Fiction & Biography
Famous and feted for her fiction, DAME MURIEL insists she is a poet first and foremost. Allan Radcliffe casts a heady eye over her back catalogue.
he eight-minute sell—out. restless queues and
standing oy'ation that greeted .‘yluriel Spai‘k's
appearance at this year‘s hig lidinhurgli hook hash might ordinarily hay'e heen resery'cd for a Visiting dignitary. movie or pop star than a writer. But lidinhurgh‘s most famous literary daughter has always attracted interest. respect and not least controversy.
In true iconoclastic style. the author of such contemporary fiction classics as The Prime art/m .lt‘U/I [ﬁrm/iv and The (inn/inverts used her platform at (‘harlotte Square (iardens to remind her admirers that she has always thought of herself as a poet. It‘s a View echoed in the foreword to her newly" published compendium All the I’m'irrs. in which she asserts: 'l do not write poetic prose. htit feel that my outlook on life and my perception of ey‘ents are those of a poet.‘ :\I first glance. this seems a surprising rey'elation. This is the octogenarian. after all. who has heen turning out spare. witty prose since winning a prestigious short story competition in the ("M’t'rl't’l' in the early l‘)5()s. Yet. it was her turhulent stint as the editor of Poetry Rt’l'ft'lt' from l‘H7 to 194‘) that kickstarted Spark's literary career following the demise of her marriage and a spell in the Foreign Office.
During this period she published sey'eral poems. ranging from the determined whimsy of '\\’e \Vere Not lixpecting the Prince Today to the dark. sad ‘()men‘ and the succinctly ey'ocatiy'e '\'ictoria l-‘alls‘. For all Spark’s protestations to the contrary. it's the very lyrical preciseness and economy of her nasty. hrutish novels and short stories that rey'eals her poetic spirit. As she writes later in her preface to the new collection: ‘Wliether in prose or y'erse. all cr'eatiy'e writing is mysteriously connected with music and I always hope this factor is apparent throughout my work.‘
Indeed it is. The author‘s first major fiction
104 THE LIST Ser‘i Cs". .‘
‘MY OUTLOOK ON LIFE AND MY PERCEPTION OF EVENTS ARE THOSE OF A POET'
success was The HH/ltlr/ of l’i'i'k/iriiri /\’_\'i'. which recounted the legend of deyilish l)ougal l)ouglas‘ tenure as manager of a l’cckham factory. 'l'liat noyel estahlishcd the trademark arch. satirical y'oicc. incidents of high comedy and holdly painted. archetypal characters that hay c made Spar'k‘s works as timeless as folk songs. lilsew here. the author. who critic Rohcr't Nye referred to as ‘hrief. hrittle and nasty” appropriated the terse dramatics of the Border Ballads for hooks such as the Venice—set 'li'rrr'lrii'i'u/ Rig/11y.
Ian Rankin. one of the lucky few to beg. buy or harter a ticket to Spark's lidinhur‘gh appearance. is a long—term aficionado and one-time student of Sparks work. He is also fascinated hy her y'ei‘sc. ‘.\ly l’hl) ney'er completed was on Spai‘k's prose rather than her poetry.’ he says. 'Neycrthclcss (Ll most Sparkian word. thatll I did read her poetry and found it intriguing. It‘s not just that some of her recurrent themes. relating to sense of helonging or of heing an outsider. crop up in her early poetry. but that her personal life. such as her short. unhappy marriage in Africa. is allowed to intrude. If the characters in her noyels want to he writers. they themsely'es are often Poets lL—‘ood. had and indifferentr. And her lyrical sentences and tropes are \cry much the weapons of the poet.‘
Spark's poetry is not collected chronologically in the hook. so it‘s pleasing to find those familiar themes recurring throughout. 'l‘her‘e‘s the lofty ohseryation t‘:\ Tour of London‘. "l‘hc Rue dti (‘herclie—Midi'l. 'l‘here's the hlack comedy l'lhe (‘ard l’arty'. ‘(‘onyersations' r. 'l‘here‘s the subtle wisdom (like Africa’. ‘(Iirrazirf r. .’\nd there. of course. is the famously sharp wit. l'ior. as the great one herself says: 'l like a certain amount of wit in almost eyerything.‘
All the Poems is published by Carcanet Press on Mon 4 Oct.
Debutants under the rrricroscope This issue Sue Walker
Who she? Having been a teleyision jOflfnallSi investigating British serial killers Such as lied and Rosemary West and working for Channel .1 series Ma! and [II/o" whem she was instrumental in securing the releasi- of wiongtully. imprisoned victims, Sue ‘y’alkei is now a freelance klUCLllllt’lliiil‘, maker.
Her debut Based on her extensiye extreme-nice in the world of crime, which includes researching
‘r'itual satanic child sexual abuse, violent children and riiiscarriages of Justice. Heir/iron is a compelling novel about a felon that won't stav buried.
So, what actually happens? As a teen, Innes Haldane was deemed physically and sexually out of control, but has made every attempt to put that stage of her life behind her; Which she does until a voice from the past leaves a message on her answering machine and an obituary wrth a familiar name interrupts her quiet life. In 1977, lnnes was one of seven dysfunctional teenagers incarcerated in the Unit. an avant garde psychiatric hospital on the Outskirts of Edinburgh. Since then. she and her fellow inmates have spent their adult lives trying to forget the unspeakable acts that sent them to the Unit and the terrible secret that occurred behind its walls. But a murderer is stalking the former patients and the only way to save themselves is by reuniting, no matter what the emotional cost.
First line test ‘Well, here we are again. One more bloody year on. What can I say? Hey, life's great. man! And all that. No doubt Our little missives are all crossing in the post.’ (Kate Ewart)
I The Retinron is pub/is/red by Pengoiri on Thu 23 Sep.
Walker’s friends reunited