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

Monday, September 18, 2006

Hocus Pocus in Lund

I left for Copenhagen straight after coming back from the retreat at Charney (see last blog) and mistimed my departure, so that I was sure I would miss the plane. However, I just scraped on and then sat for half an hour waiting for delayed take-off. BA had said no cosmetics, books or bottles of water in hand-luggage so I had minimal belongings and no time to buy more once through the interminable security.

So when my suitcase didn't turn up at Copenhagen airport I had even less than normal. Lovely Agnes from Litteralund met me and we took a train to Lund, crossing the sea from Denmark but it was too dark to see it. We arrived at my hotel at midnight, having bought toothbrush and paste, deodorant, a magazine and some snacks from a Seven Eleven. I had to put my contact lens in a glass of mineral water and wrap myself in a towel to go to bed.

How I wished next morning that I had taken Katherine Roberts' advice at Charney and worn two pairs of knickers on the flight! As it was I had no lipstick and was very grateful for the green Litteralund Festival T-shirt I had been presented with on my arrival.

I met up with Kate Cann, the other English writer, and her husband at breakfast and then set out to explore Lund and buy some essentials. People told me it was like Oxford and indeed it has an ancient university and I saw many students in fancy dress so it must have been Rag Week. But it is much quieter than Oxford and far fewer people. I bought underwear, lipstick, foundation and a book (life's essentials) and then joined the organisers for lunch in the Grand Hotel. One of them had been all the way back to Copenhagen airport and been refused my suitcase but it was soon in transit to Lund, after a ludicrous phone call in which the airport official told me my hotel didn't exist and I was reduced to saying, "But I'm sitting in it!"

It didn't arrive in time for my first appearance. Kate was giving a session for adults (teachers and librarians) in the very grand hall of the Grand Hotel and it had been arranged that I would make a mystery appearance at the end. The rather whacky but nice librarian Barbro had decided to put me in a black velvet cloak with hood and have me propelled through some double doors at the back of the hall as Kate came to ther end of her reading. This was OK but I was guided through the wrong set of doors. I couldn't see a thing since the black hood was pulled down over my eyes, except my own feet walking out of the hall, so I turned and went the other way. I was then "unmasked" to great hilarity and a warm reception.

I was relieved that they knew who I was - Stravaganza seems popular in Sweden. I talked a bit about my books and then Kate and I had a lovely relaxed dialogue about how we work. It went very well. Fascinating to hear that Kate likes writing on her laptop in bed, since I sit on the sofa in my study with mine. The physiotherapist from Charney would have something to say about that.

My suitcase had arrived when I got back to my hotel so I was able to change in time for dinner with Kate, Jeff and our two publicists from our respective Swedish publishers, plus a friend of one of them. We went to an Italian restaurant, since there isn't really a Swedish tradition of vegetarianism. It was a good evening with plenty of nice food and wine. The two publicists and their friend were all young women with very young children (each had one of four and one of two) and they were enjoying a bit of freedom from domestic responsibilities.

This evening ended bizarrely with my being locked out of my room (no night porter - or pejhaps the hotrel really didn't exist?) I'll draw a veil over the next hour and a half, since the prospect of a second night without my belongings reduced me to a quivering wreck, but after negotiations like something out of the UN, my posse of wonderful young women got me into my room and I fell into bed with relief.

The next day, Saturday, was the one for young readers to attend the festival and both Kate and I had sessions with teenagers in a tiny theatre. I had my PowerPoint presentation with my on disk and the organisers had found an Apple laptop, projector and screen. Just for once, all the technology worked. There were about 35 in the audience, many of whom stayed on to have books signed. Their questions were as always more perceptive than those from a comparable English audience would have been. Alfabeta had made a poster saying, "Mary Hoffman, Queen of Fantasy," in Swedish, which was very nice.

Kate's session went well too and then there was a party in the same theatre to round off the festival. It was a buffet at 9pm and I had eaten cake in the afternoon so was ready to wait but Kate and Jeff and the three young women decided to go out for a meal while I watched some US Open tennis on my hotel TV set. Hence, at the buffet, they picked delicately at a few morsels, while I piled my plate, giving a misleading impression of our respective appetites.

It was a very nice party but Kate and I nearly misbehaved ourselves badly when the entertainment came on. He was a singer and guitarist of a depressive turn of mind, a but like a young Swedish Leonard Cohen. After two or three suicidal songs, I'm afraid we had to leave because we had a fit of the giggles and Kate was threatening to grab the mike and burst into My Old Man. It must have been the sense of relief at everything having turned out all right - plus the alcohol.

Next day I had some free time and went to High Mass in the cathedral, celebrated by a woman bishop - Christina Odenburg(?) It was a good chance to see the inside of the building, which is one of the great Mediaeval cathedrals of Europe. But Sunday in Lund is very quiet, with no shops open, so not really like Oxford. When I crossed back over the bridge across the ?Skattegat, I could see the sea this time.

Back to London, where I was reunited with husband and with our youngest daughter, who had returned from three weeks in India. She was surprised to discover how warm it had been in Sweden. Indeed summer seems to have returned, even in England and we spent lots of this last weekend in the garden. A last burst of sunshine before we go back to woolly jumpers.


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