An Evening with Alexander McCall Smith

I had the pleasure of introducing Alexander McCall Smith on Thursday night at Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee. He was here to promote  his new book, The House of Unexpected Sisters. You can buy it here.

It can always be a bit dicey meeting someone you admire, because you’re never sure whether he will live up to your expectations. In this case, however, the author was exactly as his books reveal him to be: erudite, kind, funny, and charming. I hung back at the end of the signing in order to present him with one of my books (a presumption I had to work myself up to) and was able to observe his patience and warmth with every single one of the three hundred-some people who waited in line for his autograph.

Screen Shot 2017-11-10 at 7.12.54 AMIt is difficult–if not impossible–to say anything original about a man so well-known, and, indeed, a Commander of the British Empire, but my attempt follows:

We live in troubled times. Although in the West we have lives of comfort and ease beyond the dreams of any other era of humanity, we wake, I believe, most days, with the sense that something has gone deeply wrong.

And then we realize that our Iphones are safe in the next room.

Modern life, in its material richness, is often plagued by anxiety. And when we have read the dire stories in the news, witnessed the crudeness and vulgarity of mainstream culture, and exhausted our capacity for cruelty and vituperation on Twitter, our minds and souls are in desperate need of an escape. If we have any sense at all, we turn to books as our refuge.

Alexander McCall Smith is the master of escapist literature. I use that term with deep admiration. It requires firm principles, deep courage, and a steadfast heart to look around and find joy and things to laugh about. Perhaps it also requires a bit of desperation.

His books, however charming, express both a deeply held moral philosophy and biting social satire. And whether it’s Isabel Dalhousie in her beautiful house in Edinburgh, Mma Ramatswe in Botswana, or seven year old Bertie reluctantly practicing yoga at 44 Scotland Street, his protagonists have a firm determination to do what’s right: to be honest, to express and appreciate beauty, to find meaning, and most particularly, to be kind.

The humor can be subtle or riotous, but the beauty, and warmth, and rich value of everyday people living everyday lives of meaning and virtue is at the core of every book. And today—indeed, in any era—that is a powerful and important thing.

Escapist literature is a banner of hope in a dark world. And, as Mma Ramotswe says: “… it is possible to change the world, if one is determined enough, and if one sees with sufficient clarity just what has to be changed.”

Our guest, tonight, is an extraordinarily prolific novelist and story writer, over the course of many years. He is the author of multiple series—including my favorite, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, which features the hapless Herr Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Iglefeld—and along with this new addition to his Number One Ladies Detective Agency series, and to the 44 Scotland Street Series, has another new children’s book about to be published in Britain. He is the recipient of many honors, and a Commander of the British Empire.

The truth is, he needs no introduction to any of you, but I really wanted to meet him.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Alexander McCall Smith.

 

The King is Dead. Long Live the King.

Well, it’s happened. Book Three, Robert’s Rules (Beaufort Books, Spring 2018), is finished, and off to the publisher. I say that in passive voice, as if it miraculously wrote itself. Not so. Over the course of the past year, and most particularly of the past six months, I have neglected friends, family, and dogs, and reduced my life to work, writing, and basic human survival. A trail of entropy lies behind me.

IMG_5146So, you ask: Now what will you do? Revel in the freedom? Drink champagne, or possibly bourbon? Walk the dogs? Go to Disney World?

Well, some of the above, except for the Disney part. But mostly more mundane things like do laundry, overthrow the reigning chaos in my office, and remind my family and friends that I still love them (the dogs, being dogs, still knew that). For both my dear readers, I will also go back to writing my blog.

On the other hand, I have, unintentionally, but apparently irresistibly (again that misleading sense of the passive), begun work on Book Four, A Small Earnest Question.

Life has its cycles.

 

Island Update

As both of my readers know, when I am writing a book, the blog gets short shrift. A couple of weeks ago, however, I had an experience which may be of interest: I went to Pete and Fiona’s wedding.

My novels (Available at Amazon, and also here, Barnes and Noble here and here, Target here and here, Walmart here and here, or at your favorite booksellers, for example, here, herehere, here, and here. I’ll wait.) feature the story of Fiona Campbell, a Chicago reporter who moves to Washington Island on a dare. That’s all I’m going to say.

But by an extraordinary coincidence, a couple whose names are Fiona and Peter got married at the island property where I write my books. Susan, my landlady, made sure I knew about it, and the couple were gracious enough to invite me.

It was a perfect summer day. The bride and groom were beautiful, kind, and clearly in love. Everyone was happy.

