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, May 29, 2009

Bill Nighy, Margaret Thatcher, my mother

And now possibly me. All with a condition where the middle fingers curl towards the palm. Maggie and my mum had operations, privately in the former case, on the NHS in the latter. Bill Nighy hasn't. I will like a shot if I'm right and the condition really sets in. It's annoyingly in my right hand. Oh to be ambidextrous - or at least to touch type!

I'm back from Italy, covered in mosquito bites. On the Trieste coast, it was hotter than it had been in any May "since records began." I was writing my adult novel, proofreading my daughter's latest and generally having good bookchats with two writer friends.

Last year we were making hot water bottles at night; this time it was so hot and airless even a cotton sheet was too much.

Before I left I went to a booklaunch for Leslie Wilson's Saving Rafael, where there were several friends from the "other" SAS. I met a splendid teenager who was doing her GCSEs but had also taken part in a NaNoWriMo. Quite an achievement for a full-time school student.

I also went to the SCBWI retreat in Staffordshire to give two talks - one on writing across the age range and one on how to manage a writing career. Funnily enough the two editors who were offering critiques to would-be-published children's writers were both ones I had some knowledge of, one them my daughter's new editor.

As a wise friend of mine said, "When you start in this business, the editors seem like your mothers; then time passes and they are your contemporaries;finally they are the same age as your grown-up daughters!" And I suppose you could add grand-daughters if, like me, you are a writer who will never retire.

SCBWI has a good track record for its members becoming published; I met one who had been given a three-book deal with my own publisher.

On the subject of which, I forgot to say that my editor loves City of Ships. Careless of me. Her edits will come any day and have to be done by the end of June so I shall be busy. And I have a nice Dutch offer for Troubadour and an invitation to speak at some schools in Paris next term.

In Italy I read Kate Atkinson's When will there be good news? which was so compelling that I stayed up till 2am one night to finish it and then handed it to one of my friends because I was so desperate to discuss the ending with someone! I didn't feel the ending was completely incredible as with One Good Turn but I DID want to know HOW what happened had happened.

I also semi-read Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, but there was a bit too much about salmon for me.

Since being back I've finished Somewhere towards the end, Diana Athill's prize-winning memoir of old age. I liked it much better than Stet.

I saw with a terrible feeling of imminent deprivation, the last episode of ER last night. It does feel like parting with dear friends, even though I didn't much like some of them.

In Italy we went to see the lovely little castle at Duino, where Rilke wrote at least two of the Elegies. He had his own terrace, two in fact, where he wrote, looking out over the sea and the cliff with the ruined castle where the White Lady rock commemorates a woman who was thrown over the cliff by a jealous husband. She was turned mid-air into the rock and resumed human shape at night to visit her child.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

The world needs lerts

Busy week: Two trips to London, two to Birmingham, two to Witney, one to Essex and one to Hampshire. And yes that's eight in seven days so Saturday was London and Birmingham!

The first London trip was to see the film of Coraline, which I blogged about at (no dot after www). Essex and the other London trips were all part of helping youngest daughter complete and hand in her final Architecture portfolio, which happened this morning - hooray!

Hampshire was for a Big birthday party for my cousin, who is the oldest left alive of our generation in the family (myself being the youngest). His brother and sister in law were over from San Diego which was a big plus. The youngest person there was aged four.

And Birmingham was to hear the last two concerts in the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's "Igorfest" - four years of performing Stravinsky's entire output. Wednesday's was rarely performed Biblical works like Threni (based on the Lamentations of Jeremiah) and a Sermon, a Narrative and a Prayer. There was the most GORGEOUS counter-tenor, Christopher Field. He had the most thrilling voice of that kind that I've heard since James Bowman.

Saturday's had Fireworks (composed when Stravinsky was 17), Mavra, The King of Stars ( 5 minutes of blissfully mysterious music) and finished with a bang, literally in The Rite of Spring. Absolutely terrific.

I also heard a lot of Mendelssohn in the car on Saturday morning and he really means very little to me.

I read Katherine Langrish's Dark Angels, which I've also blogged about - it was very good. And finished Georgette Heyer's My Lord John. Am now reading The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare's History Plays.

On recommendation, I signed up to Google Alerts for my name and Stravaganza: I've had some very peculiar notifications but did find one genuine review. I was put in mind of Posy Simmonds when she collected her honorary Doctorate from Brighton. She ended her talk: "Be alert - the world needs lerts."

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

The books we write and the books we meant to write

City of Ships is now with my editor, my agent having read it as quickly as usual and giving the thumbs up. So that's the first hurdle passed. I've also written a Banana book for Egmont. It's years since I did that but I wrote three back in the day. And this one came very easily, since I'd been thinking about it for a while.

I have a writer friend staying and we've had good talks about our work and others'.

On Saturday we went to see the modern mosaic exhibition in Cirencester, which Robert Field curated. My four Elements mosaic prints are now up in place in my study. So I forbore to buy more. Actually, apart from Bob's, the only one I really liked was the most costly in the exhibition.

So we looked at the Roman ones in the museum instead, which just made me want a Roman villa with a mosaic pavement in my dining-room and an atrium garden.

Last Saturday, we were at a day school in Oxford on Medieval Italian cities, which was lovely. A very high academic standard and good handouts and bibliographies.

On Wednesday i went to a local school (I mean in my road!) to give an assembly associated with the Times Books for Schools promotion, which has my Encore, Grace! in it.In spite of their projector's turning my PowerPoint green and the showcard's not having arrived, it was good.

This week I've read a book by a friend and a very old book by Georgette Heyer, which a friend lent me, called My Lord John. The John concerned was Henry V's younger brother, the one that Shakespeare gives such a bad press to, and the book was first in a projected trilogy set 1395-1435, but she kept being given contracts for more Regency novels and died before she could complete her Plantagenet project. It stops in mid-sentence; so sad.

She was a victim of her own success and even then the public and the publishers wanted "more of the same."So, even though she wrote some thirty historical novels, she couldn't complete the project closest to her heart. She gets rather a bad press nowadays but The Devil's Cub was one of my all time favourite books when I was a teenager - I knew it by heart. And she wrote some pretty fine detective stories too.

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