Tag Archives: Mary Hoffman

Writing Children’s Fiction

The trouble with a book like Writing Children’s Fiction: A Writers’ and Artists’ Companion,  is that it makes someone like me believe that they can write a children’s book. It is that good, and it is above all, that inspiring.

(So avoid at all costs if you don’t want to sit down and write a book just now.)

Linda Newbery and Yvonne Coppard provide loads of good advice for the budding author, based on how they themselves go about writing. Linda, for instance, began by wanting to be Monica Dickens. (Makes a change from all of us who thought we were Enid Blyton.)

Along with their own tried and tested methods, they have invited the cream of British children’s authors to share their thoughts on what to do. Or not to do. Many of them started off making beginner’s mistakes. Now that they have done it for you, your own path will be that much straighter.

I was pleased to learn Mal Peet made Marcus Sedgwick concerned with his flying-by-the-seat-of-his-pants technique. A little more worried by Meg Rosoff decking an interviewer for saying writing looked easy. Tim Bowler was a child prodigy if he’s to be believed, and Mary Hoffman has had a lifelong love affair with her muse, Italy.

Once inspiration has you in its grips, there are workshops on every possible aspect of writing books. And because these ladies don’t seem to doubt that my (your) book will get published, there are links to useful consultancies, blogs and how to get a school visit arranged.

And how could you fail? There are so many tips, not to mention inspirational tales in Writing Children’s Fiction, that you will be absolutely fine. Anne Fine, who has written the foreword, wishes she had had access to this kind of guide when she began, instead of doing it the hard way.

I will try to refrain from embarking on a book, but will be happy to review yours when it’s done. Always assuming you have followed the advice and made it a good one. But you will.

Bookwitch bites #109

If my bites didn’t already have such an excellent title, I’d call today’s post Hoffman & McGowan. It’s got a nice ring to it. Solicitors. Or television cops. Yes, that’s more like it.

Ladies first, so we’ll go to Mary Hoffman who has a new website design. Again, you could say, but that’s OK. Mary has been writing books for a while, and needs to go through a few web designs. They are like shoes. You must have them. They wear out. And with so many books, Mary simply has to be able to organise all the information sensibly. And beautifully. Like the shoes.

We’re not leaving Mary yet. Earlier this month she wrote this beautiful blog post on the History Girls blog about her mother-in-law. I find it fascinating to read about the lives of ‘reasonably ordinary’ people. Because once you start looking at an individual, you soon discover that many people have something special or exciting in their past.

The Knife That Killed Me

On to Anthony McGowan, who is excited about his upcoming film. Or more correctly, the upcoming film of one of his books; The Knife That Killed Me. I gather it’s just appeared at Cannes, which in itself is pretty exciting. I’m a little wary of knives, so I don’t know how I feel about watching the film. I found the build-up in the book almost unbearable. Well done, but hard to cope with.

And from the topic of knives, it’s a short step to bullying, and to another couple of ‘solicitors/cops;’ Morgan & Massey.

Nicola Morgan blogged about cyber bullying on the Huffington Post. And about teenage stress, also on Huffington. (I suppose I need to find out how to get blogging there…)

Finally, awards time! You remember how I mentioned David Massey a couple of weeks ago? Like, he was at the Chicken House breakfast, and I helped myself to a copy of his book Torn? Now he’s just gone and won the Lancashire Book of the Year, which just proves I move in the right chicken circles. The ceremony isn’t yet (can’t find when…), but the announcement came yesterday.

The Great Big Book of Feelings

I almost approached this book out of a sense of duty. You know how some books appear to be so ‘worthy’?  I thought that The Great Big Book of Feelings might be one of those. It’s not.

Mary Hoffman & Ros Asquith, The Great Big Book of Feelings

Instead Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith have come up with something really beautiful. Put simply, it’s a book that describes feelings, and as such I reckon would work quite well for aspie children (perhaps even older people) who need to learn what faces look like for different emotions.

But that’s not why I think it’s so great. It seems so full of life, somehow. (Except for the page about bereavement, which actually had me in tears within seconds. That’s how powerful the combination of Ros’s illustrations and Mary’s words is.)

