The master of mysteries & more…
Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Lady Detective Mma Precious Ramotswe is wise, funny, and her adventures as she goes about solving cases makes for an engaging read that has kept the readers hooked on to her stories since 20 years now, "I had in fact, written only 19 books, I skipped one edition," says Alexander, who was one of the most popular authors at this year's Jaipur Literature Festival.
He is all set to write the 20th edition and explains how it all began, "I lived in Botswana, and it is a special place for me.
I wanted to write something about the land, which is when I decided to write a short story about this woman, who lives in Botswana.
She inherits cattle from her father, which she sells to start a business. Now, she could have done any business, but I decided she will start a detective agency.
After finishing the story, I liked it and decided to write a book.
People liked the book and asked me if I could write a sequel; one book led to the other and last year it was the 19th edition."
Why makes the character so popular? "Probably because people like to spend more time with the characters; Mma Precious is a person you would like to have tea with.
The world I write about in the book is a much more peaceful one that the real world we live in.
There are no conflicts, confrontation and I think readers love to read about such a resolved world," the author whose scope of writing is varied – non-fiction, children's books, and fiction, relates.
Edition after edition, it was a new mystery of missing husbands, errant daughters, Mma Precious' own life; all happening in Botswana occasionally moving to other places in the neighbourhood.
The characters have not changed, the world of Mma Precious has not changed, she has not changed, Botswana in the book has remained the same, "The secretary still uses a typewriter.
She does not have a mobile phone. Obviously, characters can evolve during the course, but they don't need to change too much.
I don't think anyone likes 'change' as much, hence I decided to ignore change," shares Alexander, who reveals his inspiration for the detective series has been the legendary RK Narayan, and his 'Malgudi Days.
"Interestingly enough; for 'The No. 1 Ladies Detective', one of the main influences and I think, an influence without which, I would not have written those books was RK Narayan.
The 'Malgudi Days'. I loved his books. He was a wonderful writer.
He was writing about life in a small town, and the 'No. 1 Detective Agency' has the same atmosphere. He was a big influence though there were other writers along the way," were his exact words.
For the Dalhousie series, his major influence has been Barbara Pym, he says, "In my view, she was 20th century Jane Austen.
I like writers, who write about the little world and in writing about their familiar everyday world they create a whole universe and about all problems in life in small transactions.
You didn't need a big 'War and Peace' to actually talk about human nature.
If you take RK Narayan he talks about small lives. Jane Austen said that her novels were little pictures in little squares of ivory."
His admiration for Jane Austen is evident and he also has written a re-interpretation of Emma – "I transferred into contemporary.''
Alexander McCall Smith writes every day.
He has written over a 100 books and is currently working on the 13th volume of Scotland Street Novels, which is a series published every day in a Scotland Newspaper, is going to start working on the 20th volume of 'No. 1 Detective Agency', he just finished his second in the series of 'My Italian Bulldozer' – 'Second Worst Restaurant in France' and the fourth book in the children's Tobermory series.
And as he speaks, he finished yet another chapter for the Scotland series and he teases by indicating there will be a mention of Jaipur in the chapter, from which readers can know where he is writing from.
He shares his secret: "One just must sit down and write. Don't wait for the muse to come and tap on your shoulder.
It will never happen. When people ask me for my advice, and I tell them – when you finish your first novel go to your second, it will be better. And, after the second, start your third novel. Do not go back to the previous one and start to rework."