THE author of a new book about Muriel Spark has called for a statue to be erected in her memory in her birthplace of Edinburgh.

Speaking at the launch of his book Appointment In Arezzo: A Friendship with Muriel Spark, Alan Taylor pointed out that apart from a stone in the Makar’s Court in the capital, there is no public memorial hailing the author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie anywhere in Scotland.

Taylor believes that with 2018 being the centenary of her birth, Spark should be recognised with a statue just as Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson are commemorated in the capital, a Unesco City of Literature.

The National:

“After them she is our greatest novelist, yet there is no memorial to her other than the stone in Makar’s Court,” said Taylor at the launch in the Saltire Society’s headquarters in Edinburgh last night.

The memorial stone was installed in 2007, the year after Spark died in her long-term home in Italy at the age of 88.

It was in Italy that Taylor – former deputy editor of The Scotsman and founding editor of the Scottish Review of Books – met Spark in 1990 and they became firm friends, travelling in Europe and America together.

His memoir of that friendship is published by the Polygon imprint of Scottish publishers Birlinn.

It comes in advance of the centenary which will see a celebration of her life at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, along with other events under the Muriel Spark 100 banner.

Their friendship arose instantly: “I met her with her companion Penelope Jardine and right at the beginning she wrote me a letter saying that she felt it was ‘blood talking to blood’.

“We had a lot in common – we were both Scottish, both of relatively small stature, both red haired, we both liked a glass of good red wine, we liked company and storytelling and we weren’t cowed by reputations.

“It helped that I came from Musselburgh and her father had been a great racegoer and Muriel had often attended the races at Musselburgh with him, and of course she owned racehorses herself.

“She knew the pitfalls of owning a horse, and always used to say that it was the surest way of a billionaire becoming a millionaire.”

Taylor thinks Spark should be remembered not only for her novels and poems, but for her courage in becoming a full-time writer at the age of 40, and for her sheer stylishness.

He explained: “Back then the idea that you would be a Scottish woman writer wearing designer dresses, Cartier jewellery, owning racehorses and living in a 14th-century rectory in Tuscany or a palazzo in Rome would have been unthinkable to most people, but not Muriel.”

The centenary is being marked by the publication in affordable hardbacks of all of Spark’s 22 novels.

“It’s something I had been campaigning for and now Polygon books are doing so at £9.99 each with an introduction in each of them by writers of the calibre of William Boyd, Candia McWilliam, Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin,” Taylor said.

“I wrote to James Wood, book critic of the New Yorker, and asked if he would like to introduce The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and his reply was instant – ‘Of course I would,’ he said.

“The introductions show the variety of work that she produced. She wasn’t satisfied in producing the same book over and over again, and she wasn’t satisfied in being herself over and over – she used to say to her hairdresser ‘make me look different’.”

Taylor is adamant that Spark should be commemorated for her achievements. He said: “She challenged the perceptions of what the novel could be and she went out of her way to expand the novel’s boundaries.”