Right, I will turn the page over and leave the ‘biggest rain cloud ever.’

It’s almost strange that you can get away with a book that just lists feelings, but it seems as if Mary has found every feeling you’d want, and Ros has drawn the loveliest pictures. I know that she always does, but still feel I must point it out.

(Have to admit that the Swedish proverb had me stumped. Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention that day.)

And I have never been scared of knees. Thought you’d want to know…

Mary Hoffman & Ros Asquith, The Great Big Book of Feelings


Chekhov, Tjechov, Tschechow, Tšehov, Chéjov or Tsjekhov? Yes, you tell me. They are obviously all the same man. I grew up with the second version and am doing my utmost to spell him in English these days. It’s not easy. I generally have to look it up every time.

And here you can see how carried away I got with Wikipedia. The other ones are German, Finnish, Spanish and Norwegian, to save you having to Wiki them as well. The interesting thing is that if we all stand around saying the name out loud, there won’t be much difference between any of them.

Same with Alexander Solzjenitsyn, Solzhenitsyn or Solschenizyn. Can you even tell which languages these are? So similar.

Despite taking it for granted – I mean, I do now. I used to think it was downright weird to have a version for every language – that we need to spell differently in order to say the same thing, I was taken aback when Laurence O’Bryan was taken aback by his Serbian crime novel cover. He’d turned into good old Lorens O’Brajan.

Lorens O'Brajan

I don’t speak Serbian, but can tell it’s a bestseller, probably features Istanbul, and it’s brutal. Funny how we freely borrow certain words and phrases, either exactly the same or very similar, while still translating proper names.

It’s a fantastic cover, though, don’t you think? I reckon I’d be happy to be O’Brajan for a cover like that. Brutal bestseler and everything. (Better than poor Vilijam Rajan.) In fact, I’m so keen to read it I am getting annoyed at my lack of linguistic skills.

Mary Hoffman apparently has a Chinese translation of her first Stravaganza book out now, but she can’t tell what her name might be, or anything else much. Luciano even has red hair. Not necessarily in the book, but on the cover. Hopefully a Chinese book means millions of sales..?

Lobbying for Libraries

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Not all of us who would have wanted to, could make it to London on Monday for the mass lobby to save school libraries. Luckily, quite a few people did. Authors, librarians, readers.

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

I didn’t even get the t-shirt.

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Looks like they had fun, too.

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Some people clearly didn’t take it seriously, at all…

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

I’m hoping it doesn’t say ‘The Best Ardagh’ on this sign.

Mass Lobby of Parliament for School Libraries

Thanks to Candy Gourlay for the photos.

Mary Hoffman’s blog.

Adèle, Mary and Philip

Adèle Geras looked as if she is used to sitting in fancy hotel lounges, drinking tea and chatting to people. In fact, I could imagine her sitting there writing her books, Agatha Christie style.

As it was, all Adèle got on Wednesday afternoon was us. We tried to look elegant enough to fit in at the Midland Hotel. Adèle ordered tea (I proceeded to drop half of my large biscuit on the floor. Naturally.) and I was allowed to admire her new picture book, which will be out in September. Lots of lovely bunnies.

Mary Hoffman

After a suitable amount of gossip (and an embarrassing moment when I couldn’t recall a single book I might recommend) we took our leave to head off for pizzas and Roxette, leaving Adèle with the bill for the tea…

We were meant to meet her and Mary Hoffman at their mcbf school event on Thursday afternoon, but the school had other ideas. It is understandable. Being persistent types, however, we suggested we could wave the two ladies off as they went to catch their trains home. One to one university town and one to the other.

Adèle Geras

You can work out what happened. All four of us ran around the station like headless chickens, trying to find the others. Actually, Mary sensibly stayed put, clutching some beautiful roses, and was eventually discovered and then pestered to sign her brand new City of Swords. It was the only copy she saw in action, despite it being publication day.

