Saturday, December 31, 2016

Honours List 2017

Congratulations to Sandy Wylie (Lord Kinclaven) on receiving an OBE in today's Honours List.  This is for 'the introduction of the Scottish Legal System in schools.'  To read more about Sandy's initiative (also known as MiniTrials) go

Thursday, August 25, 2016

'The Real Muriel Spark'

The Scottish Review of Books has an excellent new website:
The most recent issue (Vol 11, Number 4, 2016) has an article well worth reading by Alan Taylor, 'The Real Muriel Spark', on the relationship between Muriel and her son Robin, who sadly died earlier this month.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Stewart Conn talks about Muriel Spark's poetry

Stewart Conn will deliver the Poetry Association of Scotland's John Masefield Lecture, 'Mistress of Unease: The Poetry of Muriel Spark' in a joint event with the Muriel Spark Society. 

Wednesday 14 September 2016 at the Scottish Poetry Library, 5 Crichton's Close, Edinburgh EH8 8DT

Tickets at the door (no booking required) £5 or £4 concessions.

Wine reception from 6.30 - 7 pm.  The talk will begin at 7 pm and last about one hour.

Stewart Conn, well known for his lyrical poetry in collections such as 'The Touch of Time', was Edinburgh's inaugural Makar from 2002 to 2005.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Curator's talk: Sparkiving: Loitering with Intent to Catalogue

This excellent talk is available to listen to on the National Library of Scotland's recorded webcast.
Saved webcast: Thursday 23 June, at 18.00

Members' Book Group 7 September and Annual lecture 16 November 2016

Dear Members

You are cordially invited to our Book Group meeting on 7 September at the Saltire Society, at 7pm.
The book for discussion is "The Takeover", and I wish you happy reading or re-reading.

Please also note our annual lecture is on 16 November at 6pm at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge.
Dr Jim Lawson (University of Edinburgh) will give a talk on Spark and Renaissance art, particularly Piero della Francesca.
Places should become bookable in September (around the time of the book group). We have arranged some dedicated places for Society members. I will send out a reminder nearer the time.

          If you would like to join the Society to come to either of these events please follow the email     link on the blog home page.

Friday, May 27, 2016

New Books

Two new books of interest. .

Continuing his alphabetical titles, and following his last book 'Life-like' Toby Litt's new book 'Mutants' is a collection of twenty-six essays, one of which, 'Spark' is based on the excellent lecture he gave for the Society in 2006.
Litt is a writer Muriel Spark particularly liked and in 'Spark' he returns the compliment: 'I will begin with straightforward affection: I love Muriel Spark's books'.  (Seagull Books, London, 2016) £19.50

Carcanet have reissued Spark's biography (first published in 1953) of John Masefield, another of her favourite writers.
'I feel a large amount of my writing on him can be applied generally.  It is in many ways a statement of my position as a literary critic and I hope some readers will recognise it as such.'
(Carcanet, 2016) £14.50

Friday, May 13, 2016

Jean Brodie Walk

On Sunday 15th May, members and friends will be following the walk Jean Brodie took her class. We'll be starting from Makars' Court outside the Writers' Museum at 2 pm and finishing with afternoon tea in Bruntsfield.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Advocates' Library, Edinburgh

Members of the Society are visiting this prestigious library, and Parliament House, in Edinburgh tomorrow.
With thanks to Andrea Longson, we very much look forward to our exclusive visit.

The Driver's Seat

For anyone in London there is a superb window display in Waterstone's Piccadilly featuring Lise.
And on Saturday 23 April Januce Galloway is giving a masterclass there on Spark. Spaces are limited so contact the branch beforehand.
Thanks Waterstones for all the thought you've put into this.

Tweet by WaterstonesPicc on Twitter

WaterstonesPicc (@WaterstonesPicc)
@gewylie1 Sure! Our windows are big. We have Lise in the window, I made her a special outfit #TheDriversSeat

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Muriel Spark the Poet

(The following is a brief piece I was asked to send to the BBC in January when the programme 'The Poetic Spark' was being devised.)

Muriel Spark stated: 'I write as a novels come under the category of poetics rather than fiction...' 
'Although most of my life has been devoted to fiction, I have always thought of myself as a poet.  I do not write 'poetic' prose, but feel that my outlook on life and my perception of events are those of a poet.  Whether in prose or verse, all creative writing is mysteriously connected with music and I always hope this factor is apparent throughout my work.'
(Spark, Tuscany, 2003: Preface to All the Poems, Carcanet, 2004)

Certainly, her novels carry the signatures of poetry: they are concise, allusive, elusive and open to a variety of readings and interpretations.

