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, May 25, 2007

Saying no to chocolate

I was in Antwerp the weekend before last, mainly to see a wooden printing press operated at the Plantin-Moretus museum there. Never been to Belgium before or on the Eurostar so these were new experiences enjoyed with Jess. She wanted to eat Belgian the first night, which resulted in a HUGE pot of mussels for her (and this was a half order) followed by steak. The vegetarian options were a Japanese soup and then lasagne with ratatouille and polenta - hardly redolent of the lowlands. The next night we went Thai and we had one Italian lunch but we could have had Chinese, Indian, Lebanese, Mexican- all within a couple of streets.

She went off to photograph Art Nouveau buildings while I did my museum - very useful for City of Secrets - and we both went to the Acquarium and two art galleries. I was disappointed in the main collection BUT they had a Simone Martini! Four little panels actually, which made it worthwhile.

Antwerp also has "chocolate cafes" - purgatory for someone on a pre-summer-holiday diet. I chastely drank black coffee. I was amazed at what a melting-pot culture it is - equivalent to London for BEM population. We had a Rastafarian taxi driver who was so very much to type he even played Bob Marley's One Love on his stereo system!

I've done the Frances Lincoln sales conference, an appearance at the Kingston Festival - in a lovely RC Girls' Secondary School where one of the most avid readers and intelligent listeners was a Muslim girl - and last night had a launch of The Falconer's Knot shared with two other writers of historical fiction - Viv Richardson and Linda Press Wulf.

And now I'm whacked and ready for my holiday.

I saw the judging bit of the Eurovision Song contest on our hotel TV. And the DVD of The History Boys - twice. I found it fascinating - a plot about real things for a change. Also saw an amateur production of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, which I had never seen before. I was very disappointed in it as a play, although the central idea must have been very striking in 1921. It's really 6 characters in search of an Ending, since they all have a story and are looking for a way out of it.It's his best known play and I'm amazed that he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I finished reading Carolyne Larrington's Arthur's Enchantresses, which is really a very good exploration of all the matter of Britain has to say about Morgan and her sisters and the Lady of the Lake.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Puss in Boot

It's been a busy couple of weeks. The day after my birthday the girls and my sister assembled here and they made a superb Italian banquet. This served as training for Bologna where I wnet two days later.

Rhiannon and I both had a successfully fair, being feasted by Frances Lincoln, our (joint) agents and (joint) German publishers. We also met the Japanese and I the Dutch and Danish publishers of The Falconer's Knot. Philip Pullman was giving a talk but we didn't see him.

The fair was depressingly full of fairies and princesses and pink and glitter. Also examples of the higher tosh order of fantasy. But the weather was spectacular - sunny with clear blue skies the whole time. I met three Italian friends/contacts - four if you count Ed Zaghini but he's lived over here so long I don't know if you can.

One was the woman who is helping set up a European library in Rome. We have been trying to be in touch for a long time and spent an hour and a half drinking coffee in the sunshine while I tried to fill her in on the British scene.

On Thursday evening Stevie came out to join us and we went to Florence by train. Our apartment there was right on the Borgo San Lorenzo, with cafe tables right outside the front door. Literally - we had to wheel our suitcases round them! Then there were 72 steps up to the flat. But it was a little marvel when we'd got there, with one window looking towards San Lorenzo and another towards Brunelleschi's Dome.

We mixed culture, ice-cream and social life for two and a half days, having dinner with my dear friend Carla on the last night. I lost count of the courses but I bet she has been living on leftovers for a week. I half-expected to bump into Adele Geras who was in the city at the smae time but in fact it was Philip and Jude Pullman we met on the train back to Bologna - they had done the same as us and tacked on three days after the end of the fair.

We got back to find, which Stevie had warned me about, one of the cats with her leg in a sort of cast. She had broken four tiny bones in her ankle while I was away and had to have a spectacularly fiddly and expensive operation in Solihull. Jess had done all the driving and paying and set up a holding cage which the poor animal has to spend six weeks in - the equivalent of bedrest for someone with a badly broken leg. She yells to be taken out for cuddles and her sister thinks she's a fake and hisses at her.

I read Sarah Waters' Night Watch, which I did find compelling but don't think that the much-vaunted reverse construction made it a better book. It meant it couldn't have a proper ending. I saw an exhibition of Desiderio da Settignano's sculptures at the Bargello and thought him very inferior to Donatello, or even Giambologna. But I also saw the much-loved favourites by Michelangelo - Brutus, Bacchus and the wonderful little Apollo-David. And the Benozzo Gozzoli Journey of the Magi again in the Medici Palace, of which I never tire. And we got into Orsanmichele, which has been "in restauro' for years - a real treat. The Boboli gardens were much more vertical than I had remembered.

Since being back, for contrast, I have also seen Spiderman 3, which is a good candidate for "worse film ever made."