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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tennant and the Lodger

There's been so much social and cultural activity since my last blog.

Christmas began with the SAS "Office party" at a good bistrot in Stroud - a very happy occasion, especially since I'd finished all the Troubadour edits. I liked Stroud too - such an attractive town, with independent shops.

Christmas continued with Saturday and Sunday - two special meals and present exchanges with youngest daughter and partner and then the bit of family that has 2 little boys. Lots of nice food and presents. Freddie (3) played a game with me that one of our sofas was a boat and the carpet a crocodile-infested sea. George (one and a half) is a fluent speaker if only we knew in what language.

We had a very full day in London planned for our anniversary yesterday. We saw the 21- foot painting by Burne-Jones called Arthur sleeps in Avalon (Tate Britain), visited Southwark cathedral, had an Indian meal and saw Hamlet at the Novello. We WOULD have gone on the Golden Hinde too but it was unaccountably closed - v. annoying as it was City of Ships related.

I heard Poulenc's Gloria, Messaien's l'Ascension and Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms repeatedly on a CD in my car. And Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle, as ! wanted to check something. Marcus de Sautoy asked for the opening of the fourth door on Desert Island discs and they played the Fifth, which is much finer, but still.

The Burne-Jones was very fine too,if you can suspend disbelief and enter that sort of Peter Jackson/Lothlorien world, which I can.

Hamlet was without the planned Prince of Denmark, David Tennant having had to have a back operation. I wondered what all the teenage girls in our row would make of it without him. The understudy, Edward Bennett, was adequate, but lacking in charisma. Patrick Stewart was more disappointing, fluffing his lines. I thought he should have been a great Claudius but he wasn't.

Gertrude was excellent and even the Ophelia OK (such an unrewarding a difficult role). Still I always sigh when the actor's clothes come off - it seems such a failure of imagination on the director's part. My husband assures me she kept bra and pants on but they were flesh-coloured and fairly revealing.

I'm reading The Lodger by Charles Mitchell about Shakespeare's years in Silver Street; it is absolutely excellent so far.

I hope enough of us are well enough to have a Christmas; Rhiannon has flu, I have a cough and have lost my voice - we just wait to see what the others bring with them today!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bath in Bath

Well, it was a bit of an underestimate that the "copyedits" for Troubadour would take a "bit of time". It was a second full=scale edit, more extensive than the one two months ago and arriving three weeks before Christmas, with a two-week deadline! And that six months after submission!

I was so angry and poor City of Ships had to go n ice but, by dint of cancelling all social engagements and working every hour including weekends that wasn't already committed, I have done it. And feel a real sense of achievement, even though it's only got me back to square one.

We had a hugely useful meeting at Frances Lincoln on the big book I'm doing with Ros Asquith. And then a team from Coventry education authority came to film me answering questions from children. The cameraman fell in love with the cats and sent lots of pictures to me.

And we had a wonderful visit to the mosaicist Robert Field in Dorset. And I bought far too much of his work, not in terms of regret (since they are all lovely) but space, since we are running out of walls!

This week I've spent useful time in the Bodleian and taylorian libraries - what wonderful resources! I feel lucky to live near Oxford.

I saw Otello in Oxford but felt all the time how inferior it was to Shakespeare's.It seemed to me that Verdi had taken a tragedy and turned it into a melodrama. And the singer who layed the title role was so short and tubby it was hard to believe in him; Desdemona was lovely though.

We also saw a new play "Carthage must be Destroyed" back in Bath (can't keep away). It was about real subjects like political power and war as a way of manipulating markets and public opinion and took place in Rome. The violence in the second half was hard to take and I don't think it was a total success but it was always interesting and intelligent. The first half was set in a bath-house and all four actors - one old, one middle-aged, two young - got naked at some point. And one of the young ones was very beautiful.

We watched the last omnibus edition of Little Dorrit last night and thought Andrew Davies had been very muddly about the denouement; it didn't help that much of the exposition was given to Andy Serkis' incomprehensible Rigaud. It is much clearer in the book!I'd better make it the next thing I read.

I finished The Well of Lost Plots and read Twilight by Stephenie [sic] Meyer, to see what all the fuss was about.I found it surprisingly accomplished though I don't want to read any more of them.Good on her for coming up with a really strong USP and then delivering on it.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Because we can't get to the Bourton-on-the-Water turning on of the lights for the third year running, we tried Woodstock, which was terrible! Ghastly Frank Sinatra (or was it Bing Crosby? anyway a 50s crooner) on tape and then a live rendition of Hark the Herald Angels Sing by a young woman with a strong voice and Pop Idol style, who couldn't fit the words to the tune, making a real muck of "Hail th'incarnate deity" and singing "rysen with healing in his wings".

And the tree had just one blue star at the top and light blue strings of them in its branches. Pathetic.

We had been Christmas shopping in Oxford Street the day before (which also had poor lights - is the credit crunch already creating an austerity Christmas?) so were quite tired and wished we hadn't turned out again.

But all was redeemed by the Bath Abbey Advent service by candlelight on Sunday. A wonderful choir washed our ears out with lovely motets and we sang lustily O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Hail to the Lord's Anointed and Lo, he comes with Clouds Descending. And went out into the frosty night carrying our candles.

Then hot cinnamon-spiced pear cider at the vegetarian restaurant where we had dinner. And now we have an Advent calendar and candle, so if we don't feel Christmassy after all that, there is no hope for us.

I'm seven chapters into City of Ships and getting into the rhythm of a new Stravaganza but the copy-edits for Troubadour came today, which will take up quite a bit of time. And I have a meeting at my picturebook publishers in London on Thursday, which ditto.

We had a lovely family gathering to celebrate the November birthdays the previous weekend and just-back-from-New-York daughter had brought all the US papers celebrating Obama's victory, since she woke up there on 5th November. Also a baseball cap and badges for me, so I could feel part of it.

I've read Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde and am now reading The Well of Lost Plots. I rather feel that by the third one he is stretching the idea a bit. He seems to have run out of plot himself, paradoxically and be caught up in just inventing things.

We also had an assessed discussion in Italian Literature about a short story by Verga called l'Amante di Gramigna, which some of us have read before. It's a nasty ittle piece - how I dislike "verismo".

We've continued to watch Little Dorritt, in which Claire Foy is luminously beautiful. I wish I could like Eddie Marsan's Pancks better. He was wonderful in God on Trial and everyone else likes him but I find his snot-snorting mannerism revolting and it's hard to believe he is the fine character that Pancks is.

We also saw Andrew Graham-Dixon oiling himself round the subject of Vasari and the same tantalising glimpse of the Corridor. If only someone - not him! - would make a full length programme about it. You can't even get a book that tells you all the paintings that are in it.Ah well, maybe I'll get inside it one day.

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