Alexander!

This post is being re-published for Alphabe- Thursday letter ‘A’. I have waited over 26 weeks for the letter to come round again so that I can share this wonderful experience I had with a very lovely man.

Please remember to visit Jenny Matlock’s blog to read the other ‘A’ posts!

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As those of you who follow my blog you will know I’m an avid fan of Alexander McCall Smith! You’ll also know that I am given to the odd bout of cheekiness. Well put those two together & you have an invite via twitter to meet the great man at his home during our recent visit to Edinburgh!

I was not expecting a return tweet let alone a conversation. I had just mentioned that we going to be in Edinburgh & where was he! When the details of the meeting came through my husband was nervous on my behalf that it would all end in tears; that AMS would turn out to be a pompous author only interested in self promotion.

As it turned out it was nothing like that at all! We were warmly welcomed by his PA Lesley & the welcome we got from AMS was just as friendly. He was very interested in us & about where we had been & recommended places we should not miss, his love of Scotland shining through. He has a wonderful highland lilt to his voice & everything about him is gentle. The first ten minutes of our precious twenty minute slot was spent with the two men chatting. As true reporter I had some questions for him & was not best pleased that time was being taken up by my husband who had not read any of his books!

The man & his work

I asked him how long he had been a serious writer. He explained that he had always written children’s books & short stories but it was when they were published & he could see that a reasonable living could be made from writing that he had to make a choice. He was not going to be able to be a good writer & do his job a professor of medical law at Edinburgh University. Thankfully he choose writing!

I was interested to know how he had come to write such varied series as No.1 Ladies Detective Agency set in Botswana, Scotland Street & The Sunday Philosophy Club both set in Edinburgh then the Two & Half Pillars of Wisdom with the German Professor von Igelfield. AMS explained that he has seeds of ideas as well as voices he likes to explore. With those set in Edinburgh he was keen to explore a particular type of woman similar in character to Miss Jean Brody & so he created Isobel Dalhousie. An interest in the position of Poles during the war, as well as a desire to write about countryside, brought about ‘La’s Orchestra’ .

Copies of some of the foreign translations

We digressed into a discussion about the film & TV versions of ‘No.1 Ladies’ & AMS told us about meeting the cast & director in Botswana, a place dear to his heart & how pleased he was with the final products.

My next question was for those of us who want to take our writing further. What 3 tips would he give? Firstly (& adamantly!) he said that one must persist. Persist with the writing & then persist to get it published. Sadly, nowadays there are few new writers coming through so you must keep going.

The next piece of advice was to be realistic. Look at the genre you are using & see how popular it is & where the readership will come from.

Finally, AMS advice is to write about what you know. It is so much more vibrant than writing about something you have researched but do not have a passion about.

The whole experience had been wonderful & so relaxed. Our arranged slot of 20 minutes had been extended & photos were taken to record the meeting. We were offered some books, all of which he signed, & as we left he asked if we’d like to see the garden. This is ‘Isobel’s garden’ (from the Sunday Philosophy Club together with Brother Fox) although in the books it is larger than the real one. We finally said goodbye as the hour came up!

Proof I was there!

My husband’s description as he recounts our visit to all his friends has been that it was an up-lifting experience. To meet someone so famous & so busy who had time for us, a couple they didn’t know was truly amazing.

Whether you are an established fan or a new convert, please have a look at the Alexander McCall Smith website. If you do not know what he has written (including his many academic texts) the list can be found here!

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