There are authors who are synonymous with their work. If you tell me Poirot, I’d relate it to Christie immediately, and Scout with Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird. Another such pairing is The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency with Alexander McCall Smith. Even if you have read just one of the books, the relation stays in your mind forever. When DDS and I had headed to Jaipur Literature Festival 2019, we hadn’t a clue we’d get a chance to meet with and interact with the famed author.
That impromptu opportunity bought butterflies into our stomachs just when we had calmed ourselves down somewhat after reaching the venue. We had no questions prepared to ask him, but it was an opportunity not to be missed, so we went along. The author however helped us to be calmer than we might have been. We talked about his books, his inspirations and his JLF experience.
It is not just his series that come to mind at the mention of his name. But also the lead character in the series, Mma Precious Ramotswe. To begin our interaction we ask him about the inspiration behind the character and also the methods she uses in her “crime solving”.
“She is a wonderful woman. I wanted to write about a woman living in Botswana and I wanted to capture just how intuitive and how pleasant many such people are. So, I invented the character of Precious Ramotswe,” says Mr. McCall Smith, “She is a very kind woman and she is very forgiving. Those are her main traits. She is generally the sort of person one would like to have a cup of tea with.”
Explaining further about the character, he continues…
“The important thing about her is that she is very positive and takes a positive view of life. That is something that chimes with people because the world can be a very upsetting place; it is full of confrontation and conflicts. People like to spend time in company of a character who believes in treating other people with respect, decency and indeed kindness. And that… is why she is quite popular with readers.”
About her detection methods, he says…
“Detection is a secondary part of her. She works as a detective and calls herself a Private Detective. It is not really crime that she works with. She works with little mysteries in people’s lives, psychological problems, maybe a bit of bad behavior here and there. But effectively she is concerned in helping people with the problems in their lives. It is more about human nature and it is also about the place. I think the place often very important in such novels.”
Those who know the two of us bookish twins would know we are crime fiction enthusiasts. We’ve read the genre voraciously and have found books set in many countries but primarily Europe. We wanted to know why he chose to set his series in Botswana, a country in Africa.
He smiled and replied, “I have lived in Botswana and worked at the university there. It is a very peaceful and attractive place. I thought that it was just a very interesting country and I liked the people there. So, it was the desire to share my fondness for the country that made me write about the country.”
We come to know that it is not the first time he is visiting JLF. We ask him about his thoughts on the publishing scene in India, as well as about his JLF experience.
“The publishing scene in India is very healthy. Just look at the variety of titles that are being published here. It’s brilliant,” he responds, “JLF is a wonderful festival. It is absolutely one of the top literary festivals in the world. So many things about it are so good; the fact that this is a free festival and nobody is stopped from coming for financial reasons. The fact is that there is such a wonderful atmosphere here and there’s a buzz about it. The events are so interesting; so many different authors, so many different voices and so many different subjects. It is marvellous.”
As like many of his fans, we also wanted to know what is coming up from him next.
“I have just started working on the 20th Volume of No.1 Ladies Detective Agency. I am writing the next volume of my children’s series, the Tobermory series. And I am also working on the 13th volume of my Scotland Street Series. During this year, I plan to publish six books… So more books, expect more books!”
Thanking the author, we take our leave, happy for the impromptu experience that makes us want to pinch ourselves to see if we are dreaming. And we aren’t, so we wait for six books from a very fascinating bookish personality.