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, November 23, 2007

Patrons of the Arts

We went to a day school on Fra Angelico at San Marco, in Oxford. That was an appropriate venue since the last two panels of the San Marco altarpiece (probably) were found in a spare bedroom of a retired museum curator in the city last year.The best speaker was a Dominican friar and we learned a lot about how what great patrons the Dominicans and Franciscans were.

The mysterious owner of the house in Poliakoff's Capturing Mary was a patron too, in a way. It was the same house as in Joe's Palace and the same main character as in the monologue, A Real Summer, performed so well by Ruth Wilson. But none of it was really any good. There just isn't enough STORY.

I saw Elizabeth: the Golden Age and got very nervous about the late arrival at the Armada Ball of Francis Drake. Was Ralegh going to defeat the Spanish single-handed? Actually he sort of did. Cate Blanchett - not my favourite actor - was terrific in her role and I liked the Mary Queen of Scots and Bess Throckmorden too. But Clive Owen just has too modern a face.Had to hide my face in Stevie during the torture. No shortage of story there.

I've been reading John Julius Norwich's book Shakespeare's Kings , in opreparation for more Stratford plays next month. Stayed awake late one night thinking that Henry Todor really didn't have much claim to the throne at all and we have been reigned over by the wrong lot for hundreds of years. (Realised this was a bit Adrian Moleish). I've also been reading my way through Mark Robson's Dreamweaver Legacy quartet and Celia Rees's extraordinary novel The Stone Testament, which I'm reviewing for the Guardian. Not such a contrast really - all about power and domination.

i wrote and gave a "presentazione" on Elsa Morante's La Storia. And read a short story called "Fortezza" by Edmund de Amicis. It is about heroism rather than strength and I wasn't able to avoid torture after all. I heard Beppe Severgnini lecture on the Italian language in Oxford yesterday. He was utterly charming and very amusing but not profound and I didn't share his attitiudes towards feminism and language (surprise, surprise!). He is also much too interested in football for my taste but then most people are.

We had a huge banquet on Sunday to celebrate husband's and middle daughter's birthdays. And played "Articulate!" - a very noisy board game. And on Wednesday it was the Frances Lincoln 30th birthday party - a real scrum in a deconsecrated church with candles, magic, very loud music and too many people.

Two puzzling fanmails this week - one from a Finnish girl who said several times that she "presuated" me and one, sent on VERY late by Bloomsbury USA from a boy who wanted to know why I "gave Felix a winged horse" in City of Stars. The trouble is, there ISN'T a Felix in that book and no-one was given the flying horse. Now 3 German girls have sent me a plot for a 4th Stravaganza book called City of Ships. But I've written a fourth book and the plot for the fifth, City of Ships, is already sketched out.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Dressing up

Well I DID make jam - eight jars of bramble jelly - and then in the afternoon we went for a two-hour walk on the Ridgeway, visiting Wayland's Smithy and Uffington Castle, which is a windswept Iron Age hill fort. It was a golden day and the view spectacular. It was my first use of my poles, given by Stevie. They are terrific - like having 2 extra legs! I wish I'd had them in the Samaria Gorge in 2005.

I did some more serious lunching - Jules Cashford, my mythological friend (which is different from an imaginary one) in London and Gill Vickery in Oxford. Jules had done the Samaria Gorge without poles or proper shoes too and took almost as long as we did!

My next London event was at Stratford Circus, where I read Princess Grace to 30 children, some of them dressed up as princes and princesses. Then back to Oxford for another birthday party - I find my family members embrace big birthdays very enthusiastically! - with food and more barn-dancing. After all that I was rather relieved that one of the friends I was going to London with to see the Millais exhibition had to cancel so it was put off.

So only one trip to London this week. It was rather tiring, signing large numbers of Grace books at Frances Lincoln and then helping a friend prepare food for 150 people for yet another party, in memory of a mutual friend who died earlier this year. But we had a very leisurely breakfast in Cafe Mozart next morning, with more autumn sunshine pouring through the window.

I've finished City of Secrets corrections and sent them to Bloomsbury. Now have to tackle the two big heaps of Troubadour research books.

I read "Il tramonto di Venere" (= "Love's sunset") by Giovanni Verga, the prime exponent of the 19th century Italian style known as "verismo." It dealt with the parabola of a love affair between a prima ballerina and her toyboy. Very miserable - the veristi do nothing for me. But Verga had described the nasty lover - Bibi - putting pomade on his moustaches and being "in ghingheri" which means something like "all gussied up" and is a phrase used almost exclusively of women.

I read The English Patient at last and really enjoyed it, apart from the two love stories, which is what you are supposed to like most. All that animal rending and tearing. What I liked was the structure.

I saw "joe's Palace" by Stephen Poliakoff on TV - brilliantly acted and produced but curiously incomplete as a story. I heard Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique on the radio. And most of a programme about the film of The Boyfriend. It came out in Febraury 1972 but i already knew this because Stevie and I went to see it on the 29th, after proposing to each other!