Just thought you’d like to know.

 

Don’t get any ideas.

Signing at ALA in Chicago this Sunday

So, book signings are always fun, but this one has an interesting twist. In accordance with ALA (American Library Association) tradition, unedited copies of the first 40 pages or so of North of the Tension Line’s Book 3, Robert’s Rules will be given out. First come, first served.

Sunday, June 25th, from 10:30-11:00 am.

Come on, all you librarians!

I hope to see you there!

A Small Sneak Preview of Book Three: Robert’s Rules

In June I will be making an appearance at the ALA (American Library Association) 2017 Conference and Exhibition in Chicago. One of the traditions at this event is for authors to provide unedited copies of the first three chapters or so of their upcoming books, flaws and all.
So, with the permission of my editor, I think it is only right that those of you who follow me here should have the first glance.

So watch this space for periodic sneak previews of what’s to come in the third book of the North of the Tension Line series, beginning with this snippet.

PROLOGUE

My earliest memories are of fire.

I was lying in my crib in the dark, and my father woke me, wrapped me in my blankets, and carried me from the house. There were sirens coming closer. I remember the scratchy wool of his jacket on my cheek, its dusty smell in my nostrils, and the feel of the cool night air. Then the smoke was everywhere.

My mother and father and sister and brother were all there, with jackets over their night clothes. My father carried me in his arms as we all moved toward the fire down the street.

“The pig farm,” my mother said.

I knew the pig farm. I knew the comfortable smell of well kept animals; the sight of the red barn on the hill, the pleasures of catching a glimpse of a tractor, or better yet, a family of piglets, on an afternoon ride.

Instead, I could see the silhouettes of men against flames that reached into the sky, the yellow and orange fire that flickered and shot up; the black shadows of men in big coats, and boots, and helmets, carrying hoses and axes.

There was a low rumbling sound from the diesel engines of the fire trucks; the crackling static voices of the radios and walkie talkies.

My father hoisted me up on his shoulders, and I could look down at the tangle of hoses, the gleaming puddles everywhere, with the circling red lights. I could hear more sirens in the distance, more fire companies arriving, the undulating shift of their sound changing as they moved.

“The poor animals,” murmured my mother, watching the flames. There was another smell in the air that was not wood burning.

I was afraid, but I did not cry.

Maybe I slept on my father’s head.

At last the men’s voices changed from shouts to words, the brilliant, intoxicating light in the night was gone, leaving a gray dawn. The red lights of the trucks still turned, reflecting in the puddles of water as the firemen coiled the hoses. The voices on the radios still crackled, but with less frequency, as the fire men, weary, diminished their conversation.

I do not remember being tucked back into bed. But I remember the flames.

I always remember the flames.

St. Augustine the Younger; Foe of Coyote Pagans

So, for those of you who have been kind enough to enquire, Book 3 is coming along nicely. A small distraction will be developing soon, however. My husband and I will be traveling to Georgia next weekend to pick up our new puppy, St. Augustine. He is a cousin to Moses, and will, no doubt, be an annoyance to Pete.

My husband had had misgivings about a third dog until we caught a coyote stalking Pete, who, at 13, is spry and happy, but nearly stone deaf. Moses, a fearless opponent of coyotes, chased it off without missing a beat, with Pete being none the wiser. Coyote confrontation does not exactly make me happy, and I strive to prevent it, but it has worked out well for Pete. German Shepherds are often referred to as GSDs. In our house we use the term BSD, for Big Scary Dog.

Moses, however, needs a wingman.

Please Make Me Scary. But Not Yet.

The original St. Augustine, as you know, was the author of City of God Against the Pagans. At the moment, Auggie is more adorable than formidable, and can’t be allowed out by himself. But we think he may grow into his name. His father weighs 140 pounds.

Learning to Love Again

To the both of you who follow my blog: by now you are probably used to the reality that when I am writing a book, I don’t post many blogs. It’s a husbanding your resources thing.

Nevertheless, I interrupt this novel for a brief announcement:

We are in the queue again for a puppy. He has been born. He will be two weeks old tomorrow. We hope to pick him up and fly him home (on our laps) on May 6th. He is a cousin, of some sort, of Moses.

My husband insists that his name will be St. Augustine the Younger. He gets to pick, since I picked Moses, but I am still lobbying for St. George, the Dragon Slayer.

He will win.

So, watch this space for puppy pictures. Because my life needs a complication, albeit a delightful one.

Here is one of the puppies from the litter. Who knows? We may become friends.