The part of me that dreams up stories is quite separate from the part of me that goes to the supermarket for food, drives my car, or does the accounts. It is a fragile part, since it needs to feel safe before it emerges. Yet it is also a strong part, because it is always there deep inside me even if it does not feel like coming out. I am talking, of course, of my muse.
Traditionally the muses are young women who appear in Greek and Roman myth. First there were three, then seven, then nine. They had names, and they specialized in poetry, music, dance, history, astronomy. But obviously nine muses are going to be vastly overworked in our modern age, when nearly everyone seems to be writing a book or making music or doing other muselike things. So my muse is not a daughter of Zeus. He’s male for one thing, and he’s a unicorn.
I can tell when he is sulking. In some environments he emerges, delighted and curious and playful. He likes open spaces, mountains, beautiful gardens, candles, sunshine, snow, independent shops, second hand bookstalls, car boot sales, interesting artwork, music, colours, animals, the moon, stars, sparkly things. He dislikes noise, grey streets, traffic jams, litter, crowds, fluorescent lighting, mobile phones, dentists, and men in suits. He likes to be given little treats – a coffee in pleasant surroundings, a walk in a scented garden, ten minutes of sitting in the sun, a candlelit bath with incense and wine, an open fire on a cold day. In short, he has to be charmed.
For quite a while I did not know what my muse looked like and called him vaguely “my artist”. But gradually over the years he took form. He first showed himself to me when I won a short story competition – I went shopping with the intention of spending my winnings on something special to remind me of my success, and came back with two unicorn book ends. They were rather sweeter and pinker than I imagined, but of course they were my muse as a foal…
(I have been wondering if this means he is a twin – does anyone else have a unicorn as their muse?)
Later, browsing around Hay-on-Wye during festival week, I came across a poster of a more grown up unicorn, which I have on the wall of my study. I burn candles and incense on the shelf beneath it if I need his advice. I painted the wall behind him red for inspiration. He watches me as I write peering over my shoulder and breathing magic mist over my computer. Naturally, he is on the south wall for creative development (he’s into feng shui at the moment).
The unicorn is quite an interesting muse to have. He is a shy creature who will only respond to gentleness (the traditional maiden), and yet has potential for aggression when threatened (a sharp horn). Unicorn horn also has magical properties – it is supposed to bestow eternal life in powdered form, and can transform poison into sweet wine. Unicorns have a spiritual connection sometimes associated with the Virgin Mary and the Angel Gabriel, and are also associated with healing. They are usually shown as being horse-like, which means they can be ridden (but presumably not bridled). They are everywhere you look, and yet they do not exist except in the imagination. It is no surprise they turn up in several of my books.
Lately, my muse has grown strong enough to start his own blog. You can find him at RECLUSIVEMUSE. I am hoping he won’t get too distracted by posting there and forget I need him! He hasn’t got a name yet, but maybe that will come as he matures. He’s only a young unicorn at the moment, a bit innocent still.
Since my unicorn started Reclusive Muse, several of my colleagues on this blog have admitted to having muses of their own (see comments on Muse’s first post) and it’s fascinating how they seem to reflect their authors’ work. In his book “On Writing”, Stephen King says his muse is “a basement guy, chomping on a cigar”, which seems about right. I have been looking for an entertaining book about children's authors and their muses but can't seem to find one - does anybody know of a good one, or do I have to write it?
Do you have a muse, and if so what shape does it take? How do you communicate with it? Does it have a name? Is it reclusive and prone to disappearing into the enchanted mists, like mine? Or have you managed to tame it? What kind of books does a tame muse produce? I have a feeling my unicorn will always remain a little bit wild...