May 17, 2014

Auckland Writers Festival 2014: An evening with Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith rubbed his hands; adjusted his capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shoes to his organ of benevolence... Actually that's old Fezziwig in The Christmas Carol who did that, but Alexander McCall Smith, it occurred to me as he chatted amiably with Jim Mora, amused by his own jokes to the point that I nearly missed several punchlines from his chortling with laughter as he pronounced them, has a lot in common with old Fezziwig. Did old Fezziwig's fiddler tune like 50 stomach aches? At a recent perforance of McCall Smith's "Really Terrible Orchestra", an amateur orchestra of mostly clarinets he formed some years ago, "we had a standing ovation --- or a really quick departure!"

The evening's surprise, for me, at least:  McCall Smith has a New Zealand connection in the family. His grandfather was a doctor who emigrated to New Zealand and helped set up a free health service in the Hokianga. He too was a writer, the author of Notes from a Back Blocker, "and not satisfied with that", his grandson gleefully continues, "he wrote More Notes from a Back Blocker". No, the library unfortunately does not have a copy -- I checked.

I don't know off the top of my head how many books Alexander McCall Smith has written among his many (and all immensely popular) series, The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, ‎The 44 Scotland Street series, The Isabel Dalhousie Series, and now Corduroy Mansions, but he is a very prolific writer. He tells us that he writes 1000 words an hour. "Not anyone can do that. Flaubert wrote [beat, beat] five words a day."   "I suffer from a condition called Serial Novelisation", he confides. "There's nothing you can do about it -- you write serial novels and then you die."

He stands up (metaphorically only, he is reclining at a 45 degree angle in his ASB Theatre armchair, legs stretched out before him) for his happy endings. "My books have happy endings. I know that the world is a vale of tears, but we have to be able to have happy endings."

Overall, and it's something which shines through in creations like Mma Precious Ramotswe, the woman who set up the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" in Gaborone, Botswana (he taught us how to pronounce her name: just say 'ma' but make the 'm' longer), one of the things he most appreciates is kindness. "I like to write about kindness and I like to write about people who exercise it."

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 16:57
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