Tag Archives: Mary Hoffman

The two Marys travel back in time

The two Marys, Hoffman and Hooper, have unravelled some more history for me in their new books for Barrington Stoke. Mary Hoffman writes about the war between Venice and the Ottoman Empire in 1571, and Mary Hooper visits plague-ridden London in 1665.

Both historical events are ones I ‘know’ of, especially the plague. But that doesn’t mean I know all that much, so I’m grateful for some fiction to help me learn.

Mary Hoffman, Angel of Venice

Angel of Venice features Luca who dreams of running off to war. But he’s in love, so can’t quite make his mind up, until it’s forcibly made up for him. And war is not at all as you tend to imagine, but hell on earth and he soon wishes he hadn’t gone.

Lovely romance and history lesson all in one. The Ottoman Empire is no longer as hazy to me as it was, and Venice with Mary is always good.

Mary Hooper, Ring of Roses

Ring of Roses is pretty scary. You imagine that ‘your’ character will be all right because it’s fiction and you can’t kill off the main character, can you?

Abby has come to London to look after a rich woman’s baby, and she stays well while the rest of London succumbs to the illness. Mary describes graphically what happens to the people in houses where someone dies of the plague and it’s not good.

Very realistic, and very informative.

The Marys do this so well, and I’m pleased they have written these dyslexia friendly books. They are much needed.

Welcome to the Family

There are more than one kind of family, as most of us who are not politicians know. And knowing isn’t always enough. You want books about your own family type. In Welcome to the Family you get so much variation that surely just about every type of family has been covered?

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, Welcome to the Family

Families can have one or more adults. Any number, really. Any combination of the sexes. There can be one child, or lots of them. As for colour, any combination is possible.

Welcome to the Family shows the child how they might have arrived with their parents. It can be anything from ordinary homemade babies, to fostering and test tube babies. There are gay parents and single parents. Mixed colour families and same colour families.

This is not a story book, but more a way of telling a child that they are normal, whatever their own reality. It shouldn’t be necessary to have books like this, but unfortunately we still have a long way to go before some kinds of family are seen as so natural that there is no need to mention them.

The usual wonderful illustrations you expect from Ros Asquith accompany Mary Hoffman’s text.

I’d happily belong to any of these families, but of course, I have my own. Both the one I was born into and the one I helped make. Both different, and both good.

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

Who?

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.