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

Thursday, February 21, 2008


More domestic problems - drains and the dishwasher this time and I've been tearing my hair because of all the disruption.

But we've been going out a lot to compensate. The daughters all got together with us to celebrate Rhiannon's birthday at a Lebanese restaurant in Oxford and on the Sunday afternoon we went with Bex to Burford Priory Snowdrop Day, which is always wonderful and finishes with tea and home-made cake by a log fire.

Troubadour is rumbling on - I had to excommunicate someone this week! And the publicity material comes thick and fast for City of Secrets; thank goodness for the colour printer I bought last year.

I went with another writer friend to hear Sarah Dunant talking about her books at a Writers in Oxford meeting.She talked about adoring reading historical novels as a child and teenager and then reading History at Cambridge. In her earlier phase she thought that you could always enter the mind of people who lived even centuries ago, because of our shared humanity. But lately she has come to doubt this: something to ponder on.

We saw the Kenneth Branagh film of As You Like It, which was very intelligently acted. Incongruously set in 19th century Japan, which added nothing to the play apart from some attractive background and a sumo wrestling match. The best Jacques I've ever seen turned out to be Kevin Kline!

A few days later we were back to see The Seventh Seal by the late Ingmar Bergman which was a HUGE disappointment. The initial image of the returning Crusader Knight playing chess with Death is so good that no-one remembers it has no plot worth speaking of and no story to live up to the image. Its simply incoherent.

Not so Neil Gaiman's Stardust, the third film we saw in less than a week. This is as good as, say, Willow, and a very good evening's entertainment. I hadn't read the book and didn't have very high expectations but found it charming, funny, and with a cracking good fairy-tale story. A magic snowdrop protects the hero from spells.

We heard a London Sinfonietta concert of Boulez and Messaien which was lovely and jangly. I couldn't follow the Boulez as well as Stevie but I always feel at home with Messaien and always have from the first piece of his I ever heard.

I read an astonishing first novel by Diane Setterfield called The Thirteenth Tale and Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. A minor character from Cloud Atlas pops up rather incongruously in the middle but I enjoyed it.

I saw three more magnificent fresco cycles at my lectures - the Cione brothers and Bonaiuto in Santa Maria Novella and the st Martion cycle in the Montefiore Chapel in Assisi by Simaone Martini - which features in The Falconer's Knot.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Floors and walls

It hasn't been as productive as I'd hoped, because of a whole heap of domestic problems involving floors! Indian ink on a cream carpet (ouch) and water damage to a wooden floor. Alas, that is in my study and I have to have the whole floor replaced. So a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth and more interruption to work.

On the plus side, I have done all the copy-edits for City of Secrets, written some extra scenes, commented on another round of jacket designs and written suggestions for 27 chapter-head illustrations.

And I've now read all the rest of my Christmas books: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell - so much better than After You'd Gone,One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson and Instances of the Number Three by Sally Vickers, which was better than the over-rated Miss Garnett's Angel but still containing characters one can't believe in, like the Shakespeare-quoting chimney sweep who is an ex English HMI.

And I've had two more fresco classes _ Ambrogio Lorenzetti's The Effects of Good Government and Mantegna's work in the palce at Mantua. Apparently it had 700 rooms and 15 courtyards!

I listened to a CD of the stage shows of The Boyfriend and Salad Days. The latter has the weirdest plot ever. Can you imagine anyone pitching it today: "Well, there are these privileged Oxbridge types who have just left university and don't really want jobs and two of them find a magic piano that makes people dance and then they get married and lose the piano and it's all right because a flying saucer comes along so they see where the piano has got to ..."

I've listened toa lot of music by Osvaldo Golijov (sp?) who was Composer of the Week on Radio 3. This comes on at the same time as You and Yours on Radio 4, which I never have to put up with any more now that I have a remote controlled digital radio. This composer is a Jew whose family came from somewhere in Eastern Europe but got out in time and emigrated to South America. The vocal music was sometimes banal but the instrumental pieces were sublime. One to explore further.

But by far the most exciting cultural event was Othello at the Donamr. Clever theatre daughter somehow got hold of tickets and we went on Wednesday. Chiwetel Ejiofor was a mesmerising moor and amazingly the Roderigo and Cassio were specially good. Euan McGregor was OK, but I didn't go for his sake.

Didn't get home till the early hours because of some Football Match clogging up the roads but it was well worth it. It was so soothing to see a production in 16th century dress and I liked the water sluicing over the stage at the beginning - McGregor had a good old slosh in it like Gene Kelly. I played Emilia in a student production at UCL in a proper theatre, and the lines came back.The Bianca travelled back on the same tube afterwards, which was a homely touch.