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, July 31, 2008

Transfiguration and taxes

We went to my sister's Big Birthday party in London and ran into no problems. It was a grand reunion as our youngest daughter was just back from Japan and Australia.

London again for a successful meeting with twelve YLG librarians about Stravaganza. Bloomsbury had decorated the boardroom with posters and postcards. It was a very hot day but we had the windows open on to Soho Square.

On 26th the Times published the interview I did with Amanda Craig before leaving for Florence. It was a very flattering piece and a nice photo but the sub-editor had given it the headline "Veteran in her Prime"! I can only think this was revenge for my having asked them not to use Tales of Hoffman yet again. If you read it on line, there is no such backhanded compliment:

Then we had to spend all Saturday afternoon doing my tax. It was just dreadful but at least it's done.

We had to spend all Sunday having fun in order to make up for it.

I heard Messaien's Transfiguration at the Prom on Sunday. Some people left after only five sections - no stamina! But I think it's a bad idea to follow the text; you should
really read it and then just close your eyes and listen. Because the pace is VERY expansive. But wonderful gongs.

In a traffic jam on the way up we also heard on Radio 3 Joe Cutler's Music for Cello and Strings which was very good. Must follow him up.

I saw two episodes of Can't Read, Can't Write. It's compelling stuff though I don't admire the teacher. It is so clear that phonics just doesn't work - you notice Kelly had to phone up to find out what "touched" was - because you can't make "ch" by blending "c" and "h" and the strategy they'd learned for vowel digraphs - "When two vowels go out walking the first one does the talking and says its name" simply doesn't fit so many words.

I also saw the John Barrowman edition of The Making of Me, about his homosexuality. I liked his dry, English partner and loved the way he became Scottish every time he talked to his parents.

Tried The Culture Show on BBC2 because they had advertised a piece on the Vasari corridor. That wasn't there but we got Cy Twombly's exhibition - ghastly- and Paul Weller, who couldn't be separated from his shades or beer bottle. He played a very ordinary though not unpleasant song with one idea in the lyric and perhaps two and a half in the melody.

The piece with theatre director Katie Mitchell (Traces of Her) was quite interesting, because she seemed really intelligent but the whole presentation of the programme was SO puerile that it did make me despair if that was BBC2's idea of culture.(the Corridor next week, I am promised).

I finished reading Un Italiano in America and have started Racconti della Resistenza.I've been working on my workshops for the CWIG conference and the teaching week |I'm doing at Ty Newydd with Celia Rees. She came over for lunch and we had a brainstorm (sorry - "thoughtshower").Must get on with my next novel really but am so trying to have an easy summer.

Friday, July 18, 2008

How Nelson Mnadela spoilt my birthday party

Actually it wasn't mine but I was organising it for my daughters. Because their birthdays fall in February, June and November, and 2 of them never had good weather, we tried for a couple of years to have a joint summer one in July.

It worked fine in 1987, when there was a Pink Picnic in Highgate Woods, even though my half brother-in-law had turned up to stay unexpectedly and, at 18, was not keen on wearing a pink shirt!

So the next year, when the girls were 11, nearly 9 and 6 respectively, we booked a big swimming party for their three groups of friends at the Hornsey Road Pools, followed by a tea party on three floors at our house with three separate cakes.Money was a bit of an issue 20 years ago so this was a considerable outlay for us.

We set off in the car, plus my sister, in good time, and then ran into a traffic standstill. The minutes ticked by and after a lot of stress, we realised we were never going to make it to the pool before the end of the booked session and turned back. This was pre-mobile phones of course.

One or two guests made it to the pool and most got to the house at some point.

The reason for the delay? Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday. He was still in prison and there was a big demo in London. I think there was a concert in Wembley too but maybe earlier.

It was difficult to explain to three bitterly disappointed little girls who this man was and why his birthday party had taken place at the expense of theirs. It's hard to take the long view when you are six.

But as time went by they did understand. Only we never had another "joint birthday" party after that.

Happy 90th from us all, Nelson Mandela. And I hope nothing happens to disrupt your celebrations.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Stendhal syndrome

This condition was named after the great writer of Le Rouge e le Noir and means something like "an overactively nervous state of being overwhelmed by the city of Florence" so I thought it appropriate for this post.

I stayed for over a week in a very good apartment in Santa Croce and would go there again. I've always been a bit against it because I dislike that church so much but it's OK from the outside and the smart money is on it is a district. It's a bit like Hampstead. And it's where Sarah Dunant has her flkat though we didn't see her.

But we did find an English bookshop just round the corner from us, where City of Secrets had just arrived, so I did some signing. I was there for publication day. And before I left, I heard that my editor loves Troubadour too, so travelled with a light heart.

Also because I managed to solve one of the worst e-mail problems I had ever had - no thanks to BT who rang from Bangalore and spent an hour and a half giving me wrong information. In the end I had to delete 25,000 e-mails from my Inbox on the BT website, which could be done only 200 at a time. But it worked.

In the end I took William Boyd's restless to Florence because I'd started it and it was so gripping. And then bought and read Beppe Severgnini's La Bella Figura which, in spite of its title, is in English. But I am also reading his "Un italiano in America" which genuinely is in Italian.

I saw the Fra Angelicos at San Marco,the Pieve churches in Borgo San Lorenzo and Scarperia, the Bargello, where I talked to the restorer of Donatello's David about a piece I'm writing for Italy magazine, and the Benozzo Gozzoli chapel in the Medici Palace. We also spent a lot of time in the Piazza della Signoria and the Piazza Duomo as well as Oltrarno.

But we also had a lot of days outside Florence - Borgo San Lorenzo, the Mugello, Forli and Villagrappa and a memorable last day by the sea in Viareggio. We visited a castle at Castrocaro, so named "expensive camp" after Galla Placidia had visited there and found the cost of lamb too high!

Since coming back I have seen an open air production of The Winter's Tale, which was better directed than acted. The director had the idea of acting it out as a told story, among and by a group of gypsies. This worked better than expected, apart from the storyteller saying at the end "and they all lived happily ever after" which Shakespeare is very careful NOT to suggest. Hermione addresses not one word to Leontes.

It always makes me laugh when the king sees the statue and says that his queen looks so much more aged and wrinkled than he remembers her. How ungallant! But even more amazing were the number of white heads in the audience (it was Senior concession night) who did not know the story!

I heard the demo tape of the new musical Only the Brave, which my daughter is going to Edinburgh with as Associate Producer. It will be a big hit, I'm sure.