Thursday, April 27, 2006

Bright Spark

This is a story I should have blogged before ... but other things got in the way.

Let's start here with this picture of a writing desk much messier than mine (which pleases me no end!) But would that the work that came from mine were anywhere near as good!

It's actually Muriel Spark's desk at her home in the Tuscan village of Citivella, snapped by friend and Scottish journalist Alan Taylor in 2003. For those interested in such details, (and for goodness sake, I am!), she wrote in copperplate handwriting in her favourite spiral-bound notebooks, on just one side of the page and (terrifying this) generally got it right with the first draft!

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Spark began her literary career in the 1950s as a poet and biographer but began writing fiction comparitively late in life.

She was 39 and a struggling single mother, and recovering from a breakdown when she won a short-story competition on the theme of Christmas in the Observer in 1951. The piece was The Seraph and the Zambezi, based on her time in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where she had lived with her ex-husband, and was chosen out of nearly 7,000 entries. (The Observer has republished the story.)

She became a Roman Catholic a decision she described as corresponding to what she had always known and believed, and which greatly influenced her life and art. Graham Greene, another Catholic convert provided her with both moral and financial support.

In all, she wrote 23 novels, as well as short fiction and poetry, but is best known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), which took her just six weeks to complete! It's a disturbing story of a charismatic school teacher who exerts an almost godlike influence over a group of chosen students (whom she refers to as "the creme de la creme"). The novel was based in part on Spark's own school experiences where she too came under the spell of a Brodiesque teacher.

The film adaptation of the novel was so good (and yes, it's on that list) that Spark said "A lot of my other books are overlooked due to Maggie Smith. Lots of people think that she wrote it."

Spark passed away, aged 88 on April 13th. Obituaries and tributes flooded the literary pages of Britain's newspapers: author/critic David Lodge calls her:
... a truly original writer, one of those rare figures who change the possibilities of an art form for other practitioners.
while Jenny Turner in The Independent praises her unique narrative voice:
In it's waspishness, its spirit, it's curiously posh-scottish camp, it was one of the great creations of postwar British writing.
Time perhaps to reread her work?


Chet said...

I don't see any food items on the desk. Or are these hidden beneath the "mess"?

bibliobibuli said...

yeah ... i wondered what was missing but couldn't quite put my finger on it ... where are all the snickers bars and gummy bears?

Chet said...

In my case, it would be chips and groundnuts!

Lydia Teh said...

She got it right on first draft?! Wrote a book in 6 weeks?! She makes me (and Anne Lammot too, I'm sure) jealous.

Anonymous said...

Citivella in Tuscany? I believe is Civitella.

Anonymous said...

There's no food on my table either. Just a bottle of water (and occasionally a mug of coffee.) But there's toothpaste.

bibliobibuli said...


Anonymous said...

Toothpaste. Colgate Sensitive Fresh Stripe. And now two mugs and three empty bottles of water. Handphone, camera, two hard disks, water testing kit. That's about it. Oh, and nail clippers and a key.