City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Book Festival: Alexander McCall Smith, 'A Love Affair with Edinburgh'

By Allan Alstead - Posted on 20 August 2015

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Alexander McCall Smith with Jamie Jauncey as Chairman

An evening with Alexander McCall Smith is always a delight and this event, chaired by Jamie Jauncey and sponsored by Edinburgh Napier University fully measured up to expectations.

McCall Smith was introduced as a writer who was more prolific than Walter Scott, so the bar was set high right from the outset. He was also introduced as the winner of the Woodhouse Prize, sponsored by Bollinger champagne, for which he received a splendid jeroboam of Bollinger champagne and six 'normal sized supporting bottles' - as he called them. He added that he had also won a pig at the Hay Festival, however, he explained that was not allowed to take the pig away and suspected that it might be passed on to the next winner - in any event the pig did not conform to the European Union regulations for a 'standard pig' so moving it from its home would have complicated matters!

McCall Smith went on to talk about his series '44 Scotland Street' which is now the longest running published serial in the world having been published in The Scotsman for some 10 or 11 years (there was some uncertainty about the actual length of time the serial had been actually been published). And all this after he had been advised by a fellow writer never to write a serial novel.

He was asked by Jamie Jauncey where the characters in his books came from and the answer was that they generally came from real life and from people he had met. When questioned on why he had not put Jamie Jauncey into one of his books as a character he was assured that this would happen and the representation would be of a most distinguished individual!

Part of the delight that is a session with Alexander McCall Smith is that his own good humour is irresistible and he obviously enjoys recounting incidents from his books. His description of Irene who had to shop in the hotel after her luggage had been lost by the airline was lovely. She was mistaken for the new wife of a sheikh and brought into the harem. Her exploits there were most amusing - for one she formed a book club with the other ladies and then resisted repatriation.

There was then more about the Association of Scottish Nudists who have their headquarters (allegedly) in nearby Moray Place and the dissent created among the them because those from Edinburgh had three votes at the AGM and the rest only had one. Then he described the great upset among the nudists over a proposed name change to "NudismScotland". All was highly amusing and the audience loved it.

We were treated to a reading by McCall Smith from his book describing Bertie's grandmother coming over to visit him. It was a splendid piece, describing interjections by Bertie's teacher who was trying to maintain some level of decorum, but with great difficulty. The final straw was when one fellow pupil described how last time Bertie's grandmother visited and the lights went out but her nose could still be seen to be glowing in the dark.

McCall Smith became a little more serious when he talked about his new book 'A Work of Beauty' where he has combined his verse and comments with some highly attractive pictures of the capital, including some older ones. He showed us some of these pictures on the screen and read a few of his verses which were exactly right and they showed his own intense personal love of the city. It was a splendid hour and one could have listened to him for very much longer. There is little doubt that his newly published book will be a success and will be bought by many who love Edinburgh just as he does himself.