Sad news: Muriel Spark has died, on Thursday, aged 88, in the small Tuscan town of Civitella in Val di Chiana where she had lived for the last 27 years. Probably still best known for 1961's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Spark wrote 24 novels, short stories and some fine poems. Born Muriel Sarah Camberg, in February 1918, in Edinburgh, to a Jewish father and Anglican mother, her last novel, The Finishing School, was published in 2004; in the same year Carcanet published All the Poems.
According to a Houston Chronicle report: "Spark had quirky writing habits. She wrote longhand, with little if any revision, in spiral-bound notebooks she got from a stationer in Edinburgh. She never used a pen anyone else had touched."
The film of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, starring Maggie Smith, and bringing her a best actress Oscar in 1969, seems to have masked just what an experimental and fine writer Spark actually was. Her short books are acid sharp and whole, like the very best short stories.
Some Spark links (thanks Jenny): Guardian profile from 2000; Muriel Spark Archive at the National Library of Scotland; Spark in conversation; Contemporary Writers Spark page (includes decent bibliography and critical overview); James Wood review of The Finishing School.