Questions for Mary Hoffman

Discussion in 'Mary Hoffman' started by Mark Robson, Sep 11, 2007.

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    Mark Robson

    Mark Robson Dragon Writer

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    Well, as you're here, Mary, and you're willing to answer questions, I'll kick off by asking a couple.

    I'm currently just over half way through The Falconer's Knot. It's clear to me from what I've read so far that you have a love of Italy, but why Italy? I mean it's a very nice place and I've been there several times, but you could just as easily have set up a similar murder mystery story in any one of a number of other countries.

    Also, when you go on your research trips there, where do you start? Do you go with a list of detailed questions that you're looking for answers to, or is it more general than that?
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    Mary Hoffman

    Mary Hoffman Writer

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    Start me off with a hard one, why don't you?

    It is always ever and only Italy. I was born in the wrong body in the wrong country. If I were on my own I would just re-locate but that's not possible with all the family here so "research trips" or "holidays" as some non-writers like to call them, have to do instead.

    I love the language, literature, food, climate, landscape and above all the art, both in the formal sense and the sheer art of living. But I don't like the politics, the bureaucracy or, for the most part, the attitude towards animals though this has improved over the years.

    And while I'm here, I go to an Italian Literature class every week, to keep up the language.

    The way the research works is this: mostly I have a pretty strong idea of what I want to write and then I do paper research - lots of books from the London Library, articles in journals, which I find in libraries in Oxford and Internet stuff.

    When I've written lots of notes and set off down various blind alleys and found odd bits and pieces that could form part of the plots,then I start to plan trips.

    But for instance,with City of Secrets, I needed to know about 16th century printing techniques and the best places to see wooden printing presses are in London and Antwerp. So, a day trip to London and a weekend on Eurostar and that was sorted. That book was set in a parallel world version of Padua, so to Padua I went in February of this year for four nights.

    But with The Falconer's Knot, I had been to Perugia, Assisi and Gubbio before starting the book and the rest of the research was done from books etc. But I did know I was going to write that book, which made all the difference. For example, I was going to start it in Urbino and we did go there but it was too far away to travel between there and Assisi by horse in a day so I rejected it and moved the action to Perugia.

    A lot of plot choices are determined by such mundane considerations!

    Mary
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    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    So I'll ask one of the obvious one, which authors have influenced you?

    Also any suggestion what I should begin with? I confess I've never read any of your work to date.
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    Mary Hoffman

    Mary Hoffman Writer

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    I find that harder to answer than to say which authors I like. I think only readers can see the influences. When I was a kid, I read Tolkien and became fixated on LOTR, which I re-read every year or so till I was about 18. I also loved series, like Dr Dolittle and Mary Poppins, when I was smaller.

    As I grew older, I discovered Dickens and really love his books, all of which I have read and re-read. And Shelley. I did an English degree so was exposed to all the greats. I developed a passion for Malory, which endures to this day and for myth and legend in general, especially Celtic and Norse.

    Of contemporary writers, I read all Margaret Atwood, Anne Tyler, Kate Atkinson and among YA authors my favourites are Diana Wynne Jones, Margaret Mahy, Jan Mark. Oh and I am a great Discworld fan.

    As for what to read by me, start with Stravaganza: City of Masks if you want fantasy+history or The Falconer's Knot if you prefer straight history.

    Mary
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    GOLLUM

    GOLLUM Moderator Staff Member

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    I'll check out City Of Masks then...;)
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    artyarta

    artyarta arta||.

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    If there was to be a City of Masks movie, who would you cast for the main roles?

    :D
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    Mary Hoffman

    Mary Hoffman Writer

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    Oh goodness, there was a whole section of the fan forum (The Stravagante - Home) dedicated to this! Great little site but now a bit invaded by spam.

