ANDREW FFRENCH speaks with renowned children’s author Mary Hoffman about her passionate and racy novel David.

THE beginning of my conversation with Mary Hoffman, the acclaimed children’s author, is unexpectedly racy.

“Call me in 10 minutes,” she tells me from her home in Carterton.

“I’ve just got out of the shower and I’m not completely dressed yet – thank goodness we aren’t using video phones.”

I end the conversation to spare the author’s blushes but the risqué nature of our opening exchange is perhaps appropriate in the circumstances.

For the 66-year-old mum’s latest novel for young readers is an outpouring of passion from the Italian city of Florence.

Entitled David, the tale focuses on the story behind one of the world’s best-known sculptures, Michaelangelo’s statue of David.

Little is known about the model for the statue, and the author has used her creative skills to flesh out the background.

The novel, which tells how 18-year-old Gabriele sets off from his home in Settignano to make his fortune in Florence, does contain some sex references, so the Bloomsbury paperback carries the warning ‘not suitable for younger readers’.

Ms Hoffman tells The Guide: “Gabriele arrives in Florence in March, 1501, and goes to live in Michaelangelo’s house.

“He eventually poses for Michaelangelo to be the model for the David statue, which now stands in the Accademia in Florence.

“When he arrives in the city, everyone who sees him wants to jump his bones because he is so gorgeous and he ends up having sexual relationships with more than one woman.

“The story is told in flashback from Gabriele’s point of view and although it is not written for the purpose of expressing morals you do see his moral dilemmas.

“The story is set in a very rich period of Italian history and although it is labelled as not suitable for young readers I am hoping it will be enjoyed by upper-end teenagers.”

Ms Hoffman’s first children’s book was first published in 1975 and she has written more than 90 books over the past 35 years.

Her Stravaganza series for Bloomsbury has a large fan base and Stravaganza: City of Secrets was nominated for the Carnegie Medal.

The inspiration for David comes from her own memories of Italy, and she confides that her first Italian boyfriend looked like Michaelangelo’s famous statue.

She says: “He was 19, tall, with chiselled features and, being from Turin, blonde hair and blue eyes. I met him on a beach in the Italian Riviera and didn’t realise then who he looked like.”

The author was in Florence for another month in 2003, writing Stravaganza: City of Flowers, returned in April, and is planning another trip in July.

But she also finds her Carterton home an inspirational place to tell stories and has completed 10 full-length books since she and her husband Ross King, an art historian, moved there from London a decade ago.

She adds: “I like to think that my novels will inspire children to take more of an interest in history. And perhaps I should get a cut from the Italian Tourist Board.”

* David by Mary Hoffman is published by Bloomsbury, price £10.99