I hadn’t given this much thought until a conversation that ensued from someone I know bemoaning that their muse had deserted them. Someone else asked, “What do they look like and I’ll send them home if I see them.”
The muses have evolved over time. They are most often associated with Greek cultural life, particularly the late Hellenistic period (when the nine muses as we now recognise them evolved). Some folk have argued that the root word (and possibly the concept) is from a much older Indo-European source and is associated as much with the Bardic tradition of proto-Celtic and Celtic peoples.
Whatever the truth of the matter, the muse of a writer (their inspiration) is notoriously fickle. Stephen King has, in his own inimitable way, described his vision of the muse in this article.
For my own part, my muse has also evolved. When I was writing Wealden Hill, for example, way back in 1984 it took the form of a pair of ravens. Whenever I became stalled or had other things to do, these two birds would appear – in the garden, perched on a street sign, flying back and forth as I took walks. In the end, to appease them, I put them into the story and was rewarded by a series of dreams that set out large chunks of plot and gave me a glimpse of a place I had not been able to visualize.
These days, I suspect, my muse would not look out of place walking up and down the centre of a slave galley. Large, ugly, whip in hand, this creature forces me to work at all hours of the day and night. This monster has squeezed one complete novel so far this year; 45,000 words of a second one (and plenty of time and material to complete well before the year ends); 25,000 words worth of book reports; and has earned me a couple of new editions on some of my non-fiction. Apart from the fact I am sagging at the knees and my hands are crippled from pounding the keyboard all day, I love it.
Of course, I would have preferred a sylph-like Greek woman in a diaphanous wrap who fed me ideas and enthusiasm like grapes and who rubbed me down at the end of the day before singing me to sleep.
So, that’s an insight into my murky psyche. But how do you envision your muse?