be entirely among those who lead the same crazy working life.

I took a few hours off to have lunch with two friends from the Italian class (one is French) and they were both very helpful on the subject of from where on the French coast you can see Mont St. Michel and be in a village with a sandy beach. I had quite the wrong spot and I obviously need Genets in Normandy.

We have had three e-mails from Jess in India and she is having a wonderful time. Her CFS in under control and she writes very well about the temples and mosques she has seen. She is about to hit the desert at Jaisalmer.

Spent an hour on the phone today talking to a loively Scottish woman who has written a children's book and wanted to give her royalties to the Lebanon. I have also recently sent a critique to someone whom I knew when she was a child and who has now written her own book and I have waiting forme to comment upon, a sheaf of poems and short stories from a friend's son. So I have just turned down the request of another chap to read and endorse his children's book. I felt bad saying no, even though I don't know him, but sometimes I just have to steel myself.

Made five pots of apricot, two of damson and eight of plum jam since my last blog. But we have a washing-up bowl full of apples to deal with now. We were going to go balckberrying at the weekend but I wouldn't have had time to deal with all fruit. Maybe next Sunday.

We did get to Buscot Park for a few hours yesterday though and saw the ravishing Briar Rose panels by Burne-Jones.They'd make wonderful book jackets.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Do you know the brilliant picture book of this name by Margaret Mahy? A family have a plum tree overlooking their house which produces such abundant fruit that they have to make vast quantities of jam which they end up using for jobs like re-sticking bathroom tiles etc. They all get very fat eating the jam too. At last they finish the last jar when, plop .. the first of the following year's plums falls on their roof ...

I said it was autumn, didn't I? The plums and apples are all dropping in our little orchard. So we picked as many plums from the tree as we could reach and must now make us much jam as the family in the story. And our little damson tree, given to me as a birthday present four or five years ago, produced 50 fruits! Enough for a couple of jars I should think. But I had rashly bought over a kilo of apricaots last week so have been turning those into jam first. It's going to be hot and busy in our kitchen for the foreseeable future.

Even hotter for Jess who managed to get off to India yesterday, on the day five months from when she fell ill with CFS. I hope she'll be OK. Actually, she is in Nepal first for a few days but the main three week trip is in India. As when I went away for a month, the hardest bit was getting to the airport.

Only four chapters to go! But I'll have to stop to work on final sub-editying points on the Falconer's Knot next week.

I've jsut had a fanmail saying I am the best writer since Edgar Allan Poe. A compliment I think, if unexpected!

Final Big Brother

Because it was the Big Brother Final and I am never going to compromise myself by watching it again. (skip to the next entry if you were not sucked in like me.)

So, Pete won and we were all very happy because he was Jess's friend at Brighton and because he was the best choice. Only next day did we find out he had about 60% of the vote. I should have liked the wicked Richard to have come higher because his caustic wit was always funny - and he was the only person in the house who knew Machiavelli was a writer.

But what a nightmare was Nikki? I think she blew the last week, her interview with Davina and a possible furure with Pete. Quite some achievement. But I read on the Net (how sad am I?) that a psychologist thought she shouldn't have been on. Likewise Sam the transexual and one other - can't remember who but surprisingly not Shabaz or Lea.

I agree about Nikki though. By a bizarre coincidence, the murder of JonBonet Ramsay was back in the news the same day and the parallels were clear. This tiny creature with the body of a child (apart from an NHS boob job) had been taken over by a crudely sexualised 24-year-old, who could come out with deadpan phrases about things she had done with men that were worthy of the grotesque Russell Brand (see below)

And no-one who hates herself as much as Lea does should ever have been allowed to become an icon.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A little learning

Stevie is just back from an intensive week of Latin at Lampeter University, where he counted as "advanced" and was very pleased to have been mistaken for a Classics graduate more than once. Jess and I had a far less elevated time, watching Big Brother, taking cats to the vet, visiting the supermarket and having her last medical appointments before India.

