How many books have you had published?
Did you write for fun when you were at school?
Yes. I wrote little plays when at Primary school, which my friends and I performed is Assembly. At Secondary School I started to write a novel about horses with my best friend at the time. It was called From Herd to Harringay and we wrote alternate chapters. I think we gave up after four! (That's when it starts to get tough, isn't it?)
Have you always earned your living as a writer? If not, what else
have you done/do you still do?
I used to teach evening classes in subjects like "English for Bankers" and I gave one-to-one-tuition in English, Latin and (once) Anglo-Saxon. I also worked for the Open University for nearly five years from 1975, writing courses on the Teaching of Reading, Language and Children's Literature. Then I used to do a lot of journalism, mainly for the TES, and had my own book column on Mother magazine for three years. And for eighteen years I was Reading Consultant to BBC Schools TV series Look and Read. I think I moved to making a living from writing full time about ten or more years ago, after the publication of Amazing Grace in 1991.
When was your first book published and what was it called?
White Magic (1975)
Was it difficult to get your first book published?
Yes, very. It had been rejected by lots of publishers and was accepted only after Richard Adams (Watership Down) suggested I should send it to his publisher, Rex Collings.
Which is your favourite of your own books and why?
Stravaganza: City of Flowers, because I finished it at the end of February 2004 and I am still (as I write this in July 2004) tinkering with it and am very involved.
Which is your favourite children's book written by someone else?
The Changeover by Margaret Mahy
How long does it take you to write a book?
Depends how long the book is! Anything from half a day to six months.
Do you use a computer or write first drafts long hand?
I use my laptop, an AppleMac Titanium G4, with wireless Broadband access.
Do you have a writing routine or just write when you feel like it?
I prefer to do my serious writing in the mornings, when I'm freshest.
Rewriting - do you love it or hate it?
Love it! There's nothing like honing and polishing your first flow of creative ideas.
Have you ever belonged to a writers' group? If so, did it help?
Yes. I started, with Ann Jungmann, a group called Northern Lights, based in North London and it ran for five years until I moved to Oxfordshire. We were all published writers and illustrators for children and met every two months or so. It was enormously supportive and I remember one fabulous meeting seven years ago, when we all described what we did on school visits.
I belong to the "Other SAS'. We have annual retreats to a small Elizabethan
manor house in Oxfordshire, where everyone comes up with very interesting
workshops etc. I'm doing one on MONEY this year!
Have you got an agent?
Yes. Pat White of Rogers, Coleridge and White, has been my agent and friend for over 20 years. She is fabulous, indispensable and always on my side..
Why do you like writing for children?
Because it gives me scope to write in a wide variety of genres and formats and almost all the people in the business are lovely.
How do you get your ideas?
I have no problem with ideas; that is what makes me a writer. I have a great seething random mass of them, for all sorts of books and projects. What is hard is turning them all into books that people will want to publish and read. But I don't know where the ideas come from; it's a sort of magic, I suppose.
Do you draw the pictures for your
No. Though I did do A level Art.
What advice would you offer anyone who wants to write for children?
Don't do it for the money.
Are you willing to do author visits to schools?
Hardly ever, now. I have done hundreds in my time and too many of them have been disappointing. because the children don't know my books. I will do them now only if I have a rock-hard assurance that the children know the books and really want to meet me, as opposed to being booked as an entertainer for the day. You can contact me via my agent or direct on the website (see below) if this hasn't put you off.
Have you won any awards or prizes?
Primary English Award for Song of the Earth (illustrated by Jane Ray) in 1995
Waldenbooks Silver Picture Book Award 1991
You can find out more about Mary Hoffman's books, visit her website.