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, October 30, 2006

Pumpkins and Roses

I had coffee sitting in the back garden today, admiring the new plinth that has been built to support my summer house. This gazebo will not be bought and constructed till next May or so but since everything around me is unseasonal, I don't see why I shouldn't plan it now. I have an early-flowering azalea, which normally blossoms in January/February and it is in flower now. And we have another "last rose of summer" on a bush in the front garden.

But I spent the morning making a pumpkin lantern and Thai curried soup from the flesh. So it feels as if all the seasons are happening at once.

We celebrated my nephew Freddie's first birthday last Saturday. He was surrounded by upwards of six aunts and uncles, full, half or by marriage, three grown-up cousins, one grandmother and two parents, each of whom had brought a present. He coped very well in the circumstances, tearing paper and pulling open boxes and having a good game with everything inside. His mother blew the cake candles out by mistake by laughing so hard during his reaction to the birthday song, so that they had to be lit again for the photos. A very happy occasion.

The house and garden have been full of buildfers this week. As well as the summery plinth, we had the roofer to check tiles and gutters. He has only one expression - "lovely job!" - which was applied to everything from cups of tea to the plinth. Also a plumber who spent all day replacing two radiators, which was not a lovely job to do though well done. Lorenzo, the blue Burmese, appointed himself plumber's mate for the day and followed Mark everywhere, apparently checking on every stage of the work before signing him off.

Jess has gone to a Halloween party in Brighton, dressed as a fallen angel, in black corset and full size black angel wings. The cats were terribly excited by these. Imagine what fun it must be to think you have discovered that one of your favourite people has secretly been a chaseable bird all along.

I had a very nice fan e-mail today which included the line "I see from the website that you have sold the film rights ..." Now I have checked what it says on the FAQs and it states clearly that "there are no film deals at present." This is not the first time I've had such a reaction though. What can I be doing wrong?

This week I saw the first two episodes of Torchwood - absolutely brilliant! I'm a great fan of the new Doctor Who and Torchwood has the same feel. I also saw Simon Schama's fascinating programme on Bernini's Ecstasy of St Teresa. I read Bagheria and Il piacere di scrivere, both by Dacia Maraini. I wish I'd read them both before writing my essay on La Lunga Vita di Marianna Ucria, since they cast such light on the novel. I heard Francois-Ferdinand Guy playing part of Beethoven's Hammerkalvier sonata. And all of the Incredible String Band's 5,000 Spirits or Layers of the Onion CD, and much else, while stuck in a traffic jam on the Headington roundabout for an hour and a quarter

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A sudden change of direction

I have been working on three books simultaneously for some time. They are at different stages: The Falconer's Knot is down to page proofs, American jacket copy and things like maps and acknowledgments. The adult novel is finished and awaiting revisions before it goes off to the agent. And I am researching Troubadour, the next historical novel for Bloomsbury.

Now a fourth and fifth, at least, have been added to the mix. Bloomsbury are offering me a contract for two more Stravaganza titles and they want me to write the first of these next - preferably before Bologna, which is towards the end of next April. So a soon as I have written the proposal for Troubadour and revised the adult novel, I must start researching Padua, which is where the next Stravaganza novel is set, at least in its parallel universe form.

At last I shall be able to give a positive answer to all those fans who write and ask if there will be a fourth book! It's really very exciting but I now have to wrench my head around to starting that new book - there is an outline of course.

Rhiannon and I had a lunch yesterday to celebrate her finishing of Bad Blood and mine of Christina on the Nursery Floor. We then went off to meet the illustrator John Shelley, with his wife and little daughter, in Oxford. John was one of our artists on Lines in the Sand; he has lived in Japan for the last 20 years and is now thinking of moving with his family back to England, with Oxford as top choice.

Last week I got a phone call from another artist who worked on Lines in the Sand - Jeff Perks, who is having an exhibition in Derbyshire next year. Jeff makes one picture a day on the subject of Iraq. The one I bought at the launch is a stark picture of a body on a stretcher, with the words "It's all going according to plan" - as relevant today as it was three and a half years ago.

