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

Friday, September 19, 2008

In honour of Dante

I signed books at Witney Waterstone's with Rhiannon, Mark Robson and Sarah Singleton, whom I hadn't met before. It was quite fun, even the moment when I asked an obviously teenage boy if he was interested in teenage books and he said no thank you very vehemently!

The edits for Troubadour arrived today and I must be pretty nippy in the turnaround, since I'm teaching in Wales at the end of the month and need to start City of Ships on my return. With that in mind I spent three days in Ravenna, of which more below.

I heard/saw a concert performance of Messiaen's opera St Francis at the Proms. It wasn't really an opera at all, ore of an oratorio, with some very good moments. I'm glad to have done it but it hasn't realy permeated.

I saw the US Open final between Roger Federer and Andy Murray, paying a month's sunscription to Sky Sports for the privilege but it was a bit of a let down and I wish I had done it a few days earlier to see Murray beat Nadal.

I also saw mosaics at San Vitale, Galla Placidia, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Sant'Apollinare in Classe and the Arian and Neonian Baptisteries in Ravenna. I was particularly knocked out by the baptisteries and Galla Placidia because there are no ghastly baroque additions - just gorgeous early, early self-contained little treasure-houses.

And I saw someone demonstrating mosaic techniques and bought loads of books and CD-Roms.

We also saw, most movingly, the annual Florentine tribute of oil to keep the lamp burning above Dante's tomb, last Sunday, which was the anniversary of his death. The Florentines treated him abominably while he was alive and will have to keep doing this for many more centuries to wipe out that shame. They asked the Ravennans for the body back and they said the Italian equivalent of "on yer bike!"

Which reminds me, the "pedestrian centre" of Ravenna is awash with bikes, which are as perilous and annoying as the scooters of Florence or Rome.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Blood and Thunder

I had a very good meeting with my illustrator in London, with whom I'm collaborating on a big picturebook.

And heard that I am definitely going to be writing a sixth Stravaganza novel. Woohoo!

The garden party went very well - the only fine Sunday we've had in this ghastly wet August/September. Freddie (aged two and dressed as a pirate) said my gazebo was a pirate ship. And I went to Aiyana's first birthday party, complete with piniata.

All last weekend I was at the Children's Writers and Illustrators Conference in Cambridge. There was wonderful sunshine on the Saturday afternoon and I had tea with a schoolfriend I hadn't seen since we walked out of the school gates more years ago than I care to remember. We recognised each other instantly, on the wall outside Kings.

It's all changed a lot since I was there: lots of new buildings where there were gaps before.

And the conference was great. I gave one workshop and chaired another and there was an electric speech by Philip Pullman on the subject of age-banding. A great barn-storming performance in the manner, ironically enough, of a hellfire preacher.

I saw Wyndham Lewis's Portraits and the BP Portraits at the NPG - both very good. And then the Hadrian exhibition at the British Museum. That was lovely too; what an epicene young man his Antinoous was! The most beautiful exhibit though was a pair of gilded peacocks from his Mausoleum at Tivoli.

I heard the Berlin Philharmonic at the proms, playing Wagner's Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and then Messiaen's Turangalila. I mean I was there. The orchestra was magnificent and I disagreed with the Guardian review that said Rattle was passionless or too cool in the Wagner; I think Tristan needs to be handled a bit coolly. The same reviewer suggested that Turangalila was not well constructed!

I saw two television plays. One was Fiona's Story about a woman who discovered her husband had been downloading child porn. It was very poorly constructed and written. On the other hand, God on Trial by Frank Cottrell Boyce, was absolutely stunning.

I read, sort of by accident, Peter Ackroyd's The Lambs of London, about Mary and Charles Lamb. She killed her mother and attacked her father (which last bit Ackroyd didn't mention) and that was the climax of the book.But there was such an unsatisfactory note at the beginning, in which he said vaguely that some bits were fact and some made up - that's no way to explain a historical novel!

We also watched the first programme in his Thames series, which is being repeated on Sky Arts. Television takes such a long time to say anything and feels it has to say the same thing over and over again.

I'm now reading Diana Wynne Jones' book, The Game, because I'm on a panel with her and one other at the Bath Festival in a couple of weeks.

Oh, and The Falconer's Knot has been shortlisted for another prize - The North East Book Award.