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

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Looking on the bright side

The die is cast and the novel revised and sent to my agent. I shall be far too busy to worry about what is happening to it, what with finishing the December edition of Armadillo, researching the next Stravaganza and organising family Christmas.

There was a piece of "fanmail" this week from France, asking for anything promotional with my name on it and saying that the autrhor's 19 year old son was a "huge fan" of mine. I passed it on to my publisher but then found, through the SAS, that lots of other people had had it too, even those who have had no books published in France or who write for under tens. I felt really cheated to realise this was a mass mailing.

This kind of thing is on the increase. I also had one from America asking if I could supply hundreds of copies of my book [sic] at a special rate. And the book report and dissertation writers continue to send in their questions. There's obviously a set form for students to fill in, since one said "I can find only seven significant life events in your website biography and I need ten!"

On Monday, after a morning spent printing out, I went to London and saw Spamalot with Bex. We agreed it was the silliest thing we had ever seen on stage and it was just exactly what we both needed. Tim Curry made a great King Arthur (silly variety) but the rest of the cast was very strong too. The audience knew Monty Python and the Holy Grail very well, even the Americans sitting behind and beside us. There was a spontaneous standing ovation at the end and everyone joined in "Always look on the bright side of life.".

I read An Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamison - a much praised account of bi-polar disorder by a sufferer, who is also a psychiatrist. I found her writing style quite maddening; far from being "beautifully written" as the review quotations on the back say, she even writes "like I" - twice! But it was extremely readable, as perhaps all personal accounts of unusual lives are.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A load of bunko

Well, part of the plan worked; I've done the line edits but not yet written the new material as I had to stop and read The Falconer's Knot proofs for I hope the last time. These were the revises of the revises and I've lost count of how many stages there have been. It should be the cleanest text in the world by the time it's published next April.

But at the same time, the bound proofs came, looking very handsome, with a bundle of matching bookmarks. And it has found another foreign edition. I had a e-mail yesterday about Japanese editions of Stravaganza. They want to bring out paperbacks while the hardbacks are still in print. The strange thing was that this was described as a "bunko" edition and neither I, my agent, editor or indeed the rights editor passing on the message had any idea what this was!

Well apparently it's a sort of small paperback like a Penguin. Perhaps the Japanese would be equally puzzled by our casual references to these birds. Anyway we've said yes to the bunkos.

A group of SAS members got together for lunch in Oxford on Saturday to welcome Dennis Hamley to our midst. Oxford that is, not the SAS - he has just moved here from Hertford. We were ten in all (another meal for ten in an Italian restaurant in Oxford - this is getting to be a habit) and had a good time swapping book news and eating interesting choices of food. It's nice to be offered a vegetarian option without goat cheese!

This week I saw At Home in Renaissance Italy at the V and A and was enchanted by the split open pomander and the jewelled pine marten mask. I read City of Falling Angels by John Berendt, whose Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was such a fascinating book. This, though eminently readable, isn't quite as remarkable. Though full of obvious Venetian "characters" there's no-one as striking as the Lady Chablis and no murder. There is arson - the burning down of the Fenice in 1996 - and all the machinations and convolutions that had to be gone through before a conviction. And in vain, since one of the two arsonists is still at large (he jumped bail) and they were probably pawns anyway.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Where have all the flowers gone?

It's Remembrance Sunday today and we observed the silence in the kitchen, stopping in the middle of preparing for a family birthday lunch. I know I was thinking of the sixty British service-people dead in the last year, as well as the fallen of 14-18 and 39-45. And within a few hours it was sixty-four.

I've been astonished by the virulently negative response to an item on the Today programme about white poppies. "Now I know the meaning of poppycock," blustered one e-mail from some Colonel Blimp in Tunbridge Wells. My response was to order 20 from the Peace Pledge Union website and we all wore them at the birthday meal out in Oxford last night.

That was a happy occasion, at which ten of us celebrated Stevie's big birthday and Bex's 27th. It was a very good meal at Oxford's best Italian. And this in spite of three of us having the worst colds we can remember, including the birthday "boy."

I am planning a week of complete withdrawal freom public life - cancelling Italian, swimming and a nice party in London, in order to a/ really shake the cold off and b/ do the necessary work on the novel.

I read The Blood Stone by Jamila Gavin because we were to be "in conversation" about our historical novels set in Venice at the IBBY conference on Saturday; Odin's Queen by Susan Price and half of Maddigan's Fantasia by Margaret Mahy. I saw Torchwood, episode four, about the Cyberwoman, and found it really frightening!

I've just heard on the radio Guy Browning's spoof of Donald Rumsfeld's letters applying for new jobs. Yes, it was funny but I think we have been wrong to find him funny in a sort of cuddly uncle way. I don't think those sixty-four families are laughing.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The road has led there at last

We're back from Rome, heads buzzing after three full days. The classical day was amazing and I was specially moved by the bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. The skill was there for this anonymous artist to cast the huge figure of the emperor and his horse but another 1300 years or so passed before it was done again, by Donatello with his statue of "Gattamellata' in Padua. And the tiresome Leonardo still couldn't do it.

We didn't manage to get into the Vatican museum but did see St Peter's very thoroughly. Quite by mistake, we found ourselves in a queue to see the tombs of Popes in the crypt. There was no turning back and we realised that there were serious pilgrims in front of us, coming to see the burial place of John Paul ll.

To the extent that I'm any kind of Christian at all, I would describe myself as Anglo-Catholic and I find Protestantism instinctively repellent but I felt a twinge of sympathy for the Anti-Papist viewpoint during our time in Rome. Calendars and postacards of John Paull ll and Benedict XVl abound (and even bizarrely one calendar of handsome Roman priests, intended for the gay market, apparently, and posibly posed by models). It's not just respect but veneration, confusing the office with the holder (which is a heresy - Donatism I think) reminiscent of what many Americans feel for their president.

Though Dubya must have made it hard for American donatists (vide the mid-term results).

Back to Rome. The Early Christian mosaics were fantastic and one church, San Clemente, was built over a Mithraic temple. But most churches, apart from Santa Maria sopra Minerva, which is pure Gothic, had been vandalised by the Mannerists and Baroque artists who are so repugnant to me.

We made the special trip to see Saint Teresa and, if I hadn't been shown it by Simon Schama, I would have made nothing of it. It is almost impossible to see for the elaborate setting.

So, Rome is never going to mean to me what Florence and Siena do, but it is full of wonders and we will definitely be back.

Incidentally, I don't know why the previous post appeared so often; when I tried to send it, the message came back that there were problems and it couldn't be done.

This week I read 1599 by James Shapiro, a really good and thought-provoking book about a year in which Shakespeare wrote Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It and Hamlet. Also, by contrast, Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith, which I have to review. I saw no TV programme at all but heard the deeply disappointing 15,000th episode of The Archers. Of course Ruth wasn't going to go through with her night of passion with Sam, otherwise there would have been no story. Dur.