I gather the day’s school events had gone well. Mary and Adèle interviewed each other on how they write historical novels. Perhaps Adèle tempted fate the day before by suggesting we’d seen it already, so no need for us to attend.

Once Mary was safely on her train after five action-packed minutes in our company, we managed to find Adèle and her bunch of roses, and went to wait for her train, and then she sat down in the wrong part… Oh well.

Since you can’t catch too many trains, we put ourselves on yet another one in order to go and see the man below. More about him some time during Friday.

Philip Pullman

Stravaganza – City of Swords

The last Stravaganza novel is published today. That feels so sad, but it is a fantastic read, as usual. Mary Hoffman is in Manchester today, so I hope to be able to report any fresh news on the Stravaganza front soon.

Mary Hoffman, City of Swords

The new Stravagante in City of Swords is Laura, who cuts herself. Somewhat interestingly, she ends up with a dagger as her talisman, and it takes her to Fortezza in Talia, where war is about to break out. Laura’s problem – and that of the other Stravaganti – is that she supports both sides of the conflict.

Even more than in previous books, we see all the other Stravaganti getting involved, and there are some other highly interesting developments, as well. Needless to say, there is plenty of romance and the di Chimicis are still both very bad and a little good. Fabrizio is as stupid as ever.

It’s exam time in London, so the last thing any of the teenagers need is to stravagate to Talia most nights. But sometimes there are more important things than exams. You learn about things through living them, and some London teenagers will have more than their share of knowledge on ancient warfare techniques.

Mary ties up a lot of plot strands in City of Swords, which is reassuring in one way, but not in the world where we want more Stravaganza novels. Things don’t generally end badly in Mary’s cities, so there is no need to worry about Fortezza. It can be bad for the minor characters, but on the whole this is feelgood historical fantasy.

Young and hot, or perhaps not

Mary Hoffman went on a book tour to America last week, leaving us – her blog readers – with some exciting men to think about. I bet she did that on purpose.

She writes about some very attractive young men in her own books, and I trust Mary has done a lot of research to make our reading experience the best ever. But I am too old for her boys. I simply cannot lust after a teenager. Even setting propriety aside I find I can’t. I need older men.

Like the ones I was too young for when I was a teenager. Except in those days there wasn’t much in the way of teen books, so a girl had to lust after grown older men, or not lust at all. Lord Peter Wimsey is one such example mentioned by Mary. (And don’t tell anyone, but I did like him.)

That’s life. Nothing is ever right.

So, in those days I liked the Scarlet Pimpernel (even without Leslie Howard), and I adored Steven Howard in MM Kaye’s Death in Cyprus and Richard Byron in Mary Stewart’s Madam Will You Talk. Various Alistair MacLean heroes, and Carl Zlinter from Nevil Shute’s The Far Country. (Go on, ridicule me!)

If there were any boys, I have forgotten them, which means they can’t have been all that special.

More recently I have liked Margery Allingham’s Campion, Mr Knightley, and Robert Stephens’s voice as Aragorn in the radio version of Lord of the Rings. There aren’t all that many attractive men in modern children’s or YA books, but there is Lupin. And from an old classic we have Daddy Longlegs.

If I absolutely have to find young men in current fiction they won’t be vampires. Not even faeries (sorry, Seth McGregor). I liked Wes in Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever, and Sanchez in Ribblestrop by Andy Mulligan is quite a boy. And now that I think about it, the Cathys (Cassidy and Hopkins) do lovely young ones.

Abby and Ducky

Men on the screen, however, have got easier with age. The ten-year-old me knew it was wrong to be in love with Ilya Kuryakin, 23 years my senior. But he was so cute! And this being a lasting kind of passion, it was David McCallum who got me started on NCIS. He is still very good looking for a man approaching 80. And it was at NCIS I found Very Special Agent Gibbs, a man of the right age. At last. I reckon he is a modern Mr Knightley.


So, for me it is No Thanks to ‘hot young men.’ I need them to be grey these days.

(Link here to an older post about pretty boys. I seem to have grown out of them.)

