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, April 23, 2009

Happy birthday, Shakespeare!

Well, City of Ships is "finished." That is to say I have a 84K+ word document which I have now finished checking. But there are a few scenes I want to add before sending it off.

I also wrote my essay on Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini - the difference between the book and the film. Most of the in-between has been spent celebrating my birthday and enjoying the sunshine.

I share it with Hitler, which irked me for many years. Why couldn't my mother have hung on a few days and let me be born the same day as Shakespeare? But then I wouldn't have been an Aries. And I am.(Actually I think that he was too. At least not a Taurus).

I've nearly finished reading the fascinating Peter Ackroyd Shakespeare book, which has had to languish while I read several novels by people I knew and a book I'm reviewing. And I also read The White Tiger.It was OK but not really so remarkable as to win the Booker.

And I had to laugh at the blurb, which said that Adiga was giving us a rare view of India's dark underbelly, or some such. Every single book set in India that I have read has shown me nothing but that underbelly! Rushdie, Desai, Mistry, Roy - when do they ever do anything else?

I would have seen the film, In the Loop, but couldn't face going into a dark cinema to listen to someone swearing like Alastair Campbell, while the sun was shining so temptingly outside.

I saw the last episode of Lewis and still didn't spot the scene I saw being filmed in St. Giles last year.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Arts and Crafts

I have now finished chapter 23 of a 21 Chapter novel! Another chapter and epilogue should do it. The dining room is festooned with pictures of galleons, galleys, galliots and galleasses.

But I took a break to come away to the Lake District for Easter, where I haven't cooked a meal, apart from soup, for four days. We provided the ingredients and two brothers of the younger generation, plus Rhiannon and her partner, have basically cooked fabulous food every day.

We have eaten far too much and drunk a lot of wine and played silly games and had good conversations. It has been a really good house party in a wonderful house, owned by a friend who is away.

And the sun has shone really hotly. We haven't done the walks we planned but we did visit a glorious Arts and Crafts house this afternoon, by Baillie Scott and were the only people there. I so wanted to live in that hall with the peacock frieze!

I saw Antony and Cleopatra at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol and it was great, as good as their Julius Caesar.The current company is really strong.

I also saw a really good episode of ER and two of Lewis. I had to watch the first one on i-Player, which can be terrible on a Mac! But I've seen three episodes now and though I love the corny old things it has such screamingly obvious plot anomalies and discontinuity points, I'm thinking of offering myself as script editor!

I've started to read The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. Reserving judgment, except to say it's very readable.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009


I have written about the Bologna Book Fair in two other places - a report for Armadillo, of which I am no longer editor, and a post on my new Book Maven blog, whose address is here: (no dot after www).

But these are both more public items.

Rhiannon and I had a great fair, so productive and useful that I think I might have to start going every year instead of alternate ones.

A highlight for both of us was meeting our Japanese editor, since coincidentally we are published by the same firm there. But also fun for me was meeting two charming Italian men at the Liber stand.

Not just randomly, you understand. I am on an international committee for Liber, an Italian children's books review journal and had written them a long article about British children's books which my friend Carla had translated. It was in the current issue on their stand.

I was waiting to introduce myself to them when they saw my name badge and fell on me with cries of Mary Hoffman! That was very nice. And they asked me to write more articles for them.

We bumped into several old friends, like Fiona Kenshole and Ed Zaghini but perhaps not as many as in some years. There were definitely fewer American editors than usual. The Great Big Book of Families was very well received and I met lots of my colleagues at Frances Lincoln and Bloomsbury as well as my German and Dutch editors.

And on our last day at the hotel, when we were waiting for my husband to join us, we had a lovely visit from Australian fantasy writer Isabelle Carmody, who is a friend of a friend. That was lovely, sitting in the garden drinking coffee and Campari in the sunshine and just having a good old writers' talk.

Then we were off to Florence and back in the flat I was in last July with another writer friend. The landlord as charming as before and such a good central flat.

We saw the Uffizi, so I was able to spend time again with my favourite painting ever - Simone Martini's annunciation. Then we went to San Lorenzo market - come sempre - and had a perfect pizza, salad and beer lunch in the open air. We might have walked up to San Miniato al Monte but in fact all three fell into an exhausted siesta, a post travelling tiredness hit like a wave.

And then dinner at my favourite Florentine restaurant.

Next morning Stevie and I visited our favourite Bargello and I saw the Donatello David restored which I had seen Dottoressa Ludovica Nicolai working on last July. Magnificent. I was also able to pay my respects to the little Michelangelo "Apollo-David" which is my favourite piece of sculpture, so very happy.

We tried to get into the Baptistery but were thwarted by a huge student party.In the afternoon we went Oltr'arno to see the Masaccios and succeeded. Though Santo Spirio was closed; it almost always is. And got into the Baptistery on our way back though by then I'd had my purse stolen on the bus, losing about €60. Still, they didn't get my credit cards.

We were having dinner with Carla, which was the usual eight course marathon - very nice - and that cheered me up.

I read Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor, which I enjoyed after a sticky start. And it had a very weak ending with a huge plot glitch. Will for the deed again. And then Magdalen Nabb's first detective story set in Florence, Death of an Englishman. This was because we discovered the Anglo-American bookshop, Paperback Exchange. It's been there 30 years - they were having a birthday party when we went in. I've never known about it before.

Am now reading Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue, which is very readable but unreliable and full of errors; he should have got a linguist to check it for him.

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