Edinburgh Book Festival: Alexander McCall Smith, A Haven For Traditionally Built (2)

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A Haven for the Traditionally Built
Alexander McCall Smith with Jamie Jauncy as Chairman
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This was quite simply pure entertainment and an hour of brilliant humour! Alexander McCall Smith delighted his audience with a series of stories and extracts from his books, which showed us all just what a wonderfully accomplished writer and humorist he is.

The Chairman for this session was Jamie Jauncy and he ably led McCall Smith through the host of accomplishments that he has covered this year. Few writers can have so many different strands of involvement, or so many continuing interests from "44 Scotland Street" to the "Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency". How he has had time to write his recent stand-alone novel "The Forever Girl" and even more recently "Fatty O'Leary's Dinner Party" as well as take on the re-imagining of Jane Austen's "Emma" and in addition write the libretto for a Commonwealth Games opera, one will never know! Jamie Jauncy was so right to say that McCall Smith, "had enriched so many people's lives in so many ways".

The author spoke about the Balhousie Fellowship which he founded and said that this required the people to do absolutely nothing - he said that if you don't ask people to do anything then you get lots of applicants! He recalled an Oxford professor being asked what he did in the University and he said, "Oh I give a lecture - but not every year!"

Turning to the Scotland Street series he said that he regarded these novels as illustrating "the revolving door of life". There was then his hilarious description of the Scottish Nudist Society who had established their headquarters in Moray Place. He went through the articles of Association and the classes of voting where those who were Edinburgh-based had more votes than those elsewhere - just to ensure that nothing changed! Reference was made to the nudist expedition to Glencoe where they failed to appreciate that it was the midge season and all got terribly badly bitten!

"The Forever Girl" is set in the Cayman Islands as this is where he stays with some friends, "who went there for a few years but forgot to come home". He spoke of the adventures of this girl who finds herself in a room with white carpets, but with not a single printed page anywhere and her subsequent adventures on her travels to Australia and then Singapore.

Of his invitation to re-image Jane Austen's "Emma" he remarked that this was one title that he had no trouble with, as he sometimes spent hours on the telephone arguing with his publisher what the title of a book should be. He always managed to persuade his publisher to call him back on the telephone so that his publisher paid for the call - this greatly amused him as he said, "he always falls for it". But in "Emma" he has brought it up to date and made the setting soon after the Cuban missile crisis, just in case anyone should be confused! The setting is Norfolk and he makes the Parish Minister drive a BMW, but he loses his licence so this keeps the interest - there was more to come he promised.

In an hour McCall Smith covered a huge range of his interests and his writing. He showed himself to be a man with a glorious sense of humour and it is little wonder that his events at the Book Festival are always a sell-out.

Read Viv's review of Alexander McCall Smith: A Haven For Traditionally Built