Thursday, April 20, 2006

Interview with Alexander McCall Smith

Best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith is a very busy man. He’s a prolific writer, the latest of which, “Blue Shoes and Happiness” (see review below) has just arrived at bookstores. He travels around the world sharing incredibly charming stories about his adventures. His only Charlotte appearance will be at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center on April 30th.

Photo courtesy: Elizabeth McCall Smith

But before that, join us Monday, April 24 at 7PM at Joseph-Beth at SouthPark Mall for our book club chat on “In the Company of Cheerful Ladies." RSVP at

22 CW readers will get to meet Smith in person at an exclusive private reception before he goes on stage at the Blumenthal. To be one of the lucky 22, e-mail me directly at:

For special discounted tickets to his one-man show, click

In the midst of his life as a best-selling author, McCall Smith makes time for erstwhile journalists, like me, who want to know what’s on his mind.

Q: In many of your books, not a lot happens. Is that by design?

Most of us aren’t really involved in major dramatic events. Generally our lives are mundane and uneventful. These little things can be very important and they can say a great deal about the human condition. If one thinks of Jane Austen’s books, nothing really happens and yet they are fascinating. I do think that the small things can say a lot and they say a lot about character and a lot about bigger issues about being human.

Q: What has been the biggest surprise about your tremendous success?

What has surprised and pleased me greatly is the extent to which people have become involved with the characters. It’s quite lovely.

Q: What’s next for you?

I just finished the third in the Isabel Dalhousie series, “The Right Attitude for Rain” and that will come out in fall. I’m working on a book that’s about the retelling of myths. The story I’m working on is about Dream Angus, the Celtic god of love and dreams.

Q: Talk to us about your relationships with your characters?

I feel quite close to them. I feel like I know them. I feel like I know what they will come up with and what they will think. I do keep a certain distance from them. And I think a writer should do that. You shouldn’t get too close to them because otherwise they will become you. You have to have a certain distance.

Q: Is there anyone of your characters that are most like you?

Probably Isabel Dalhousie because I believe she loves philosophy in the same way I love philosophy.

Q: What future adventures are in store for Precious Ramotswe (heroine of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Series)?

They will all continue. I could never let anything nasty happen to any of them. We’re going to have a bit of trouble with Mma. Makutsi’s engagement. But everything will be alright. But it will get a little difficult. In the new book, “Blue Shoes and Happiness” Mma. Ramotswe starts a diet but she soon goes off of it.

Q: How do you find the time to write?

I find that getting away helps. I find it useful to be in a place where there are no disburbances to finish a book. I wrote quite a bit of the newest book in India. I remember finishing and looking out just as the clouds parted and I could see the high Himalayas. I finished my latest book (the third Isabel Dalhousie book) in Santiago and the Cayman Islands.

Q: Who are your favorite writers?

I’m reading a book by an Indian writer named R.K. Narayan. He wrote a series of books in a town called Malgudi. W.H. Auden has also been very influential and I think is important. My tastes in fiction are eclectic and broad. I’m currently reading “No Other Life” by Irish author Brian Moore.

For more about Alexander McCall Smith, log on to:

Book Review: "Blue Shoes and Happiness"

Run don't walk to the bookstore to sccop up Alexander McCall Smith's latest book, "Blue Shoes and Happiness." It's the latest novel in the charming and unpretentiously beautiful "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series.

As a writer, Smith is very Austen-like in that he's able to elevate everyday occurrences to character studies. It's refreshing to know that in a world where so much happens, there's a place where there is order and meaning. Returning back to Smith's characters is like going home again and always being welcome.

From Publishers Weekly:

The seventh entry in the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series (after 2005's In the Company of Cheerful Ladies) reaffirms Smith's considerable gifts as a writer. His familiar characters offer further facets of their personalities, and their gentle, tolerant approach to life remains a refreshing contrast to most fictional figures, let alone those populating most mysteries. The author's love for his creations and for his Botswana setting are evident on every page. While the plot will be of secondary importance to fans of Precious Ramotswe, the "traditionally-built," self-taught private detective, and her assistant, Grace Makutsi, Smith presents them with several mysteries, including the search for the identity of a blackmailer and the source of malaise at a nearby game reserve. Ramotswe's intuition and understanding enable her to find the truth, while dispensing justice according to her own personal dictates. Even newcomers will be charmed by this wonderful novel, with its skillful blend of humor and pathos, and will doubtless rush to catch up with the earlier books.

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