Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Authors and their Muses - Katherine Roberts

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...


Yunaleska said...

I loved the unicorns in Spell Fall. It's pretty cool that you have one for a Muse.

Mine is female, has a very large wardrobe, is a few inches tall, with manga/anime style features. She is very vocal, likes to prod, poke, jump up and down when I'm either not doing enough or when her ideas are spilling out faster than I can write them. She's hilarious, and when we cooperate, good work gets done. She can be bribed with chocolate, or video games. She prefers to wear kimonos, but is known to wear skirts and dresses.

Rosalind Adam said...

Your muse sounds amazing. His likes are my likes. His dislikes are mine... except for mobile phones. I do need to be in touch. I wish I had a muse like your unicorn. Maybe I have but I've not yet connected with him... or her. You've given me much to think about now.

Katherine Roberts said...

Yunaleska, I love the idea of your muse's large wardrobe! I don't think my unicorn has a wardrobe yet, but on the poster of him as a young unicorn I can see he's wearing a strange symbol around his neck... I must try to find out what it means.

Rosalind, I do hope you get in touch with your muse soon. (Maybe he/she needs a mobile phone to communicate with you...?)

Stroppy Author said...

Katherine, I think I've already told you my muse is called Bernard and is constantly skiving. She's such a lazy git I haven't seen her for weeks. Yours is better - get your unicorn to give Bernard a good kicking!

A book about muses would be fantastic - seriously, pitch it!

Linda Strachan said...

My Muse? Now you've done it! I know I won't be able to do anything else until I find her, him or it.
I may just worry it out into view or scare it into hiding deeper in the darker corners of 'Tuscany', my shed... Oh dear, what a delightful problem.

I'm off to explore... if you don't hear from me for a while, send in the marines..especially if they are tall, dark and handsome and have large, strong wings.

ps Meanwhile I hope no one minds my mentioning my new blog http://writingthebookwords.blogspot.com - I may be hiding there.

Nicky said...

I don't think I have one - which might be the problem : (

catdownunder said...

You mean not everyone has a cat as a Muse? :-)

madwippitt said...

No, catdownunder ... some of us have whippets!

Katherine Roberts said...

Stroppy, I have sent my unicorn after Bernard... when he finds her, he'll march her back to you at the point of his horn.

Linda, your muse is obviously busy writing the book words!

catdownunder... how do you ever persuade your muse to do anything? My real cat (Tara, the black one) totally ignores me most of the time, and only appears when she wants food.

madwippit... a whippet sounds fast.

Nicky... keep looking... when I pitch my muse book, I'll be in touch to see if you've found him/her/it!

catdownunder said...

Yes...my mews IS purrplexingly independent!

madwippitt said...

It must be exhausting being a unicorn muse.
Wippitts are only fast in short and enthusiastic bursts ... the rest of the time they are to be found doing under a duvet or fleece. But please don't ask your unicorn to give them a little nudge with his horn to wake them ... they need their power naps in preparation for the next little burst of energy!