Last evening in my little hometown as snowflakes drifted down from the frozen night sky dusting sidewalks and fallen leaves with a fine powdery white, I had the enormous pleasure of tucking into our civic auditorium and settling into a talk by Alexander McCall Smith. I had gone somewhat grudgingly into the cold with middling expectations hoping to glean a few nuggets of wisdom about writing. And so it was that I was totally unprepared to find myself entranced by this delightful scotsman sporting a kilt and matching hose whose enthusiasm for writing and for life was readily apparent and utterly infectious.
Prior to last evening, I was only vaguely aware of Mr. McCall Smith’s work. I knew about The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency, having tried and failed to read it not once but twice. The writing was fluid, robust and acutely descriptive, but the storyline was simply not my cup of tea. I was pleased, therefore, to discover that this prolific author who, by his own account, writes 1000 words per hour and publishes 4 to 5 books a year, (a YEAR!), writes a lot. He must, in order to keep pace with the four separate series, children’s books and various other works he has on the front burner at all times. That’s a lot of front burners. He must have some kind of industrial Aga hidden away in his castle.
Alexander McCall Smith always loved to write but never intended to make a living as a writer. Having already forged a successful career as a solicitor and legal scholar, he certainly didn’t need the work or immense riches that naturally follow from a writing career (because that's what always happens, right?) He wrote because ribbons of stories and colorful characters jostled about in his head demanding release.
The thing that struck me most about Mr. McCall Smith aside from his keen intelligence, warm visage and wicked wit was that he seemed to be in love with life, his life to be exact. He was an entertaining and gracious speaker who clearly enjoyed himself which made each of us enjoy him all the more. He read some of his writing aloud and, try as he might, he couldn’t suppress his own fits of laughter at some very funny material.
I don’t picture this writer slogging through each day putting in the hours trying to churn something out for publication. This is not someone who is desperate to find an audience or concerned with what any one else wants him to write. This is a man in touch with his inner-muse (I expect they dine together three or four times a week). He writes for himself, to entertain himself, to explore the interior lives of his beloved characters and the exterior places that have colored his world. He is not writing to impress anyone with his vocabulary, wit or wisdom, all of which he possesses in abundance. He writes for the the pure pleasure of the art form, to tell a story that pleases him and makes him feel something poignant.
Before he left the stage, Mr. McCall Smith read a poem that he penned backstage before the event. It was a love letter of sorts to our little town and I am sure he writes something similar for all of his engagements. In any case, it was very sweet and greatly appreciated. To show my gratitude, here is a little love note in return.
Dr. Mr. Alexander McCall Smith,
Many thanks for traveling to our humble town, a location that is surely far out of the way from anywhere you are near. Thank you for regaling us with droll stories and whimsical bits that made us all laugh and feel happy to be together. Mostly though, thank you for helping me remember that writing is suppose to be fun and fulfilling and energizing and that if it is not all of these things then I am probably doing it wrong. This was, perhaps, the best gift of all and for that I will be forever grateful.
Best Regards, Sarah