Alan Taylor, an experienced journalist, one day interviewed Muriel Spark in a hotel near Arezzo and became an immediate friend of hers. The same thing happened to me, with the difference that Taylor flew in from Scotland and I drove over from Florence. Oliveto is a picturesque Tuscan hilltop town not far from Arezzo, and a dusty track snaked away through olive orchards to a rather ramshackle casa colonica with a large BMW on the grass in front of it. The house belonged to Penelope (Penny, normally) Jardine and the car to Muriel.
In Taylor’s case and mine, Muriel’s opening gambit was to insinuate that she and Penny were lesbians. That’s what everyone in Arezzo thinks, was how she put it. The humour in her eyes gave away that she liked testing those who were there to test her. It took