When I was asked to give a talk at the Tramway, Glasgow, for the National Theatre of Scotland's production of The Driver's Seat in 2015,  I emphasised the influence on her development as a writer of reading Scottish ballads at her school, James Gillespie's in Edinburgh.

Border Ballads were the real spark for Spark.  Aged ten, she called them her favourite reading material: 'In Edinburgh [they] are best read in the long dark winters...They were cruel and lyrical at the same time and I think they had a great effect on my later literary work.' ('When I was Ten', The Golden Fleece, ed Jardine, Carcanet, 2014)  She entitled one of her novels The Ballad of Peckham Rye, probably as homage to their influence.  The ballads are the very stuff of a Spark novel with their sense of the macabre, their time shifts, their violence, their short, sharp and enigmatic dark narratives written with a deceptively light touch.  The ballads are dispassionate and leave the reader to work out their hidden messages: why was the twa corbies' knight so casually abandoned?  Why was Lord Randall poisoned?

To conclude: in my opinion, the poetry of Spark is more self-revealing than her novels.  She described herself as 'a constitutional exile' and it is in poems such as 'Abroad', 'Communication', 'Standing in the Field', 'Hats' and 'Edinburgh Villanelle' among others that you find this sense of dislocation and exile but, importantly, not unhappiness.

The inscription on her gravestone, translated there into Italian, comes, appropriately, from her poem 'Canaan':

'Not a leaf
Repeats itself, we only repeat the word.'

Gail Wylie
April 2016

The Poetic Spark

To mark 10 years since Muriel Spark's death A L Kennedy presents a programme on Muriel Spark's poetry on Sunday 10 April at 4.30 pm on BBC Radio 4.  Contributors include Alan Taylor and Penelope Jardine.
More information can be found on the websites of BBC Radio 4 and Carcanet

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Rome 2016

The Society's trip to Rome (15 - 20 March 2016) was a huge success.
Martin Gray of Learn Italy and our incomparable guide Agnes Crawford of @understandrome gave the 17 Society members an unforgettable visit.
Agnes had gone out of her way to research Muriel Spark's residences in Rome's Centro Storico from the Hotel Raphael to the Palazzo Taverna.  We all had an excellent day walking in this fascinating part of Rome.
Agnes had also found the exact site of the setting of 'The Takeover' in Nemi - a small town in the hills outside Rome, and the farmer on whose land much of the novel is set (including Diana's Temple) gave us glasses of his own wine and bread with his own olive oil. We were delighted to be joined for lunch in Nemi by Penelope Jardine, Airdrie Armstrong and their friend Alison.
We also visited Ancient Rome, Keats' grave, the Catacombs, and much more. One evening we were joined for dinner by Ivan Castiglione, an actor in last year's National Theatree of Scotland's production of 'The Driver's Seat'. 
On our free day some of us went to the newly excavated (and work in progress) Domus Aurea, Nero's Golden House; some visited the Forum and the Palatine Hill; others went to the Vatican City or the Piazza Campidoglio.  Rome is a city which offers something for everyone.  We learnt so much - and we also had a great deal of fun.
On our final morning we went to the superb gallery at the Villa Borghese.
We stayed at the friendly Lancelot Hotel, by the Colosseum, whose attentive staff added to our great experience.  Our thanks to all at the hotel, to Martin, to Agnes and to our accomplished coach driver Giuseppe.
It was a visit which offered first time vistors special insights into Rome, reminded those of us who had been before what a wonderful city it is, and let us all understand exactly why Muriel Spark chose to live there.
Day 1 at the Caracalla Baths
Day 1 at a part of the aquaduct at the Via Appia

One of many lively and delicious meals

One of Muriel Spark's flats in the Centro Storico

Another location near one of  Muriel Spark's flats

Ivan Castiglione joining us for dinner

The Hotel Raphael, Spark's first port of call in Rome

Agnes telling us about the Palazzo Taverna

Palazzo Taverna - Spark lived in one of these apartments

'The Takeover' setting: The Temple of Diana

'The Takeover' setting: The Devil's Grottoes

At 'The Takeover' setting: enjoying Signor de Santis' wine

The Lake at Nemi

Arrivederci Roma!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

David Bowie's top 100 books

'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' is included in Bowie's favourite 100 books. 
To see the full list, go to