Mary Hoffman is the author of more than 90 books, ranging from the internationally bestselling picture book Amazing Grace to the phenomenally popular and successful ‘Stravaganza’ series. Her latest novel Troubadour, which was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards, is out now in paperback and Books for Keeps spoke to Mary at the book’s launch.
It was, she says, simply the magic of the word troubadour that sent her off on the research that led to the book. Mary is by her own admittance passionate about research, more so in fact, she says, than if she’d done a history degree (she actually read English). Her research into 13th-century love poetry, however, provided more inspiration than she’d ever anticipated.
Troubadour tells the stories of not one but two troubadours, Bertran de Miramont, and a young girl, Elinor de Sevingan. ‘At the time,’ Mary explains ‘it was accepted for women to be trobairitz, or female troubadours; they wrote their own love songs and debate poems, and they certainly didn’t idealise men as troubadours idealised women! Instead they wrote some pretty straightforward verse about the pains and pleasures of love.’
‘It was as I continued my research that it struck me that this astonishing flowering of love poetry coincided with a period of horrendous violence and barbarism. I wanted to write a book that explored this.’ In Troubadour we see the history of the bloody and violent Albigenisan Crusade through the eyes of troubadour and troubairitz, and get a vivid sense of people’s lives, love and ordinary happiness, so beautifully depicted by the songs of the troubadours, changed by events over which they have no control.
Mary particularly enjoys the challenge of writing historical fiction, and not just for the chance to research. ‘In the contemporary world children are always in easy contact,’ she says, ‘we always know where they are. In the medieval world, messages took ages to get through, and that gives so much more opportunity for adventure.’ This is nowhere more apparent than in Troubadour where the two central characters are separated throughout nearly the whole novel and always desperate for news of each other.
If poetry was inspiration for Troubadour, sculpture has inspired her next book: David will tell the story of the sculpting of Michelangelo’s staute. ‘I fell in love with David at the age of 20!’ says Mary, ‘and knew that I had to write his story!’ David will be published by Bloomsbury in 2011.
For Books for Keeps reviews of all Mary Hoffman’s books including Troubadour, click here www.booksforkeeps.co.uk/member/mary-hoffman