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 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.