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

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Small cat diary

Christmas began properly with all six of us gathering in the New Theatre in Oxford for a performance of Cats. It's the fourth or fifth time I've seen it over the years since the girls were small and, although I enjoyed it, I always have the same sense of dissatisfaction with the absence of plot. And what plot there is is either sickeningly sentimental (Grizabella) or meaningless (Old Deutoronomy has the right to choose one cat to start a new life - why?).

The individual numbers are great (apart from the ghastly "Memory") and the dancing great fun, and of course the lyrics much improved by being based on the words of a real poet, but really it could have been SO much better with another real writer to give it a proper book.

Still, we were in a mood to enjoy ourselves and did. Having Christmas on a Monday felt like having an extra day in which to make preparations for the meal, wrap presents and get the tree decorated by all three girls. This year we have a big one in the living room and had to spend a lot of time batting cats off it, as they tried to catch baubles or bite light bulbs. So far no major disasters though.

And we managed all the planned Christmas Eve things - log fire, mince pies, roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and carols - before Midnight Mass. It was a classic, really. I gave Stevie an Armillary sphere and he gave me two walking poles, both equally romantic. I didn't take the poles on the Boxing Day walk, because it was on the flat. The radio told me there were three traditional ways of dealing with Boxing Day blues - a walk, a board game and planning a summer holiday. Well, we did all those, although no-one was feeling blue.

The holiday planning took hours, because the one we'd booked, as far back as last August - to the place in Campania where we had 3 memorable holidays when the girls were small, beginning 20 years ago - fell apart just before Christmas. The apartments in the 17th century palazzo have been upgraded to be 5-star accommodation - which means removing all the kitchens! So we decided to go back to the beginning and it's now looking like Corfu.

The most popular board game was Articulate, at which Bex is specially good. Her acting training is not wasted. She has a wonderful new job as Theatre Administrator at the Old Vic, so I'm looking forward to a lot more plays in 2007.

I read the new translation, by Simon Armitage, of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It's a strange exercise. A simply beautifully produced book by Faber. The version most in the high style but every now and again an odd colloquialism like "Arthur kept his cool". I imagine Armitage is trying tro mirror something in the original but it's something I don't remember from reading the original at university 40 years ago.

I heard the Beatles "Love!" album, with songs re-mixed by George Martin and son. It was a Christmas present from Bex and I'm delighted to have it but it will take some getting used to.

I saw the Doctor Who Christmas special; didn't he get over Rose a bit too quickly? Even Owen in Torchwood stayed miserable for one whole episode. I also saw the Holbein exhibition, which was wonderful. What a first-rate painter and draughtsman he was! As good as Rembrandt. And it is astonishing how he formed our mental image of the Tudor court.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Berries and Blooms

The Novel has gone to its first publisher and my agent is now in Antarctica, so news will be on hold till after Christmas. But it's good to know that she loves it and so do two others at the agency. Phew!

And last week we agreed content on the next two Stravaganzas and the next historical novel for Bloomsbury so all I have to do is keep my head down and get on with it. I've booked a swift trip to Padua in Febnruary as essential research. The Bloomsbury Christmas party was last week too and the sales director greeted myself, Celia Rees and Nicky Browne as "Bloomsberries," which I rather like, conveying as it does both freshness and maturity.

So many people are considering writing or have written adult novels that I'm starting a little sub-group of the SAS to get us all together.

Christmas has definitely arrived here, with tree, mistletoe, wreath and a plethora of cards. We've had the first two visits, plus Stevie's work Christmas dinner, which happened at his boss's house in Oxford, where there was much talk of the appointment of the new bishop - I felt as if I were living in a updated version of Barchester Towers!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Christmas begins at home

We set off to go to the Bourton-on-the-Water turning on of the Christmas lights on December 1st. We go every year and all the shops are open late, with staff in Victorian costume, handing out thimblefuls of mulled wine and bites of mince pie. It's an invalyuable source of stocking fillers and we always enjoy seeing the baby reindeer.

Anyway, this year it was raining and we just couldn't get into either of the carparks, so sadly turned round and came home. But we'd rung Jess to say it was a washout and when we got back to our house, were greeted by a hall full of tea-lights and incense, a Christmas garland and, in the kitchen, a plate of mince pies and glasses of sherry and port already poured. It was such a sweet thing for her to have done - she'd dashed to the supermarket and got the pies and garland and rummaged through the CDs to find Christmassy music.

So our evening was rescued, even if we couldn't buy any stocking fillers and the cats had to be substitute reindeer.

The next day we went to London to see the At Home in Renaissance Italy with Bex. It was the second time for me but the first for her and Stevie. It stood up well to a second viewing, as did the new V and A restaurant in the William Morris room. When we came out it was dark and people were skiting on the ice-rink outside the natural History Museum. It was like a Breughel.

This week I saw Ferris Bueller's Day Off and School of Rock, both on Film Four. These had been gaps in my education for a long time. I liked FB somewhat better - it's amazing how fresh-faced Matthew Broderick still looks 20 years later, playing Bloom in the film version of The Producers. Such a shame he married Sarah-Jessica Parker. Tony Bradman told me School of Rock was the best film he had ever seen and it wasn't quite that for me. I didn't find Jack Black quite likeable enough - he's like that big, embarrassing friend you had when you were a teenager, who always took things a bit too far.

I read and am still reading Sibilla Aleramo's Una Donna, which is our set book for Italian. It was first published in 1906 and is heavily autobiographical. Since she had a supremely miserable life, in spite of being very beautiful and intelligent, it should be heavy-going, but it is a very easy read. I listened to the two CDs I bought at the At Home in Renaissance Italy exhibition - perfect for background music while writing Christmas cards.