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, January 24, 2009

A man for this season

Well, it was one man's week, really. I dashed back from Italian on Tuesday to watch the inauguration and the three of us sat rapt, once Aretha Franklin was over. How the mighty are fallen! I mean, great hat, but terrible performance. And who would have thought Joe Biden would have had a better swearing-in than Obama? But it seems the great orator was thrown by the Chief Justice's Bushisms.

Dubya himself sat there up close and personal throughout a speech that should have stung but he is probably too unimaginative to realise just how bad it made him seem. Anyway, we loved it all - except for the poem - and cracked open the champagne a bit later.

I send some American friends the You Tube link to "There's no-one as Irish as Barack Obama" and in return they sent photos of the scene in Washington; they had travelled there with their three teenage daughters from Massachusetts. What a day for them to remember!

Oratory isn't everything but it was a joy to hear someone deliver a cogent and coherent speech without notes, after what we have been through the last 8 years. Just my luck to be invited to meet the last president and not this one! Still, Laura is and was a gracious and intelligent woman, as is Michelle Obama.

I've now read through the bound proof of Troubadour and found it pretty clean with just a few continuity points and repetitions to tidy up. And I THINK I'm still pleased with it.I've started picking up appointments in Bologna with European pubishers - I hope that will help it on its way.

Only one and a bit chapters of Ships this week because of the proof-reading but it's OK. And I had two more swims.On Wednesday I went to the Babylon exhibition at the British Museum. Some people have expressed disappointment but i loved it. And it got me thinking about so many things. The lions from the processional way were my favourite thing - just imagine them replicated over and over! But I also loved the portable ivory calendar calculator from the 16th century; I'm going to give Doctor Dethridge one of those.

I saw Andy Murray beat Jurgen Melzer in straight sets at the very civilised time of breakfast this morning. Usually such things happen overnight at the Autralian Open and I miss them.

And the episode of ER in which Abby left, which I found much more moving than the death of Greg Pratt.

I heard Niccolò Ammaniti talking about his latest book to be translated into English, on Open Book.I don't think I'm going to like it much (but will read it in Italian). Still, he did give me food for thought on my next adult book.

Also heard some of radio 4's adaptation of A Prayer for Owen Meany, but was put off by Toby Jones' vocal interpretation of Owen as Marge Simpson. And today, Stephen Kovacevich playing the Diabelli variations - but husband says we already have three recordings.

I've read a bit more of Dreams from my father and LOTS of newspapers.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Back in the swim

I've finished that essay on the Scapigliatura, which means something like "dishevelment." I managed to find 7 books I wanted in the Taylorian and was able to take 5 of them out. That was Saturday's task, to finish the essay I started on Tuesday, and today's was making marmalade. 10 jars of dark gold now await labels.

I've been discussing both projects with a couple of friends on Facebook, which is about as close to "Spinoza and the smell of cooking" as you can get.

But I've also managed two swims and written two chapters of City of Ships, so am feeling more positive about meeting my (extended) deadline. And I've booked three trips to Italy: Bologna for the fair, with Rhiannon, followed by 3 nights in Florence at the flat I stayed in last July, joined again by husband; Trieste in May for another "triangle" and Siena in late June for a week. I'll be able to see the Palio again! Though it isn't certain that my contrada will run.

Our plans to go to the US in the autumn might be modified by an invitation to a wedding in Mexico in October. We might cut out the east coast this year and just go to California and the wedding and make it a shorter trip.

I've seen the first two episodes of the new ER, the last ever series. And the DVD of Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, which I enjoyed for its narrative quirks but thought it was a bit of a stretch to make Robert Downey Jr a contemporary of his co-star Michelle Monaghan (in fact he is 11 years older than her though looks more).

I heard a whole CD of Joe Cutler, which I got for Christmas. He is one to follow. I'd heard the Music for Cello and Strings on Radio 3 and knew I liked that but Sal's Sax was great too and the piano pieces.

Haven't got far with reading Dreams from my Father because of all the Italian critical books but loved the Guardian supplement on the Bush years. And found out Dubya did do one good thing - increased money to Africa for treating AIDS. But I'll still have the bunting out on Tuesday!

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Monday, January 12, 2009


I've been off the scene with the winter illness - the coldy one, not the other one, thank goodness.

But I worked out that I've hosted 34 out of the last 35 Christmasses and this is only the second time I've been ill on the day itself, so that's not bad going.

I got all the fanmail answered before and then a fan wrote to me on Christmas Day! I've just done it again, because I am trying to clear everything out of the way that isn't City of Ships. I have to do a brief critique of a friend's novel and write an Italian essay but apart from that I think it can be just me and the laptop and the mindmap.

There have been a lot of jollifications in spite of illness. We had a very traditional Christmas with lots of family visits and I think the only things that didn't happen was the special pudding I was planning for Boxing Day and for me church on Christmas morning.

We [a;yed Boggle and Articulate and a new game Rhiannon was given, called Bookchase, which was like a cross between Trivial Pursuit and Monopoly. We saw the TV programme about Paul Schofield - lovely man - as well as the Doctor Who Christmas Special ( a bit meh) and Wallace and Gromit's A Matter of Loaf and Death, which didn't quite live up to its title.

I got lots of books, including the 2 Barack Obamas, which I'm looking forward to.And Cds and DVds, only one of which I've heard/seen so far.

This was Mamma Mia, which we watched with mulled wine on New Year's Eve. Really it needs more alcohol to cope with Pierce Brosnan's singing!

WE've been to Rugby, where we had lunch in a very interesting vegetarian restaurant, which also sold pretty things. And bought new binoculars.

Then for the first weekend of the year we went to Durham and York, where we saw Durham cathedral (using the binoculars) but not the Minster because we had been there the year before. And went to a said mass in York in a medieval church.

I finished the Well of Lost Plots and am now reading Something Rotten. Only one Thursday Next left after this. The Lodger continued to be magnificent. Also read Them by Jon Ronson and A Good Plain Cook, whose author I have forgotten. That was quite gripping, but ended very weakly - just petered out in fact.

Am now immersed in books about "La Scapigliatura" (Italian version of Bohemianism).

But far and away the cultural event of the season was seeing Toby Sharp in The Woman in Black, which happened on Saturday. Toby is middle daughter's partner and has been understudying the role since September but was scheduled to take over while his principal was on holiday for a week in January, so he has done eight performances.

30 of us gathered in an Italian restaurant for lunch then went to the matinee which was full of teenage girls who screamed their heads of at every spooky moment, of which there were many. There were screams in the production too, so it was sometimes hard to know who was making the noise!

I had read the book, which fortified me against being scared. And I was so impressed by Toby; it's one thing to have a friend who's an actor - quite another to see him in cation on a West End Stage. I foretell a starry career

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