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, May 29, 2008

Demob happy

Troubadour went off electronically last night. Just as well, since my non-colour printer has decided to go on strike. It will limp through 30 or so pages then halt and say "no job printing" which is pretty insulting.

I have been working flat out to finish,so have not done much else. But I've learned a new skill - how to use Document Map - which is so fantastically useful I shall never write or submit in any other form.

I read four books published in the US by Penguin - Peeled by Joan Bauer, who is a great favourite of mine, Savvy, which is a first book by a new writer, and one called Antsy does time and another called Paper Towns. It was a relief to read something I didn't have to judge for a change! And I enjoyed all these.

Today I've bought some holiday reading - Dissolution by C.J. Sansom, who is an author Adele Geras is always urging me to try, Bill Bryson on Shakespeare, Anne Enright's The Gathering and A Florentine Death by the man who used to be head of police in Florence. (I should really be reading that one in Italian).

I heard Turangalila by Messaien in Birmingham, played by the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Ivan Volkov. It was the day I finished Troubadour (though it's taken a further week to revise)so perfect. And a stunning performance, badly attended. It was our first trip to Birmingham's Symphony Hall and we were very impressed by the acoustics. There'll be another Turangalila at the proms and 2 more Messaien concerts there too.

I'm now really looking forward to the holiday - Siena, here I come!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Georgia on my mind

I've been back from Atlanta for nearly two weeks and walked straight into having to help organise another trip to Italy, in July. We'll only just be back from Siena and five days later I'll be setting off to Florence again.It's a tough job but someone has to do it.

Then it was Guardian judging and it took a while to get back into Troubadour. But I'm now half-way through the last chapter and it's looking promising for submission at the end of next week.

Everything went well at IRA and I signed lots of books and traded on the novelty of my English accent. It was very good to meet my new editor at Penguin and spend some time with her; she came to the two schools with me, which were way out in the countryside. They were very clean and attractively decorated State schools, with extremely polite and well-behaved children. One little boy wanted his poster of Princess Grace signed, even though it was all pink and girly!

I found it a strange city - very spread out without any coherent centre. Everyone was in a car (the public transport is sketchy) and I had to go everywhere by taxi. I did visit its Aquarium and admired the two Beluga whales. But I think Atlanta must have a huge carbon footprint.

Guardian judging was fun and it's a pity I can't say anything about it,except that it was good to meet Mal Peet and Jenny Valentine, the other two judges. Jenny's book Finding Violet Park, won the award last year and I had just read it and thought it very good.

I spent the weekend writing new material for the re-vamped Stravaganza website; it's so peculiar to keep wrenching one's head round from one book to another.

We went to a party in London on Sunday. Only one "You could be the next J.K.Rowling" - must be losing my touch. I heard lots of Chopin, though I did NOT like the box piano or even Chopin's own. I think he would be very happy to hear his works played on a modern instrument.

I saw Midsomer Murders on TV, which I quite enjoy - especially the theramin - but I don't think it's any good. John Nettles and his screen wife look as if they've both been Botoxed and the plot lines are absurd. But I've given up Doctor Who and ER so occasionally want something distracting.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Enchanted April

Well, I’m the far side of the study floor repair and Troubadour progresses apace though I’ve dropped a chapter here and there. My study has never looked so organised. But I’m not in it at present; I’m writing this in a living room in Italy overlooking the sea. The balcony has been closed to us today, as it rained in the night and has been wet all day but just yesterday afternoon we were sunning ourselves in the heat there.

I’m here with two writer friends but the one whose apartment it is has succumbed to a virus and there’s been a problem understanding the central heating, so we’ve built huge log fires and bought hot water bottles and boiled kettles to wash up with.

Just as the weather turned wintry today, after three days of glorious sunshine, we cracked the heating controls and have made big pots of soup and ratatouille so that we don’t have to go out.


In spite of the gloomy forecast my husband read to me from the Internet over the phone, that was the only wet day we had and there was lots more sunning ourselves on the balcony. Apparently one visitor there for only three days saw dolphins but that was in July. I longed for dolphins but there were none.

I have now finished chapter eighteen of Troubadour, which means only three and the epilogue to go. I hope it doesn’t behave like City of Secrets and spawn four extra chapters as that would unblance th elegant three-part structure.

Before I left I had a terrific publicity meeting with Bloomsbury and my agent about City of Secrets. Funny to think by the time it’s out Troubadour will be a completed book.

I still can’t say anything about what I’m reading since they’re all potential Guardian longlist books but I’ve played hookey to read Enchanted April by Elizabth von Arnim. I’d seen the film but never read the book before, which was published in 1922. I simply couldn’t resist since I left for Italy at the end of April and the place I’m in is full of wistaria, Judas-trees, irises and tamarisks – just like the castle of San Salvatore in the book.

Before leaving England, I saw/heard Harrison Birtwistle’s new opera The Minotaur at its première in the Royal Opera House. The first half was terrific but the second was a disappointment, far too repetitive, especially in David Harsent’s libretto. The real star of the show was not, surprisingly, John Tomlinson’s hairy-chested bull-headed monster but Ariadne, who manipulated the action.

We ran into old friends in the interval and the man said, “But it’s so NASTY!” and I couldn’t help replying, “well it’s a nasty story!” Surely, it’s impossible for an educated person to go to something like that and not know the plot?

Still, if I ever come across a sympathetic Theseus, I’ll eat my hat.

I also heard my old choir, the Crouch End Festival Chorus singing, among other pieces Spem in Alium, Thomas Tallis’ 40-part motet, in a church in Highgate. We drove up the day after my birthday and after the concert had supper with old friends round the corner from the house we left seven years ago. Two of the people were, like me, founder-singers in the chorus and there are now just them and one other left from that first concert in 1984 when we formed to sing the Verdi Requiem.

I was a second soprano in those days but developed into a second alto after sixteen years. I would have ended up with the men if I’d continued, like one of my friends, who sings tenor.

What remains in my head though from that concert are the three songs by Philip Glass, which I’ve twice sung myself with that choir. “There are some men who should have mountains to bear their names to time,” reminded me unbearably of Douglas Hill, inappropriately since it says the dead man “left no book, son or lover to mourn” and Douglas had all three.

I am off to Atlanta, Georgia, on Sunday to the International Reading Association congress. On one day I’ll do 2 signings, 2 talks, an authors’ reception and a publishers’ dinner. Then 2 schools the next day before taking the red-eye home at 10.30pm.

So that’s what my next blog will be about.