Writing for children

I can’t believe it’s almost five years since my Arvon course. It was one of those things I very much wanted to do, but felt I couldn’t use up funds while there was no money coming in. But I felt it so very strongly that in the end I signed up anyway, when there was just the one place left at Lumb Bank.

Arvon, Lumb Bank

Of course, I didn’t do writing for children. Mine was a sort of non-fiction, general course, which suited me just fine. I see that in this year’s programme they have something for people wanting to get started on blogs and other online writing.

In 2007 I think they offered one, possibly two, weeks for hopeful children’s writers. This year I was impressed to see they do four, and that’s before I discovered it’s actually six weeks. Three of writing for children, two for young adults and one for young people. That’s a lot. It must be due to popular demand, and why wouldn’t people want to come and spend a week in the company of real children’s authors tutoring a group of likeminded budding writers?

I heard about Arvon when Caroline Lawrence reported on having just taught at one of their centres. And I believe she had previously done one of their courses herself. That seems to be the way it is. Lots of current authors have been, and many are now taking up tutoring as the next step.

Just look at who you could rub shoulders with in a kitchen in some beautiful countryside setting; Julia Golding and Marcus Sedgwick, with Mary Hoffman as the midweek special. Or there’s Malachy Doyle and Polly Dunbar, with guest star Anthony Browne. It’s not everywhere you get to hobnob with Children’s Laureates, ex- or otherwise. The two MBs, Malorie Blackman and Melvin Burgess, with Aussie special Simmone Howell. Now that one would be really interesting!

You could have Joan Lennon and Paul Magrs, with yet another Laureate, Julia Donaldson. Martyn Bedford with Celia Rees, and Bali Rai doing the star turn. And finally Gillian Cross and Steve Voake, with guest dramatist Christopher William Hill.

If laureates are your thing, there is always the hope of a week with Carol Ann Duffy, but then you really have to be good. At poetry, I mean. That one is decided on the quality of your poems. Which is not going to be me.

Plus any other kind of writing. All with people who know their stuff. It isn’t cheap, but there are schemes for financial assistance. No internet, and you have to cook your own dinner in groups, so better hope for budding writers who can peel potatoes.

Ms M at Lumb Bank

(We had our own laureate connection – on wall, above – during my week. That’s as well as the house having belonged to a former Poet Laureate.)

Little My and the H₂O

I always worry when I visit School Friend and need to wash my hands. (And I don’t mean her place calls for extra hand-washing, just that one does have to wash one’s hands occasionally.) Her guest hand towel features Little My, and anyone quite so angry looking is a wee bit scary. You know.

Lilla My

But on Sunday I decided it’s not my hands that make her angry, even as I wipe them on her face. It rained. When it stopped raining we wanted to go out and sit on the deck. I was fine, because I have never done the Swedish taking shoes off indoors (and apparently even for stepping out on the deck…) thing, so didn’t mind the H₂O spread out all over. School Friend, however, objected to wet tootsies, so wiped the floor with – you guessed it! – Little My.

That will be why she’s perpetually upset.

Last time chez School Friend I was a little shocked by the new table decoration. It looked anything but child friendly. Or even people friendly. That sword (something LOTR-ish, I gather) is sharp. And on the dinner table. With flowers, but still.

The Sword, and some flowers

Now Pizzabella, the owner of the sword, has her own little flat which we went to inspect the other day. The sword went with her. But, oh dear, it sits on top of a (Billy) bookcase, and I can just visualise how it falls down…

Permanent Rose

Permanent Rose

The room where I sleep where the New Librarian used to reside is now an art studio for School Friend. I sometimes use her desk for my blogging, and was ridiculously pleased to find an old friend on there; Permanent Rose, Hilary McKay’s darling girl.

There are so many uses for Philadelphia Cream Cheese, aren’t there?

The Resident IT Consultant was puzzled to find an ‘unknown’ Mary Hoffman in our hosts’ bookcase and wanted to know which one it was. I told him it’s Falconer’s Knot in Swedish, and if he looked closely he’d find that it had been signed by the author. Just as with the copy of Troy by Adèle Geras, nestling dangerously close (i.e. below) to the aforementioned sword.