Friday, 31 December 2010

Why I don't celebrate New Year's Eve

36 years ago today my mother died. It was only four months after my father's death and she had spent her first (only!) Christmas as a widow with us in North London. She went back to her home with my sister and a few days later I got the devastating phone call.

Seven years earlier one of her best frinds - the mother of my best friend in my girlhood - had died, so it was already a sad day in our calendar.

I can remember celebrating New Year's Eve on only a handful of occasions - all sad or disappointing in some way: the time my boyfriend went back to his secret fiancée, the one with gay friends when everyone wanted to kiss my husband, the Hogmanay on Princes Street in Edinburgh when we stood around in the cold waiting for something to happen, the Millennium Eve under Big Ben - actually that one was the best, with great fireworks.

Tonight we'll have a home-made Chinese meal with our youngest and her partner, drink some good wine by the log fire and maybe stay up till midnight, maybe not. But I'll think of my mother, who never met her grandchildren, and was such a loving woman and a great cook. To her I owe many Celtic qualities to do with hospitality and imagination.

Thank you, Ivegh Lassiter.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

What do you believe on the Internet?

Not long ago I saw someone on Twitter saying that they were looking forward to reading David, my latest historical novel. Naturally I was flattered but also a bit intrigued because the book won't be out till next year. I didn't know this person and I was pretty sure she hadn't been to the Troubadour launch party where I talked about it.

So I Tweeted back something along the lines of "that's lovely but you'll have to wait until next year" and she replied that she'd seen it advertised on Amazon. Intrigued, I looked it up myself and there it was. Nothing wrong with advertising well in advance but - and here's the killer - a dealer was advertising secondhand copies!

The book at that time, although written, had not yet been edited so it was a neat trick to have a published copy already "in good condition" though "used." I reported it to my publisher but it's still there on I advise you not to buy it even at the knock-down price of £1.98 plus postage!

Now that I have a couple of websites, I have regular contact with my readers and some of them say the darnedest things. Here is a recent selection:

"Why don't you have an Interesting Vegetables section on your website, like Robert Muchamore?"

"I think you should write a story about cheese on toast"

"Why your books dosen't arrive in my country (Chile)? "

"I felt that you book "Boundless Grace" sends the message that polygamy and absentee dads are acceptable occurences that children should be pruod or happy of." (I didn't answer this one!)

"Dear Mary Hoffman, this is my email:" (Um, yes. What should I do with it?)

Then I got told off on Twitter for revealing too much about the plot of Malorie Blackman's Boys Don't Cry in my recent Guardian review - this was described as a Critic's Crime.

I don't read my Amazon reviews and NEVER look at Amazon rankings - that way madness lies - but I do get Google Alerts into my name and also "Stravaganza", which I also tap into That way I have found lots of lovely positive reviews to send on to my publicists at my publishers.

But there is no sensitivity filter and I have also stumbled across some real stinkers!

If I were not so clued in and genned up, I wouldn't know about them but then I wouldn't know about the lovely ones too. Truly the Internet is a sword with two edges!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Feeling like a writer

This has been one of those weeks when a lot of writerly things have happened without my having done much writing. Having sent off the edits for my latest historical novel, David, to Bloomsbury, I was preparing to roll up my sleeves to start writing The Great Big Book of Feelings for Frances Lincoln.

But then I was derailed by the arrival of the layouts for Grace at Christmas. So seasonal! But not available till next year. It was written in December last year and it felt suitably festive to check it all through in the same season: it makes it feel a genuinely Christmassy book.

Cornelius van Wright and his wife Ying-Hwa Hu have done a really lovely job on the interior illustrations. I'm sorry you'll have to wait a year to see those but  here is the cover. My Art Director at Frances Lincoln says it will be "a more Chrsitmassy green" which I'm glad to hear as the background looks a little cold in this image.

On Monday one of our dinner guests was Linda Aronson, who became a friend after I gave her hilarious Kelp a rave review in, I think, The Telegraph. It's always fun talking plot ideas with Linda, who is a Hollywood script doctor in her other life.

Then on Thursday I went to a book-signing at my local Waterstone's - twice actually, because they were having a late night opening. I have done this so often and in so many places that it no longer strikes me as odd. But it IS a bit strange - isn't it? - to do what children often call "scribbling in a book."

So there I was, "scribbling" in copies of my Stravaganza novels and Princess Grace and The Great Big Book of Families, knowing that I must start writing Stravaganza 6 next month, that the next Grace would be out in a year's time and that I must write the text for the next Great Big Book of ... before Christmas. So that's it - it's my job. Even after 90+ books, I still can't quite believe it.