But I've booked for two courses next term, not just my usual Italian Literature but one on the Italian City 1400-1600, which was too delicious to resist. I shall be kept very busy writing essays, especially since I'm also going to spend one evening a week having swimming lessons to improve my style and speed.

I got my essays and presentations back this morning for the last two terms - going back to last Oct-Dec! I had quite forgotten doing them but my Italian teacher was complimentary. Maybe he felt so gulty about taking so long to mark them that he thought he couldn't be too critical!

It is all making me feel very autumnal, especially since we've had a dramatic change in the weather - cold and wet. How sorry I am for people taking their families on hioliday in the UK! That was us 15 years ago, when I dug my heels in and refused to risk British weather with three beach-obsessed daughters any more. So we went Eurocamping and also had our first trip to Venice, which was of course very significant.

The best news is that I have only five more chapters of my adult novel to write. So I'm in that lovely last quarter when you see the finishing line ahead and can gallop along at 4-5,000 words a day. Watch this space.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Isle was full of noises

Last night the whole family went to Stratford to see Patrick Stewart as Prospero in The Tempest. I put it that way because he was a towering presence in the performance - though it would be a poor acxtor who could mess up such a part.

The director had taken the extraordinary decision to set the play in the Arctic circle, thus making nonsense of "Come unto these yellow sands", all references to being blown off course between Tunis and Naples and the generally North african allusions to coral, marmosets etc. It was very consistent, with the fairy banquet being a large raw dead seal on a sledge. And the masque just before the end threatened to unbalance the whole play when three staggeringly beautiful women sang an inuit song and performed a presumably Inuit dance before getting down to the ritual tril;as by fire and water.

Ariel was amazing and absolutely terrifying - once appearing out of the entrails of said dead seal, as a pink and bloody bird skeleton. It was the closest he got to flight - no wires for this Ariel - as he glided white-faced about the stage in a black robe. Unfortunately he reminded all my irreverent daughters of Kenneth Williams in Willo the Wisp! caliban was just thrown away - a vaguely thuggish rustic. You really have to address the fact that the "monster" has some of the most beautiful lines in the play.

It was very loud, from the beginning when a Shipping Forecast announced foul weather in the path of the King of Naples' ship. This aspect was a bit too much for Jess, one of whose symptoms is not being able to stand loud or high-pitched noises.

Uneasy lies the head

We had our Henry Vl marathon last Wednesday - all three plays in one day, which took ten hours. We had done extensive cramming the night before to enable us to remember who was who - difficult when so many people are called Edawrd or Henry of Richard. Though in fact most characters were known by a place name. This leads to the kind of scene parodied in "Beyond the Fringe" (Saucy Worcester!) in which people say "Gloucester, hie thee to Worcester and Exeter get thee to Buckingham where Somerset is bringing all his men from Salisbury" etc.

It was a dramatic production, with lots of siege ladders, ropes and trapezes, in the Courtyard theatre, which has a thrust stage; lots of plays will be there next year while the Memorial Theatre and the Swan are closed for refurbishment. It is an exciting space and was used to great effect. My brother-in-law - a Professor of Phiosophy - got picked on by the rebels of Jack Cade in Part Two and was dragged on stage and given a sword with which to execute another prisoner. He responded with alarming vigour and alacrity!

All the way through, as England squabbled with France and the factions of York and Lancaster squabbled with each other, there was a recurrent refrain of provocation. It reminded me of when the girls were small and the great defence for any show of violence was "she provoked me!" You could almost feel the word "disproportionate" hanging in the air over Stratford, as claimant after claimant to the throne stabbed, beheaded or poisoned their enemies.

There were terrible moments such as when Rutland (youngest brother of the Gloucester who will become Richard lll) is dragged out of hiding and stbbed to death by Young Clifford in spite of his desperate pleas. Clifford is merely avenging his own father who has been murdered by Rutland's father, the Duke of York.

Sound familiar? The young boy mercilessly killed for something he didn't do? For an audience who had seen the bodies of children carried out of the wreckage in Qana days before it hit home hard.