For many readers, Muriel Spark is perhaps best known as the author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. This novel is filled with famous aphorisms, such as “I am in my prime”, and “you are the crème de la crème” – phrases which today perfectly describe Spark herself: a writer whose ‘prime’ lasted a lifetime, and who is undoubtedly amongst the crème de la crème of Scottish novelists.
Spark’s impressive and varied career reached well beyond the pages of Jean Brodie‘s world, and in her centenary year, the Muriel Spark 100 programme seeks to celebrate all that she was and all that she achieved. In short, that would be 22 novels, a solid collection of poetry, and a list of literary prizes (including the James Tait Black Award).
A true internationalist, Spark lived in Edinburgh, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) London, New York and Tuscany. Her style (both literary and fashion-wise) was ever-evolving. As Gail Wylie of the Muriel Spark Society says, she was ‘unique and innovative’.
The Society was founded in 2001 by Christine Lloyd, and Wylie explains that ‘for the past 16 years, the Society has sustained and highlighted the importance of Muriel Spark as a major writer.’ As part of the Muriel Spark 100 programme, they have organised a key note lecture with Ali Smith.
Spark challenged conventions of the novel by disregarding linear time. She alerted other innovative writers (including Toby Litt and Ali Smith) that risks must be taken to keep the novel alive.
Stylistically, her novels cannot be mistaken for anyone else’s. Her subject matter is wide-ranging, and her dark humour, portrayal of character and uncomfortable wit result in incomparable novels.
– Gail Wylie, Muriel Spark Society
Over the course of the year (November 2017-November 2018), that incomparable career will be celebrated with a number of events.
Highlights include re-publication of all 22 of her novels by Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn ltd (from Nov ‘17); the unveiling of Spark’s extraordinary archive at a landmark National Library of Scotland exhibition (Dec ‘17-May ‘18); leading Scottish writers Ali Smith, Val McDermid, Janice Galloway, Kate Clanchy and Louise Welsh reflecting on Spark’s career in a new BBC Radio 3 series (Jan ‘18); an international conference bringing together fans and academics to explore all aspects of Spark’s writing (Jan/Feb ‘18); Edinburgh Spy Week’s spotlight on the ways in which espionage play out in her work (Apr ’18) and a BBC Scotland/BBC4 documentary.
I’m really excited about the forthcoming celebration of Muriel Spark 100. Dame Muriel Spark was one of Scotland’s literary giants and, to this day, her work continues to inspire generations of readers and writers and resonates with audiences across the country and beyond.
– Fiona Hyslop, Culture Secretary
Tags: Ali Smith, centenary, Christine Lloyd, Creative Scotland, Fiona Hyslop, Gail Wylie, James Tait Black Award, Jean Brodie, Literature, Muriel Spark, Muriel Spark Society, Scottish Government, Scottish literature, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie