August 18th and 20th
Chaired by Jamie Jauncey and Janet Smyth
Baillie Gifford Main Theatre
In his home city of Edinburgh, Alexander McCall Smith needs little introduction. Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Edinburgh and author of an impressive number of novels, poems, short stories, and books for children, McCall Smith, or “Sandy” as he is known, is as integral a part of this capital as practically any other writer. Perhaps best known for his The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and his serial novels revolving around the inhabitants of 44 Scotland Street, McCall Smith continues to constantly entertain his readers both at home and abroad.
The Student was fortunate enough to be present at two sold-out sessions with the author in the Baillie Gifford Main Theatre. A topic brought up at both of these events was the rather impressive productivity shown by McCall Smith in relation to his work. Since we last saw him at the Book Fest, he has published four new novels, written an opera, travelled excessively, and written a book about his home town, entitled A Work of Beauty: Alexander McCall Smith’s Edinburgh. Compiled of images from Scotland’s national collection of architecture and archaeology, combined with McCall Smith’s own words, this book has been described as a stunning tribute to the city of Edinburgh, its history, and its people.
Anyone who has ever been to a literary event with Alexander McCall Smith knows that the most obvious thing about him is that he is a wonderful orator and storyteller. One particular highlight was to hear McCall Smith justify the existence of “pushy mothers” following a conversation about Bertie’s mother Irene, and his constant struggle to free himself of her panoptic presence. Although he admitted that pushy mothers “is a very serious problem”, he still maintained that, “if we didn’t have them, no one would learn the piano,” a remark than went down well with one or two Edinburgh mothers in the audience.
McCall Smith finished both events with a reading from his most recent works, and a showing of some of the images in A Work of Beauty up on the big screen. To the roaring applause of the audience, McCall Smith left the theatre to take up his seat in the Signing Tent, where a massive queue soon emerged. Both events confirmed a fact that we already knew: that one of the most prolific authors in the world is also one of the most loved, both in Edinburgh and beyond.
Photo: Alan McCredie, Edinburgh International Book Festival