A Chat with No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Author Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith, best-selling Scottish author of more than 60 books, is as charming and well mannered as his main characters.

He’s exactly the type of person you would want to sit down with over a cup of Red Bush tea, especially since his accent induces swooning.

Make It Better spoke with “Sandy” about his prolific career and his latest book, “The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party,” which was released in late March.

MIB: This book is the 12th book in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. Are you planning to keep the series going?

AMS: Yes, I’ll carry on writing about Mma Ramotswe and her friends. I am very happy to continue my conversation with my heroine.

MIB: You’re very attached to your female protagonists—Mma Ramotswe, and also Isabel Dalhousie in that eponymous series. Why choose women as your central characters?

AMS: The conversation of women is interesting. They talk about different things than men.

MIB: You mean, they’re more likely to gossip?

AMS: I wouldn’t use the term gossip in the pejorative sense. They talk about feelings and emotions more than men, and that’s interesting and healthy.

MIB: Tell me about the charity work you do in Botswana.

AMS: I try to do what I can. I help with various musical projects there.

MIB: Is that related to your orchestra work?

AMS: No—the orchestra I’m in is in Scotland, and it’s for bad musicians. It’s called the Really Terrible Orchestra. We’re pretty hopeless. We play very, very badly, but people enjoy our concerts—they’re very well attended, because people enjoy going to hear adults playing really rather worse than a school orchestra. It’s really therapeutic. I thoroughly recommend it.

MIB: A love of Botswana clearly comes across in your books. Where did you acquire that passion?

AMS: I spent my childhood years there and that’s where I developed my fondness. During childhood you lay down all sorts of interesting memories and, even when you don’t remember them, they influence the way one thinks about things.

Then I worked there as an adult, and the people I met gave me a sense of what people in Botswana were like—good, and that’s the word I most associate with Botswana.

MIB: Do you ever find inspiration in your family life, perhaps from your daughters?

Not really. But if I’m describing the clothes that Mma Ramotswe or her assistant wears, I’ll telephone one of my daughters. They help me come up with the descriptions. I get advice on how to describe shoes.

MIB: Any advice for people visiting one of your two favorite places (and literary settings)—Botswana and Edinburgh?

AMS: For both places, make sure that you talk to people. You’ll find out all sorts of interesting things. It makes the experience so much more three-dimensional if you engage in conversation with people you meet along the way.

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