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

Friday, April 20, 2007

Perfect day

We had our Easter picnic in the ruins of old Minster Lovell Hall - very picturesque and the four of us had a huge spread. I used my new SatNav to get us to friends in Bristol on Easter Monday (cheating really, since we knew the way). I chose the voice of Tim - very patient - and Stevie is already jealous of my unquestioning obedience to this new man in my life.

I felt as if I were in a film about a writer last Saturday. First we heard my radio interview on One Word radio and then someone came to interview me for a PhD dissertation and the Times carried a favourable review of The Falconer's Knot. But the real stuff was going up to the St Bride's print library in London and seeing a real wooden press and the type. Brilliant! This is all research for City of Secrets.

The next day I met my script conmsultant/writer friend in Oxford and as well as doing a cafe crawl, we went to the Botanical Gardens. I've lived here six years and not been in them before. They are TINY compared with Cambridge's but have a very nice hothouse, where we saw the sort of plants that grow in her garden in Australia.

i was giving a talk to librarians in Birmingham the next day and really had to wrench myself off the swingseat in the sun but enjoyed it when I got there. The NEC makes the Bologna Book Fair, where I'm going on Monday, look quite small.

Today is my birthday and it began before breakfast with an hour long telephone interview, in Italian, with a young journalist on a newspaper in Gubbio. We ended up talking about Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell! I then finished an essay for my Italian class and went with husband and youngest daughter to The Trout near Oxford (star of many an Inspector Morse episode) for lunch. Two beautiful peacocks displayed for me, one on the roof, and the manager gave us free glasses of champagne. The sun shone, the weir rushed, the peacocks screamed and it was wonderful.

Last week I saw the Canaletto in England exhibition in Dulwich. It is quite extraordinary how he made the Thames look like the Grand Canal! There was a beautiful view showing about three dozen spires on Wren churches, most of which were destroyed or damaged by bombs in WW2. He is a great virtuoso of detail but he doesn't move me.

And at last saw "The Queen" in the theatre in Chipping Norton (no popcorn). Terrific performances but I HATED the stuff about the stag - so sentimental and so hypoctitical. She isn't against hunting in general is she? And the portrayal of the Blairs as lower middle class was farcical - their home and her poor domestic skills (burnt fish fingers, I ask you!) I did enjoy it but it wasn't really a story - we knew the dramatic high points and all the stuff in between was speculative and not all of it convincing. (Though I bet Alistair Campbell was just like that).

Friday, April 06, 2007

Nothing stranger than fiction

The Falconer's Knot has been published and I've been doing more radio interviews and signing books in London. We started at Harrods where I was alarmed to discover that the children's buyer was a falconer in her spare time! Fortunately she liked the book.

We had a planning lunch at Chipping Norton for the annual SAS retreat at Charney in July. Six of us drinking coffee all afternoon and at least two of us couldn't sleep afterwards. It was absolutely freezing - cold enogh for snow. And yet today, Good Friday, we've been sunbathing in the garden, making sun tea and planning a picnic for Sunday.

I saw Ian McKellen as King Lear at Stratford. He was as splendid as you mind expect but the women were dreadful, even the lovely Romola Garai as Cordelia, And Sylvester McCoy - Doctor Who, I ask you! - was the Fool. But the hanging of him on stage was effective. Talking of Doctor Who, I saw the first episode of the new series with the new companion, Martha. It was terrific.

We also saw the DVD of Stranger than Fiction, a film with Emma Thompson, Will Farrell, Dustin Hoffman and Maggie Gyllenhall. The conceit was that the Will Farrell character found himself a character in a novel being written by Emma Thomspson, in which he was going to die. The trouble was that this book was supposed to be a masterpiece and every bit of it that we heard was completely banal. But it was redeemed by all the performances, which also included the magnificent Queen Latifah as "an assistant sent to the writer by the publisher to help her finish the book"! It also drives me mad that writers in films are STILL shown using typewriters!

But that's partly because we are seen as extremely eccentric - weird even. I have no argument with that except that it's the wrong kind of weird that is shown.

I read Primo Levi's "The Black Hole of Auschwitz" a collection of essays, forewords from Holocaust books etc. Inevitably repetitive but what he had to tell us can't be said too often. Also Skulduggery Pleasant, a new children's book for which its author, Derek Landy, is reputed to have been paid a seven figure advance. Yes, SEVEN, that means a cool million. But it's another one of those " a string of violent incidents and adventures makes a plot" books. And it begins with a reading of a will and a child being left a house by her uncle, which is just so OLD.

Having said that, some of it is good. But the villains are all just villains, sheer wicked heaps of villainy. It's as if someone has taken a decison that young readers can't cope with nuance.