This week I read Bad Blood by Rhiannon Lassiter (fantastic pscyho-horror story by my daughter), The Making of Me, a collection of autobiographical writing by the late, much-missed Robert Westall. I saw the DVD of The Commitments. Haven't watched this for a while and was struck afresh by what a sad story it is, the band giving their greatest gig the night they break up. I wonder what happened to all those talented singers and musicians and why haven't we seen the actor who played Jimmy Rabbite in anything since? Also saw the satisfying final episode of the TV Jane Eyre; what an earth was the casting director playing at with St. John Rivers? He was supposed to look like a Greek god!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Putting on the style

I don't think I have written here yet that I'm having swimming lessons. Jessica comes too. I was a regular three times a week 20-minute breast-stroker for years in London and have been doing it here since June. But I've never been sure about the breathing, which hampered my style.

Now, after four lessons, I can do it properly. Speed has suffered a bit and all sorts of young women who keep their heads out of the water go powering past me. But I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am doing it correctly! Front crawl is another matter though. I did a length and a half of it in the pool this morning and, as well as doubtless looking absurd, I was knackered. Jess says I look like a lion roaring when I come up out of the water to breathe. "Does that mean I look like a madwoman?" I asked. The answer was, "I love you very much."

Italian Literature classes have also started again - ah, the true sign of autumn! - and we are reading difficult, long, nineteenth-century short stories. I had high hopes of Ippolito Nievo - handsome aristocrat, follower of Garibaldi, died young in a shipwreck - but the only thing he was romantic about in the story we read was his rosy-spectacled view of agricultural workers. Next week's is about a sleepwalker.

Jess is back at university and the house is redolent of resin (the chemical kind, not pine) as she constructs her models and makes casts.

Stealing from the Guardian G2:
This week Mary read Peter Pan in Scarlet, the sequel by Geraldine McCaughrean, and was dazzled, even though not a fan of the original. She saw on TV the third episode of Jane Eyre - ace; the last of the Nuremberg trial reconstructions, on Rudolf Hess - the least impressive of the three programmes and Wide Sargasso Sea - absolute pants, which is remarkable in view of the number of scenes shot in the nude. She heard Faure's quartet, written not long before his death: rather Brahmsian, sad, but not in a personal way, more about the general transience of life. But done with great style

Thursday, October 05, 2006

No egg on my face

I got back from a long weekend in Normandy on Monday, where I'd been researching locations for some scenes in my adult novel. Actually technically we (I took Rhiannon with me as researcher and consultant) were in Brittany, staying on the Mont St. Michel. But the point of the trip was too explore Genets, a village which IS in Normandy, from which you can walk across the treacherous sands to MSM at low tide. But not without a guide, since there are quicksands.

We took the night boat from Portsmouth to St Malo, sleeping in a dear little cabin. Then a coach to MSM, with one change. We were staying at one of only a handful of hotels on the island, which is famous for having famous guests (like Margaret Thatcher!) and for making omelettes. Day and night it seemed whenever we passed out of the front door next to the restaurant, we heard the sound of chefs whisking eggs in their copper bowls to produce these notoriously fluffy and substantial items.

Trouble is, we are both vegetarians and Rhiannon doesn't even eat eggs. This was quite a serious problem since we were marooned on the island for 3 days and nights and even the hotel breakfast wasn't that nice and was quite expensive. So we scrutinised the menus of the 5 or 6 hotels there were there and managed to just about find things we could eat. France is impossibly difficult for vegetarians anyway and an island even more so - Italy is much easier.

We did the trip to Genets (bus, train, taxi, taxi, train, taxi), relying on my schoolgirl French (Rhi did German and Latin), with much interference from Italian. Only to find it wouldn't work, because although there were indeed sands, there was no resort. So I'm going to invent a composite village. But at least people won't then write and complain. And it was useful to see the local church and war memorial and collect surnames.

We didn't do the walk across the sands - fortunately as it turned out, since the warm sunny day disappeared and was replaced by cold and rain. But the views of the mount were indeed fantastic.

Rhiannon read my novel typescript and we had a very good session on it; she is an excellent reader. I have come back all fired up about it but have had to lay it aside to proofread the page proofs of The Falconer's Knot and make some yet more corrections. I bought a tapestry on MSM with a young nobleman hawking. I hope it isn't naff.

My e-mail problem, which lasted all through September, was solved just before we went away. It took very many phone calls, five or six engineers in India, a case-conference and consultations with the USA but it is now done. I fear I may have lost some e-mails along the way though.

But not the ones from girls at the same school in California whose lovely, intelligent, detailed praise of the Stravaganza series is rather marred by asking for a signed copy of City of Flowers at the end! I shall have to disappoint them, I'm afraid.