Into the world

When Muriel left school, she took a précis-writing course at Heriot-Watt College, and, following a short spell teaching English, went to work as a secretary in a department store in Edinburgh's Princes Street.

In 1937, she sailed to Africa, where she married Sydney Oswald Spark, who had taken up a teaching post in Southern Rhodesia (what is now Zimbabwe). She was 19, and her life there was not a happy one. Her son, Robin, was born the following year, but her marriage was failing and she longed to leave Africa. After the outbreak of the Second World War, travel was difficult, and she had to wait until 1944 to secure a passage on a troop ship bound for Liverpool.

During these extreme circumstances, Muriel Spark continued writing, taking inspiration from her experiences, and collecting memorable settings and characters for her later work.

Arriving in England, Muriel was fortunate to get a wartime post in political intelligence at MI6. She worked at Milton Bryan, near Woburn, which was later fictionalised as 'The Compound' in 'The Hothouse by the East River'.