I was at a lecture last night, part of the Book Festival. All about Muriel Spark, her writing, and how it was informed, sometimes even dictated, by disembodied voices that surrounded her, chirruping. In her more sane moments she believed she was having full conversations with her alter ego within. Other times, when she was a little more unhinged, she believed the voices to be external to herself; coming from a point beyond, somewhere out there.
– Oh please, spare us. I can hear people switching off their phones and shutting down their computers. Really, they don’t want to read about a stuffy old lecture!
Stay out of this. It’s interesting. Imagine an interior voice dictating an entire book. That’s fascinating. It’s how Spark wrote ‘The Comforters’.
– And what’s so new about that? Doesn’t everyone have voices in their head? How does anyone write anything, if not from a voice inside their head?
Mmmmm, I know what you mean. I thought everyone did, but apparently not. At least, most aren’t aware of voices. Maybe they’re just too busy to tune in.
– Then what am I?
You’re annoying, and you’re keeping me back from writing about my marvellous insights and keen observations from last night.
– Au contraire, mon amie. I am keeping you from writing a snooze-inducing review of a dull lecture with 20 people in an auditorium with space for 200.
Rude voice today, is it? Just because there weren’t a lot of people there doesn’t mean it wasn’t any good. And what’s with this French nonsense? Pretentious. Just keep quiet and let me write. She took diet pills. Lots of people did in those days. 18-inch waist and all that. The pills (they turned out to be speed) were the cause of Spark’s voices. A form of madness brought on by a combined lack of nourishment and a body rattling with hard-core amphetamines.
– So are you on diet pills?
Stop being ridiculous. Have you seen me lately?
– You’re the one being ridiculous. I AM you!
Go away. I’ve things to say about this. Back to the appetite suppressants……
– Did they work? Did she get her 18-inch waist?
That’s not the point. I think she had a good figure, yes. I can’t believe I even answered that. Just keep quiet and stop interrupting me. The appetite suppressants tipped her mental balance. She went quite crazy, but thought that everyone else was crazy. Which is quite common, the attitude of: ‘I’m fine but the rest of the world is mad.’ The thing about Spark was that she channelled it; she kept on writing and used the voices as through someone was dictating beautiful literature down the phone to her. Amazing.
– I can see it now: Random drug testing for anyone shortlisted for the Booker Prize. I reckon they’d all fail. You’re not getting very far with last night’s review. Cut to the chase: what was the best bit? The main points?
Oh, so you are interested after all?
– Not really. I’m just trying to get you to wind this up. I have things to do today.
Me too. I’ve a list as long as my arm to get through. The thing is, it’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but the best bit was the speaker. Just watching her with a commentary running in my head. She had a sculptural black bob, short blunt fringe, bright red lipstick, navy shift, white brogues and chunky lapis lazuli beads. Looked the literary part: like Isabella Blow with big words instead of big hats and she barely moved her lips when she spoke yet every word was enunciated perfectly. How did she do that?
– Funny, I’d been thinking the very same thing.