Alexander McCall Smith is well known for his fiction writing, most particularly the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, but here he ventures into the world of poetry with this, his first published collection – In a Time of Distance.

The titular poem was written as lockdown started – it must have been hard for McCall Smith to imagine it would still be resonating so perfectly in October 2020 as the country continues to struggle to find a way out of the worldwide pandemic. His hope, like that of many, is that in a post-Covid world we:

“Will be slightly different people,
And our world, though diminished,
Will be much bigger, its beauty revealed afresh.”

From hopes for the future McCall Smith then takes the reader on journeys through time and place that have resonated with him over the years. After his beautifully worded opening reflections the ‘journeys’ seem to lose their way a little; perhaps lack of familiarity with some of the places affecting the enjoyment of the observations. It is not long, however, before the lyricism of the works pulls the reader back in to his far flung musings – from a mustard field in Rajasthan to a botanical garden in Martinique.

As well as foreign climes Edinburgh and the Scottish Islands feature heavily and the poet makes it clear where his interests outside travel and writing lie in sections titled: ‘Of the Animals’, ‘Of Love & Longing’, ‘Of Books & Reading’.

Some poems make the reader think, consider their own lives and what they might mean:

“What we lose, we think we lose forever,
But we are wrong about this; think of love –”,

while others just create beautiful images in the mind’s eye:

“A maker of beautiful books
Understands that text
Should whisper to us its message
Like a confiding friend”.

Sometimes it is difficult to identify when poetry becomes prose or vice versa but accomplished writer McCall Smith proves he can turn his hand to this particular art form as well as the mystery genre in this debut collection.