WHAT has been billed as one of the biggest literary events in Scotland will see First Minister Nicola Sturgeon paying her own tribute to Dame Muriel Spark.

Edinburgh International Book Festival is organising Muriel Spark: Crème de la Crème at the Usher Hall on 31 January, the eve of the centenary of the birth of the author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

The book festival announced yesterday that the First Minister, who they said was “a great fan of Spark’s writing” would join the line-up of special guests for the evening.

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Edinburgh authors Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin will join actors Maureen Beattie, Peter Forbes and Moyo Akandé, for the tribute.

Alan Taylor, her great friend, literary critic and author of Appointment in Arezzo: A Friendship with Muriel Spark, and his partner Rosemary Goring, literary editor, author and adapter of A Far Cry from Kensington for radio, will host the evening and guide the audience though a specially commissioned presentation of readings, performance and conversation.

Alexander McCall Smith will read a poem he has specially written for the occasion, and for the first time since 1963, Spark’s play Doctors of Philosophy will be presented on stage through performed extracts featuring Maureen Beattie, Peter Forbes and Moyo Akandé. The performances are directed by The Royal Lyceum’s artistic director, David Greig.

Presented in partnership with The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and Birlinn publishers, Muriel Spark: Crème de la Crème will explore the life and work of the author who wrote 22 novels.

Spark, who made her final visit to Edinburgh to appear at the book festival in 2004, was also a poet, playwright, essayist and literary critic whose work has influenced a generation of Scottish writers.

Alan Taylor, who first met Muriel Spark in 1990 when he interviewed her for a press feature, told The National: “This has to be one of the biggest literary events ever to take place in Scotland.”

Taylor will also be talking about Spark at the AK Bell Library in Perth on 25 January, and will tell how the long lasting bond between them was formed.

The event is billed as a talk in which “he discusses his friendship with Muriel Spark as shared in his colourful, surprising and admiring memoir, Appointment in Arezzo.”

Muriel Spark: Crème de la Crème will take place at 7.15pm on Wednesday 31 January in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh. The event will last 90 minutes and will be followed by a book signing where the first seven newly published centenary editions of Muriel Spark’s 22 novels will be available to buy.

Stalls and dress circle seats are now sold out, however limited upper circle seats – priced £12, £10 concessions – are still available through the Usher Hall Box Office, online through www.usherhall.co.uk or telephone 0131 228 1155.

Booked!, the Edinburgh International Book Festival on the road around Scotland throughout the year, is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

This event is part of the Muriel Spark 100 centenary programme. More information is available on www.murielspark100.com.