It's Teen Read Week! A literacy initiative created by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) in 1998 to encourage teens to read and to support their local libraries.
You can join the conversation on Twitter with #TRW15, where we'll be sharing this chat with Time Traveler Tours & Tales launch author, Mary Hoffman. But before you bounce, check out this exclusive interview with the author, herself!
Mary has written numerous books for teens, and future teens besides. Her books have touched many lives for many years, as you'll see in the interview below. I caught up with her to find out about the inspirations for her settings and characters.
Sarah: Mary, last month you celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the publication of Amazing Grace. Congratulations! What is it about the series, in your opinion, that has enable it to endure so long?
Mary: It’s been planned for some time to have an anniversary edition of Amazing Grace but yet it has still crept up on me that it’s been twenty-five years! (Longer, actually, because I wrote the text in 1989).
I think her success has been a mixture of the positive message, the supportive all female family and of course Caroline Binch’s wonderful artwork.
Sarah: Did you ever imagine when you were writing the first book that it would find its way into the hands of young readers for so many years?
Mary: No! I drafted two other picture book texts that day. One was published with modest success; the third was put in my bottom drawer.
Sarah: In addition to picture books, you’ve written many books for teens and tweens, including my daughter Lily’s favorite, The Stravangaza Series. She wonders if you have a favorite story, or city, among the six books. I would like to know what writing challenges you faced as you moved between contemporary and historical fiction within the same story?
Mary: I think the second one, City of Stars, will always have a special place in my heart. It is set in the equivalent of Siena in the 16th century (in a parallel world) and I go there as often as I can. I think I probably lived there in a former life, in my favourite contrada, Valdimontone. And, although there was a month’s hiatus after writing the prologue, for totally non-literary reasons, once I got going I found it the easiest book of the six to write.
I didn’t find any challenges about moving between times. I live half my life in late 16th century Italy anyway!
Sarah: Did you intend to write a series when you conceived the first book, City of Masks? If so, which came first: the story or the world?
Mary: Definitely the world. And then the characters. And finally the story. I intended to write a trilogy but got a contract for only the first book. But it was so well-received at the Bologna Book Fair that my publisher offered me contracts for the next two books in fairly short order.
I must say that the trilogy was intended to be quite separate books featuring different characters but five demanded to come forward into book two and by the time I reached book three, City of Flowers, I was dealing with a very big cast!
There was a gap between the first and second trilogy when I wrote my first “straight” historical novel, The Falconer’s Knot.
Sarah: The Stravaganza stories take place in Talia, a world “both like, yet unlike” Italy of our dimension. You’ve also written two books of historical fiction, The Falconer’s Knot and David, based in Italy as we know it. On your website we learn that your passion for Italy dates to your first visit to the country as a teen. What is it that draws you to the late medieval and early renaissance time periods?
Mary: I reckon 1580-1610 is where I feel most at home, although David is set 1501-4 and my current novel, Shakespeare’s Ghost, actually goes right up to 1616! But that is set in London and Stratford and not Italy.
I like to inhabit a time when art mattered so much to people that crowds would turn out into the street to see a new altarpiece being carried from its workshop to the church. And I try to forget about what the dentistry must have been like and how limited the opportunities for women.
Sarah: You are currently in the process of drafting, In the Footsteps of Giants, to be published by me and Time Traveler Tours. Without giving away to much, what can you share with us about this story thus far? Have there been any roadblocks in the creative process? Or any surprises?
Mary: Well, you know, writers are quite superstitious and some of us don’t like to talk about roadblocks. What I can say is that I am now sharing a very small space indeed with one of my heroes, Michelangelo. This is both wonderful, in that I can listen to him grumble and watch him draw on the walls but also has its drawbacks in that I sometimes need to get out into the fresh air of my Oxfordshire garden, since the sculptor is not over-keen on washing.
Of course he was dead by 1580 so I might have to revise my favourite historical period above.
Thank you so much, Mary, for taking the time to chat with me today.
And now for your Interview Challenge...
For every story you’ve written for teens set in Italy, please give us the name of a corresponding dish. Extra kudos if you throw in a recipe!
Hmm. Venice is not particularly known for its cuisine. But in my book people are always feasting in Bellezza, often in the open air, in squares. And they eat delicious cakes from one of the islands, Burlesca (Burano).
Sweet things here too in the shape of Ricciarelli bscuits. And I really don’t have a sweet tooth!
Ah, here comes a savoury: zucchini flower risotto. We don’t use the flowers here in the UK; I suppose they don’t travel well. But I try to cook with them when I’m in Italy.
Ooh, cheese! Not a recipe, but Gran Padano, which I prefer to parmesan, and the lovely mild Asiago.
I’m drawing a blank here! The Internet tells me Ravenna is famous for frog soup (bleurgh!) but I am a vegetarian so wouldn’t dream of it. I remember sitting in the Piazza del Foro, drinking coffee so I’ll just go with delicious Talian (Italian) coffee.
I can’t eat some of Lucca’s famous specialities like Tortelli Lucchese (pasta parcels stuffed with meat and served with meat sauce!). So here I’ll suggest Pasta al’aglio e l’olio. Take any favourite pasta and cook it al dente. Served with good virgin olive oil, fresh parsley, crushed garlic and chilli flakes to taste. Top with flakes of Grana di Padano and enjoy as a starter. Make sure your companions have it too!
The Falconer’s Knot tales place in an imaginary location between Assisi and Gubbio. Here’s a recipe for Rocciata di Assisi. It’s a sweet pastry with apples, raisins and pine nuts. I LOVE pine nuts.
Although I am a vegetarian and also now need to eat Gluten Free, I find it easy to have lovely food in Italy.
What were YOU reading as a teen?
Here's what was on Mary's bookshelf:
"As there was no YA genre back then, I was reading books for adults throughout my teenage years. My school set books for O and A levels and then my university course in English Literature. These were, as I recall:
A Passage to India, Emma, Twelfth Night, Henry lV Part I, King Lear, Much Ado About Nothing, Robert Browning poems, The Barchester Chronicles of Anthony Trollope (Barchester Towers was the set book but I read the rest because I'm a nerd).
I also discovered T S Eliot, James Joyce and George Eliot then. And in my early teens, I was already doing my annual re-read of The Lord of the Rings.
Somehow I don't think this is the sort of Teen Read Week list the organisers have in mind!"