    For Luciano and Arianna, definitely unknowns. I'd like Rufus Sewell or Johnny Depp for Rodolfo and suggestions for Silvia have included Gillian Anderson and Miranda Richardson. I wanted Michael Gambon for Dethridge but then he signed up for Dumbledore.

    I wrote Aurelio, in City of Stars and onwards, with Orlando Bloom in mind, in a long black wig but that was after the LOTR films and before I realised he couldn't actually act.

    I want Alan Rickman for Duke Niccolo.

    But all this is extremely theoretical as I haven't sold the film rights yet!

    Mary
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    artyarta

    artyarta arta||.

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    Tehe I used to be a member of that site!
    Ahh seems like ages ago :eek:

    Yeah I'd agree with unknowns for Luciano and Arianna - best for fans =D

    JOHNNY DEPP FOR RODOLFO!!

    No way! I always had an Orlando Bloomish image in mind while reading which I couldn't seem to get rid of, but he is good looking, the bugger. And yes, his acting skills are worse than a 5 year old in a nativity play.

    Ooo Alan Rickman :D

    It's fun to think about what it could be though!
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    Hellrider

    Hellrider Brother of Metal

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    hey good evening first of all, I just became a member here some minutes ago. I registered at the other Stravaganza board you told of more than a year ago and as they have problems with approving accounts and stuff, I decided to follow Mrs. Hoffmann's advice and check this site out. It's pretty cool as far as I can see...

    by the way, if I may impose myself here, would Johnny Depp not be too young for playing Rodolpho? I mean, I know, Depp is forty something, but he does look younger; I personally imagine Rodolpho as a dignified, seasoned man in his 50s, seeing he has a daughter who is almost 20 now. But the good thing about books is that everybody can imagine the characters as they want them to be...

    So, I hope this question has not been asked before, but when did you conceive the idea of "Stravaganza" and when did you subsequently start writing?
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    Mary Hoffman

    Mary Hoffman Writer

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    Welcome, Hellrider! Good idea to come over here - bring your mates.

    Rodolfo and Johnny are almost exactly the same age as Rodolfo is 40 in City of Masks (the Duchessa is 45 and Arianna 15). Anyway by the time a movie gets made all the actors I think of will be WAY too old for their parts!

    I first had the inkling of the Stravaganza idea about 15 years ago on a day trip to Venice from Lake Garda. It was my first visit to that city and we had three teenage daughters with us, so of course we had to ride on a gondola. It was FIENDISHLY expensive and I remember thinking that for that money our gondolier should be an Adonis. He wasn't.

    In that moment was born Silvia, the Duchessa and Bellezza but I didn't think about any of it again for about 5 years. Then I realised it had been fermenting in my mind while I wrote other things.

    I think I got the contract for the first book in 2000. I definitely wrote it in 2001 from April to August, though I'd already written the proposal for the first trilogy and the first 3 chapters before then (I moved house out of London in Feb 2001 so it took a while to get the book re-started after chap 3.)

    I had nearly finished City of Stars by the time Masks was published and I wrote Flowers the next year. Then there was a bit of a gap while I wrote the Falconer's Knot but now I have finished City of Secrets, due out in July.

    Hope that answers your question.

    Mary
  11.  
    artyarta

    artyarta arta||.

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    Ooo yes the gondolas are ridiculously expensive! I've begged my uncle every time I've been and have not been successful in persuading him. :(

    Do you spend a lot of time thinking up characters, or do they enter the story somehow and just seem to work? [they always do seem to work!]
  12.  
    Mary Hoffman

    Mary Hoffman Writer

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    Some characters I live with for a long time; others just turn up. When I planned City of Stars I didn't know that Falco and Gaetano were even going to be in it! They came about partly because of two young cousins of mine, who were close brothers although born ten years apart and then the older one broke his leg very badly playing football.

    I combined that idea with a book I'd just been reading by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa called Ricordi d'infanzia (memories of childhood) where he talked about roaming a vast empty palce, his family home in Sicily, where he was raised an only child.

