‘It’s a period of far greater democracy in publishing’

By Siddhi JainMumbai, Nov 18 (IANSlife) Alexander McCall Smith, the 71-year-old British author of his bestselling “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series and “Detective Varg” series, may not be a fussy writer, but is given to a disciplined life, and finds the literary world of today more democratic and vast than ever before.An Emeritus Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh, McCall Smith opens up about his literary life on the sidelines of the 10th edition of Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai Litfest, which concluded Sunday. Excerpts from an interview:1. In one of the session the festival, you spoke about how you sit down to write. Could you give us a glimpse of your life as a writer?Many authors have particular rituals they like to conduct before they write, they have to have their light in the right direction, or a particular sort of paper. I’m not particularly given to that but I do find that everyday, I must have a certain time that I write in. I think if you wait for inspiration to come, it will never come. So, you have to do it in a regular way. I tend to write in the small hours of the morning, including when I’m on tour or at festivals. This morning, I was up at 4 o’clock and I wrote between 4-6 a.m.. By the time breakfast comes, I’ve often done my day’s work.2. “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series is one of your most bestselling. How was your time in Botswana, Africa, where it is set?I first worked in Botswana many years ago, when I worked in the university there. I discovered it was a country I had great affection for, and I have found it very interesting. I live in Scotland, but since then I’ve visited Botswana just about every year. I like the people, they’re very courteous, it’s an interesting culture and that’s what prompted me to write these books. 3. Is it difficult to write in the voice of the female, as Mma Ramotswe, the protagonist of the series?I don’t think so, as a writer you have to be able to imagine what it is like to be somebody very different from yourself. If you’re a male writer, you should know what it is like to be a woman, and vice versa. I think that’s a basic feature of writing, that you step into the shoes of the other person. You have to be observant, you have to listen to what people say, take a strong interest in other people, in order to write with credibility and empathy.4. How do you view the literary world of today, especially crime fiction?I think we’re living in a time where more books are being published than ever before. There’s an amazing selection of books available to people. It’s also a period of far greater democracy in the publishing world, people are able to publish their own books, if they can’t find a commercial publisher, that means that many people who have been denied a voice in the past, can publish what they write. That’s not to say that all this published material is game to be of the highest standard, but I think it’s that respect, it has opened up things for a lot of voices. At the same time, it makes it more difficult to distinguish between material that is worth reading, and material which is not worth spending too much time on. I think, generally speaking, my books aren’t really crime books. I have one of my characters as a detective, but she’s mostly concerned with problems of people, as compared to crime. I do write another series with criminal investigation, that is a very healthy area of literature these days. I take the view it should be taken very seriously, some people dismiss the genre as being inferior in some way, which is wrong. Novels dealing with criminal matters can be very well-written and can say a lot about psychology and individual psychology.5. You say that you like to portray the African society in a positive light. As a Western writer, do you the third world is often put in a box?Yes, I think so. I think many people fail to understand, for example, developing countries in Africa and they’d put all of them in one category, which is unfair and unjust. These are interesting, complex societies with interesting cultural traditions, and I find it important to look at the positive side of life rather than concentrating on difficulties.6. A little about your upcoming work.I am writing volume two of my new Swedish series, the main character being Inspector Varg, who works in the department of sensitive crimes, in a city of Sweden. I am writing on a book of short stories, while I am in India. And I’d shortly begin work on my next Isabel Dalhousie novel in that series. I’m usually writing 2-3 books at the same time.(Siddhi Jain can be contacted at [email protected])–IANSsj/vin

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