I never thought of myself as having a Muse at all until Katherine's unicorn gave me the opportunity to visit his blog on a Monday. And I was asked to talk to Mariella Frostrup on Radio 4's Open Book recently, with another writer, about the muses of Renaissance artists. That got me thinking.
My muse is not an animal, real or mythical, nor yet is it a human source of inspiration like those 19th century women that were were models for the Pre-Raphaelite painters, like Elizabeth Siddall.
My muse is a country.
|"The leg-shaped country"|
Il Bel Paese (penalty points if your first thoughts were of cheese!) means "the beautiful country" and is what Italians call Italy. In our family it is known as "the leg-shaped country" (TLSC) and referred to a great deal because everyone knows how much I would like to have a place to live there. It's not an affordable reality, just a dream - but what a beautiful dream.
|spice shop in Venice|
The job of a muse is to inspire and Italy does that for me in spades. I find it impossible to be in TLSC and NOT have ideas for books.
My first ever published book was a long teenage novel called White Magic (published by Rex Collings in 1975) and it was set in an imaginary place on the Adriatic coast. Coincidentally it featured a unicorn. I'm sorry, RM, but it was THE unicorn! Does that mean it was you? (Muse: well of course... that was before my author needed me, so I was still a single and fancy-free unicorn).
Anyway, here I am 35 years and nearly a hundred books later, with my most recent novel David firmly set in Florence, one of my favourite places in TLSC, just published by Bloomsbury. The one I've just finished writing (Stravaganza: City of Swords) is set in a place based on Lucca and I'm going to Venice this month to revise an adult novel set in - well, let's just say it's not Wigan.
|walls of Lucca|
Let me tell you about David, which is in its way all about different kinds of inspiration. The David concerned is the statue commissioned from Michelangelo in 1501 to stand in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence (The one there now is a copy; the original was put in the Accademia in the 19th century).
No-one knows anything about the model for this iconic work of art or even if there WAS a model for it. It was a gift of an idea for a novel: a gift made to me by my Muse, if you like, because I had all the information I could find about the business of sculpting it from the flawed block of marble that had been tripping people up in the Opera del Duomo for forty years, but at the heart of the story was a gap that I could fill.