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

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Here we go, slithering and squelching

I've been living a bit like an amoeba as in the ISB's "A cellular Song" on The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, which I've now heard a couple more times. I'm supposed to be haed down on Troubadour and have indeed finished Chapter One but now the copy-edited text of City of Secrets has arrived and will take some days of work.

But I have no engagements other than my classes and domestic stuff for several weeks, so no excuse not to progress further with the new book.

I read Desmond Seward's Richard the Third: the Black Legend and found it utterly convincing. I hadn't realised that the Lovell in "The Cat , the Rat and Lovell our dog/ Rule all England under the Hog" was the owner of Old Minster Lovell Hall which, now beautiful ruins, is very near us and a favourite haunt for walks and picnics. (The Cat was Catesby and the Rat Ratcliff. Lovell's crest had a dog on it and of course Richard was the Hog - his symbol being the white boar).

The poor man who stuck that couplet on a church door was horribly executed, his pains not really worth the immortality of that one squib.

Also read a dreadful "novella" - very short - by Pirandello called The Crow of Mìzzaro. I didn't like it at all.

I heard, apart from the Incredible String Band, a David Munrow CD from the 60s of music from the Middle Ages. There's a second disc in the set of Renaissance muisc which I haven't tried yet.I needed to stay in the world of Estampies.

And I had my first fresco class, on Simone Martini's Maestà and Guidoriccio in the Palzzo Pubblico in Siena. The lecturer was brilliant and it's going to be a terrific course.We've booked our holiday to Siena in June so I shall be able to spot all the points she gave us.

Have also booked a short trip to the Languedoc, to do some field work for Troubadour. There's not much left to see at Béziers and Carcassonne is a sort of theme park but nothing beats standing in the right landscape.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mrs Thompson gave me a bear

I've started writing Troubadour! Only the Prologue and half of chapter one but it's good to have got going. Eerily, i wrote in the prologue about Peter of Castelnau's murder - which sparked the Albigensian Crusade - and was doing it EXACTLY 800 years after it happened - 15th January 1208.

I saw Notes on a Scandal (on DVD) having missed it in the cinema. Two very strong central performances but I kept thinking "why isn't the boy prettier?" So I read Zoe Heller's novel, on which it was based. And she said that the boy wasn't all that attractive; the teacher's desire for him was based on his pursuit of her (she hadn't been pursued by anyone for years) plus a sort of animal response to his young body.

I also read Sarah Dunant's The Birth of Venus, which was pretty good. A few mistakes, lke "flaunt" for "flout" in one of Savonarola's sermons. She's coming to talk to Writers in Oxford next month.

I saw both Torchwood and `ER as well as the final episode of Sense and Sensibility. It's a problem having both my favourite shows back at the same time. I heard The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter CD by The Incredible String Band; it will take a long time till I know it as well as the 5,000 Spirits. I looked them up on the Internet and found they had both become Scientologists!

Jess thinks they were on acid when they wrote their songs but I still find their lyrics and their voices do something that no other group can. They can conjure up being a small child or a sexy teenager in a phrase.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Well, a lot of Shakespeare has flowed under the bridge since my last post. Richard ll, Henry lV parts 1 and 2 and Henry V in two days. Perhaps just not QUITE as exciting as the first tetralogy but wonderful all the same and Jonathan Slinger just as good as Richard ll as he was as Richard lll - quite an achievement when you think how different the parts are.Agincourt was a marvel of streamers representing English arrows.

Life shows signs of going back to normal or will do from tomorrow. We've had the last of the Christmas get-togethers and written the last thank-you letters. The Magi have arrived at the stable and been put back in their box along with the ox and ass and camel. And we carried the tree down to a local car park on Sunday where it would be re-cycled into mulch.

I am reading a book by Francine Prose called Reading like a Writer, which is something I suppose I do. It's fascinating and I intend to follow up her reading recommendations. But she makes some awful howlers: "we" the third person plural? What was her editor doing?

Italian Literature has started again and I've nearly finished reading the excellent essay at the end of La Scomparsa di Majorana. I think it's actually better than the book and I might want to write an essay inspired by it.Today we read and talked about a (very) short story by Gabriele d'Annunzio called L'eroe (= the hero) but no-one liked it much and nor did anyone find it very heroic. I preferred Beppe Severgnini's article on the subjunctive!

We went to Bennett and Kerr's annual twelfth night open day and came aaway with a heap of books, including one on Richard lll, which supports Thomas More's view of him and another book on Gothic Architecture. That may be the last mulled wine we have for some time.

I saw the second episode of Sense and Sensibility and enjoyed it though it can't surpass the Ang Lee film for me. The Marianne is played by someone my daughter knew at Oxford School of Drama. She also knows the young woman playing the maid in the production of The Country Wife, which we saw last night. It's very silly, bawdy and kind of pointless but we had a good time.

Afterwards we went round to the stage door and had a drink with Catherine in her (shared) dressing room, which is where all the younger members of the cast hang out. I remember Catherine from Saturday classes at the Guildhall and it's lovely to see her on the West End stage.

Earlier I had been to see the Millais exhibition at Tate Britain. It's a real knockout and I hadn't realised was a great portraitist he was. Lots of old friends - Isabella and her brothers, Ferdinand and Ariel, Ophelia, Mariana in the moated grange easing the pain in her back - which I've always imagined to be menstrual.

But Disraeli, Carlyle and the amazing Louise Jopling among others, were a surprise. Oh, and the Princes in the Tower, talking of Richard lll. That's one of the few involving children where Millais doesn't lose his head - unlike the ghastly Bubbles, Cherry Ripe and even Christ in his Father's Workshop, where the boy is simpering and sickly. Still, you must judge any artist by his best not his worst work and there was plenty to admire.

I walked from Millbank to Haymarket in the frosty night air, revelling in London seen as by a visitor. I love being so familiar with it without having to live there any more.

I saw the new year (almost) in with Jean Marais as a friend and I watched my old video of La Belle et la Bete. It still stands up marvellously well after all this time with special effects more specially effective than CGI could achieve. I think Cocteau was wrong to double up Marais as Belle's human lover but i think he just wanted to include the naked torso wood-chopping scene!