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!