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, 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.


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