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

Saturday, July 28, 2007

High water rather than hell

Everyone has their own flood story this summer; this is mine. On Friday we were due to drive up to Shreswbury for a cousin's wedding the next day. My sister, whose birthday it was, was coming from Eastbourne but was delayed by floods at Harywards Heath, a landslide at East Croydon and another flood on the way into London. Since her journey was taking all day, we decided to pick her up in Oxford.

But the roads round here in West Oxfordshire were impassable or impossible in many places and the Brize Norton roundabout full of cars abandoned in the water. We did eventually get to Oxford but by then decided it would be foolish to attempt the drive north and booked into a hotel. Good thing we did or, instead of having a drink in the bar and a nice Italain meal in Summertown, we would have been in one of those cars stranded on the M5 without food, drink or loos and no chance of sleeping.

The wedding was fine - only a few guests didn't make it but there were over 200 guests, each with a story.

On the Sunday we had to get to West Sussex from Shrewsbury after not much sleep. But that ended up like a proper summer Sunday, drinking tea in the sun after a lovely Sunday lunch.

On Monday I was due to go to Charney Bassett for our annual SAS retreat. The radio actually mentioned Charney as one of the places due to flood (overflowing River Ock). Floods at Ducklington and Standlake too, they said, which are on my normal route. So I set off for Faringdon and was turned back at Alvescot. In the end I got there by the usual route, late and quite exhausted, greeted by concerned fellow-writers telling me how terrible I looked.

It was wonderful, as always. The house, a gem of an Elizabethan manor, had been refurbished since our last retreat and all the rooms now have bathrooms. I had a gorgeous one with stone-framed windows overlooking the gardens. We had inspiring sessions on book promotion, writing for adults, and so on and a hysterical quiz night on which the team I was in - the Litchicks - had a convincing win. We won far too much chocolate for our own good.

I forgot to take a book! But someone had discarded Rose Tremain's Restoration which I fell upon. Enjoying it hugely so far.

Yesterday I got an advance copy of the UK and US editions of Princess Grace. They do both look wonderful and the UK one has the title in silver foil, which I always wanted.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Breakfast at the Savoy.

I've just come back from a week in Florence, visiting old favourites and discovering new ones. After the restoration of Verocchio's David at the Bargello in 2003, they are now doing the same to Donatello's bronze of the same subject. The difference being, it is happening in full view of all visitors. David lies on his back in a cradle while a restorer works on fine detail and a microscope relays it to a TV screen.

We visited Michelangelo's statue in the Accademia too. It is so different in that setting from seeing the copies in the Piazza della Signoria and Piazzale Michelangelo. But it always makes me despair the way visitors make a beeline for him, ignoring the prisoners and St Matthew and the pieta. Not to mention the 14th century paintings.

We had no English news at all except what La Repubblica gave us, though that was full of Harry Potter and Princess Diana. I was researching two books that can't be talked about but one involved having breakfsat at the Savoy in the Piazza della Repubblica. We'd booked it for 8.30am and sat outside (our flat was only just round the corner in Via della Condotta). It was very good - freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, good coffee, scrambled eggs, wholemeal toast and even a wholemeal croissant. Jess managed smoked salmon and chocolate croissant too. This is the kind of thing that gives research a good name.

I saw Pygmalion in Bath with Tim Piggott-Smith as Higgins and Michelle Dockery as Eliza. It was a very traditional production and we all enjoyed it. But the actor playing Alfred Dolittle dried spectacularly in the first Middle Class Morality speech and had to ask for his line. The Prompt was so quiet and ineffective he had to go off stage and consult the script!

I heard a concert in Florence of countertenor, violinist and organist, playing/singing Bach, Vivaldi, Pergolesi, Pagannini and Schubert. The countertenor looked like a navvy, in a black T-shirt and jeans, but had the most eerily powerful voice.

I read The Bull from the Sea by Mary Renault, the sequel to The King Must Die. Just as in the first book the section on the Bull Court in Crete was best, so in this one the whole section of the story on Theseus's love for Hippolyta and their son Hippolytus stands out. Also Ascanio Condivi's Life of Michelangelo, an account by a younger contemporary, written in response to Vasari.

I saw the Cezanne in Florence exhibition and Michelangelo the Archtiect, Also visited the Bargello, San Lorenzo, the Medici Chapels and Laurentian Library, Santa Maria Novella, Santa Felicita, San Miniato al Monte, Orsanmichele, Museum of Florence as it used to be.

Friday, July 06, 2007

A Lovely Man

This will be all about my dear friend, Douglas Hill, who was killed by a bus, on a zebra crossing on 21st June.

We were expecting him here for lunch on 27th, to celebrate Jess's birthday. She chose him to be her godfather when she was fifteen and, although neither of them believed in God, they had a perfect relationship for ten years. We heard on Sunday morning and the shock reverberated for days. Surely we would see him on Wednesday - hadn't we got the menu all planned?

Douglas was the person who read Rhiannon's first full-length novel, Hex and wrote to Marion Lloyd at Macmillan saying you have to read this. Macmillan published it and its two sequels, giving her a two-book contract while she was still at university, aged 19. Both Marion and Rhiannon were at Douglas's funeral on Friday. Jess read Louis MacNeice's Sunlight on the Garden. And Bex also came, ewvn though she had got back from St Petersburg only at 11pm the night before and didn't know he had died till then.

He was as kind to my three daughters as he was to everyone. The chapel at the crematorium was full of family and friends, some very young, who all wanted to say a proper goodbye, And then there was a wake at a Turkish restaurant belonging to a family member. Douglas had left instructions that he didn't want his funeral to be a mournful occasion, rather "a booze-up."

He had more or less finished his new trilogy for Macmillan, which had given him so much pleasure and satisfaction and was poised for a bit of a comeback, as M.J.Mourne. If only he would come back, as M.J. or anything else. We will miss his outrageous compliments, his soft Canadian accent, the wicked twinkle in his eye, his love of good coffee, chocolate, dragons, cats. I'm so sorry he didn't meet our three new Burmeses - he would have loved them and they him.
If there is any form of afterlife I hope he and Kate Petty are having a good time there, over a glass or two of nectar.