Alexander McCall Smith is the very fabric of Edinburgh. A lot of his best loved works are set here and some of the characters he has created have something typically ‘Edinburgh’ about them. And of course, this is where he lives and works. He is at the Book Festival almost every year, talking about his latest works, discussing the nuggets of Scottish life he loves, and just being generally entertaining. This year is no exception.
We are greeted by a talented flautist as the audience is seated. And then Gavin Esler behings by asking ‘Sandy’ about his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. McCall Smith talks about living and working in Botswana and his inspiration for the series. He shows the audience a heartwarming video of African women dancing along to a song they sing there. And already, this is a unique blend of content. Where else would one get to hear about the cultures of Botswana, the gangsters of Glasgow, crimes of somnambulists, and the nature of mothers in Edinburgh?
McCall Smith’s writing process is fascinating. “I’m really guided by deadlines”, he says, rattling off his calendar of book launches annually. He wakens at 3am apparently, and regularly writes for 3-4 hours, only to then head back to bed! He feels satisfied at having written for the day “by the time breakfast rolls along.”
He then shows off some of his upcoming work, and there is an air of anticipation in the audience. Through his decriptions, these characters come alive. Full of the convivial atmosphere, McCall Smith laughs out loud at his own writing as he reads a couple of pages. He does introduce some sombre thoughts as well. He has been writing short stories based on photographs again. This is based on a pattern similar to Chance Developments. And some of the photographs are quite sad, and heartbreaking. But as with all McCall Smith’s writing, his narration is uplifting. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. Not that there is any need, but Smith proves repeatedly why he truly is modern Scotland’s bard.