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, September 29, 2007


To London two evenings running, the first to celebrate publication of Helen Ward's Wonderful Life for Templar, which is a gorgeous picture book. My wonderful SatNav (known as Tim) got me there, evn though it involved three different motorways. He says, so calmly "Take the exit, then take the motorway" that I just do it.

I was a bit late and missed the drinks before but met several old friends and sat next to Helen whose work I'm a great fan of. Then back to London the next day, this time by coach, for Shirley Hughes' 80th birthdya party. She doesn't look or seem a day older than when it was her 70th and gave us a nice slide show.

I spent the night with a writer friend and next day met an independent publicist, who might be able to do some work for me.

I've spent a lot of time since I last blogged writing a piece for the Guardian Women's editor on why I hate princesses, fairies, mermaids and all things pink and girly in children's books. It had to be done in a hurry to coincide with the publication of Princess Grace (which attempts to subvert the genre) next week.

Then to the Bloomsbury 21st Birthday Party, which had over a thousand people! I thought I'd never find anyone I knew but actually managed to meet lots. Four of us went out for a quick plate of pasta and conversation that didn't have to be bellowed in one another's ears. And I met my editor, copy editor and even Nigel Newton on leaving. He still remembers my tour of Bellezza, which I did in Venice at the 2002 sales conference! They had a wonderful living statue representing their Diana logo - the only publishing house to use a weapon of war as its logo, as Nigel pointed out menacingly in his speech.

I didn't get back home till 1.30am , carrying my balloon on the Oxford Tube.

Through a series of mishaps involving e-mail, I hadn't received my editor's rave about City of Secrets, so it's a great relief to have discovered last week that she loves it. Phew! On to the next book.

I'm STILL reading La Storia - it has 650 pages! - but nearly finished now. I broke off to read Sheila Hancock's The Two of Us, which I picked up at the party. Very moving, intelligent and well-written.

I heard Colin Davis conduct his 80th birthday concert on the radio last night - Sibelius' Fifth Symphony. It's lovely to feel in such a safe pair of hands - like Shirley. These are my kind of octegenarian. I wonder if I'll get the chance to be the same?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

That be cat!

We had a lovely visit from Stevie's half sister, her partner and two little boys, under two. The weather allowed it to be a picnic in the garden. Freddie was running around and speaking in phrases if not in tongues. "That be cat!" he said accurately, if in Mummerset, whenever he spotted one. But he learned Lila's name and bent down to talk to her under the table, saying "Ullo, Lila!" in a very convincing Northern accent. He also got that Lonza was both "Chocolate cat" and "mummy cat" - how confusing!

He was very nice to his brother, sayimg "Hello, baby George" and "I love baby George" most charmingly. They are wonderful grandchildren-substitutes.

My writer friend brought lots of jamjars, so we coped with the blackberries and a surfeit of greengages which a colleague of Stevie's produced. Also got a lot of work done on her novel. I must do this again - it's great having another writer here because you can just talk in shorthand.

I went to the YLG conference in Hertfordshire to give a talk about Princess Grace. This was great fun, because, unusually, the technology worked and I could use my PowerPoint. I spent the night with old friends in St Alban's. Their two cats were very suspicious of the smell of my luggage - obviously it had been inspected by my lot.

I am still reading La Storia, about halfway through - it's a long book - but had to stop to read review books for Armadillo - Wonderful Life (picture book), the new edition of Pippi Longstocking, the amazing Mythology from Templar and The Tar Man - the sequel to Gideon the Cutpurse. I saw, I am ashamed to say Ten Years Younger on TV (this is the second time!). Must not make a habit of it.

Driving back from Hertfordshire I heard cello sonatas by Schumann and Beethoven. And a radio programme on the centenary of the birth of Louis MacNeice - possibly my favourite poet, certainly one of them.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


I had a proper weekend last week, with middle daughter and boyfriend here to visit and oldest daughter and boyfriend joining us for lunch on the Sunday. Steve is very fond of pie, famously so, so I made one using the apples and blackberries from our own garden. But during the week I went blackberrying with Stevie (husband) at Old Minster Lovell and came home with two bags. Now I need to make lots of bramble jelly!

Youngest daughter, back from Thailand is now with her boyfriend in London till the start of term, so the great tidy up here post book has continued unhindered. I have reorganised my archive so that there is more cupboard space in the study, done all my filing and answered two months' worth of fanmail.

My agent was here on Friday and loves City of Secrets as, so far, does my English editor; she hasn't finished yet but I hope to hear next week. I heard this week that The Falconer's Knot is on the Guardian short-list, announced today, which is very pleasing. Just to be in this place is good.

I also wrote a book proposal which has been "pending" for too long for a publisher who has been offering me a contract for ages.

And I renewed my passport, which took a record TWO working days! So I can now accept the surprise offer of a school visit to Milan. Honestly, you never know what the e-mail or post will contain.

And today I did an almost impromptu signing at the local Waterstone's with Mark Robson and Jo Kenrick. I met an Australian academic who is writing a paper on neo-mediaevalism and sold him a copy of The Falconer's Knot! Driving there and back I saw the same tiny bird of prey hovering in the air over the verge. Could it have been a Merlin?

I saw two films on TV which I had already seen in the cinema. One was The Queen, which is quite fascinating, although I still hated the hypocrisy of everything to do with the stag. The other was The Full Monty, which impressed me this time by how excellently well-crafted it is. So many high spots. I am reading Elsa Morante's La Storia, which is very compelling. My literature class starts up again at the beginning of October and I hadn't read any novel in Italian since we stopped in April so I felt the need to catch up.

Also read the manuscript of a friend's novel, set in Italy, who is coming to stay next week. We'll work companionably together, I hope.

On the radio I heard Peter Maxwell Davies play on the piano his hauntingly beautiful Farewell to Stromness this morning. It is his 73rd birthday. It is what you should play to anyone who says they don't like modern classical music - short, comprehensible and with a memorable tune. And in the car I listened to the Beatles' Love CD again. So many good songs in so few years. So sad to hear George in While my guitar gently weeps. But I remember clearly the weekend when the Hey Jude single came out with the raucous Revolution on the B side. Still just as exhilarating.