Alexander McCall Smith (EXCERPTS)
GO BACK TO INTERVIEWS PAGE
In this age
of cynicism, the idealism and humanity inherent in
Alexander McCall Smith’s novels seem to resonate with
readers more than ever. In 1999, when McCall Smith’s
The No. 1 Ladies’
Detective Agency was released in the
United States, it
instantly hit the best sellers lists. After numerous
best sellers within a relatively short period of time,
McCall Smith’s positive impact on the genre has been
nothing short of phenomenal. His books have been
translated into dozens of languages worldwide, and have
reached the best sellers lists in scores of non-English
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
introduced readers to Mma Precious
Ramotswe, a strong-willed, kind, and wise Botswanan lady who decides to open her
own detective agency. With her razor-sharp intuition, Mma Ramotswe is always
ready to deal with a variety of cases, including searching for a missing child,
checking up on the suitors of a wealthy lady, investigating unexplained deaths
in a hospital, or solving the mystery behind the disappearance of an American in
the desert. Along the way, we are treated to a tour of the picturesque African
landscape, a lesson on the traditions of Botswana, and provided a glimpse of
African wildlife. McCall Smith’s love of the African land and people is derived
from his childhood spent in Rhodesia,
and a stint as a law Professor in the University of Botswana.
In 2005, with The
Sunday Philosophy Club, McCall Smith started a new series of novels
featuring urbane, sensitive, inquisitive, amateur sleuth and philosopher Isabel
Dalhousie. The series, which is set in his hometown of Edinburgh, captures the city’s charm and
history as Isabel uses her sharp insight to delve into affairs which at first
seem innocuous and unimportant but gradually turn out to have far-reaching
McCall Smith has also published dozens of children’s books,
numerous short stories, and has written a column for
The Scotsman. Since 2003, he has
penned a series of humorous novellas featuring the eccentric professor Dr.
Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld.
Trained as a lawyer, McCall Smith went on to become a
professor of medical law at the University
of Edinburgh and has served on
bioethics boards, and as vice-chairman of the Human Genetics Commission of the UK. He retired
in 2005, to devote his time to writing. In 2007 he was awarded the OBE. He lives
with his wife and two children. His latest book,
The Careful Use of Compliments, was
released in August by Pantheon.
AFG: I just
finished reading The Careful Use of
Compliments, and I really enjoyed it.
Andrew, thank you so much for that. I feel that I’m really getting settled into
the series and into the characters more, and I’m enjoying it very much indeed.
Considering the cynical world we live in and the idealism of your books, were
you surprised by their success?
AMS: Yes. I
suppose I was resigned to what I thought would, in perpetuity, be a small
readership, and when I discovered that people seemed to respond to them, I was
very surprised—and obviously very pleased. I think that maybe people just found
it an alternative to the rather grim tone of a lot of contemporary fiction. Not
that one mustn’t have books which deal with the tragic face of the age or the
violent face of the age.
AFG: And what
are you working on now?
AMS: Well I’m
about to start Volume 9 of the Mma Ramotswe books—the Botswana books.
I’m just about to go to
next week, in fact. They’re starting to film the series.
Minghella is directing it?
Anthony Minghella, yes. He’s a wonderful
director, one of the most marvelous film directors there is. I thought
The Talented Mr. Ripley was terrific.
I’m a great Patricia Highsmith fan. I thought she was a superb
writer with a
marvelous understanding of the sociopathic mind, and Anthony Minghella’s
The Talented Mr. Ripley was just so
good. It had such a wonderful period feel of Italy at that
time; the textures, the colours, the whole ambience. So he’s directing the
No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
series. The Weinsten Company, which used to be Miramax, has been
supportive. They’ve got everybody in
now, and I think filming’s going to start on Monday.
that’s exciting. When’s the release date?
AMS: I don’t
know, because if you speak to film-makers about when their films are going to be
released, they say just towards the end of the year. And you know they always
say that! [laughs] They’re making a ninety-minute television film to launch the
series, then they want to do six films thereafter, which will be terrific. I’ve
been told that with television, you reach many more people
Definitely. But will you retain control over what they put in, or will it be out
of your hands?
AMS: No, it’s
out of my hands, but the nice thing about dealing with Minghella and the people
involved—Richard Curtis, who has directed
Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a
Funeral, and Sydney Pollack—is that they are a pretty good team. So I’m less
worried than if the film were being made by people I didn’t know.
AFG: I know
that in the past you served on several bio-ethics panels and that you were also
a university professor. Have you given all that up?
AMS: Yes, I’ve
stopped all that. I used to be the UK member of the UNESCO
International Bio-Ethics Commission, and I was on that for about four years.
Subsequently I was the vice-chairman of the UK’s Human Genetics Commission and
various other bio-ethics committees, and I found that I really couldn’t do that
and write as well, and so I gave up. At that stage I was also a professor of
medical law in the University
of Edinburgh, and I gave
that up as well. So I gave everything up! It was quite a cathartic experience,
resigning from everything, and I devoted myself to writing.
GO BACK TO INTERVIEWS PAGE
One year sub: $19.95
Two year sub: $34.95