    Somehow out of that the two "human" di Chimici brothers were born. So I sort of know how they came into being but I don't always.

    Mary
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    Hellrider

    Hellrider Brother of Metal

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    yes, that pretty much answered my question..thank you very much

    15 years - what a span of time! And there still people who say artists don't work much
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    Todaydream

    Todaydream New Member

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    That's weird, considering they're really important in the book. Now I'm wondering what the first plans for City of Stars looked like! ;)
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    Mary Hoffman

    Mary Hoffman Writer

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    Well, I submitted a proposal for the first trilogy, plus sample chapter of Book One and I knew that I'd have a different Stravagante for each book.

    What I DIDN'T know, and this will seem bizarre, is that the five main characters from Book One - Luciano, Arianna, Rodolfo, Silvia and William Dethridge - would all insist on coming into Book Two as well! And then Georgia and Falco/Nick had their own views about being in Book Three. So by the time I wrote City of Flowers I had a huge cast to handle.

    Starting again with a new trilogy, although the Big Five and the Barnsbury Comp Stravaganti are all there, I am trying to be careful to keep some people in subsidiary roles.

    Mary
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    Todaydream

    Todaydream New Member

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    Haha! Funny, isn't it, that you can never predict a characters move ;) I once wrote a story in which the two main characters were supposed to hate each other, but they ended up getting engaged (and then I killed one of them, but that's another story...)
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    falling2slow

    falling2slow New Member

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    mary, i am working on novel and i have had many of my friends and family read and they tell me it great but i dont know if they are telling the truth, i mean, i woulndt want to hurt a friend b telling they stink. who do you give your stuff to read over for the "goodness?" another question on another point, do you ever find your charas. taking on a life of there own? at the end this one part in my novel two people kiss and i was like 'where did that came from?' i was very surprised but it worked. does that every happen to you?
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    Mary Hoffman

    Mary Hoffman Writer

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    To answer your first question, I read each chapter aloud as it gets written, to my husband. It's not for validation - I've sort of reached the point where I know whether it's any good, but it makes a huge difference firstly to read it aloiud (you pick up lots of errors that way) and to have the response of an active listener who can't be expected to know the plot as well as you do. So I know if something needs more explanation than I've given it.

    To answer your second point, yes, all the time! That's a good sign. It means your characters have a life of their own and aren't just puppets being manipulated by you. Some chracaters are more troublesome than others - they do terrible things and yet you still feel sympathetic towards them.

    It sounds as if you are doing OK but if you want to, you could look at my Writing Tips at the end of my FAQs on Mary Hoffman - Children's writer

    Nice to meet you here!

    Mary
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    Violet_Frangipani

    Violet_Frangipani New Member

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    Dear Mary,
    I read your tips for writing and you say that beautiful people are boring, yet almost all of your characters are either beautiful on the inside or outside, or both! can you please explain? and also in your opinion, what makes a successful novel?

    Violet
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    Mary Hoffman

    Mary Hoffman Writer

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    Perhaps I should have said "perfect people are boring"? I meant people who are beautiful to look at and have no personality. You will be attracted to them initially but after a while feel there is no substance. This happens in real life too, though some people are lucky enough to have it all.

    When one first starts writing, the temptation is to describe every character's physical characteristics in great detail - also what they are wearing. This tends to prevail in certain types of published fiction too.

    But if you think about some of the most interesting characters in novels, you don't necessarily have a sense of what they look like, except sketchily. What you have is a powerful reaction to the flavour of their personality, if that makes sense.

    As for what makes a successful novel, if I knew that, I'd bottle it and become formidably rich!

    For me, it has something to do with the writer's voice and the unique texture of their writing plus a quirky plot and characters. So there are some writers I follow even though not all their works are equally successful, like Diana Wynne Jones, Margaret Mahy and the late Jan Mark, just because of enjoying keeping company with the way their minds work.

    Mary

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