1 Shakami

Mccall Smith Alexander Bibliography

McCall Smith’s output is prolific and incredibly diverse, including legal textbooks, picture books and African folk tales for children, and novels for adults, with titles ranging from Law and Medical Ethics (1983) to The Five Lost Aunts of Harriet Bean (1990) to The Girl Who Married a Lion: And Other Tales From Africa (2004).

However, he is most well-known for his series of novels about Botswanian private detective Precious Ramotswe, starting with TheNo. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in 1998.

McCall Smith’s fiction has been inspired by his geographical background and his academic work in law, medicine and ethics. He was born to a Scottish family in the country then known as Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He later taught law at the University of Botswana, then became a professor of medical law in Edinburgh. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and the many sequels that followed, were inspired by life in Botswana, particularly a colourful character whom McCall Smith once observed catching a chicken: ‘She had great style and panache and a wonderful smile […] Botswana is full of people like that, nice and admirable people’ (The New York Times, 6 October 2004; article by Sarah Lyall). The novels are also informed by McCall Smith’s legal expertise. This may imply that the series is dry and dull, but this is far from the case - in fiction, McCall Smith’s interest in the law is depicted in a light and humorous context, with endearing characters, an uncluttered style and a laid-back pace.

The series’ protagonist is Precious Ramotswe, a ‘traditionally-built’ Botswanian woman who sets up her own private detective agency and becomes the first female private detective in the country. Mma Ramotswe is a strong, vivacious, down-to-earth character, whose cases include straying husbands, missing people and con men. The local people are drawn to her intuitive wisdom, common sense and advocacy of old-fashioned values. McCall Smith’s style, in the Detective series and subsequent novels, is deceptively simple. He writes in a clear, uncomplicated prose, yet his work is nonetheless insightful and perceptive. His humour is dry, charming and kind-hearted, revealing an author who is keenly observant without a trace of maliciousness.

McCall Smith also avoids melodrama and titillation, concentrating instead on the minutiae of everyday life. His style seems to derive in part from his close observations of the world around him, and his appreciation of the ‘interestingness’ of everyday existence: ‘I believe that people are very interested in reading about the ordinary things of life. One can make a very simple situation seem interesting - often it is very simple matters that arouse most passions in people’ (California Literary Review, 31 March 2007; article by Uma Girish). McCall Smith also comments on the way in which he entwines his depictions of ordinary life and African culture with humour. This is based on the humour he has observed in sub-Saharan African cultures: ‘They have a strong sense of human values and they are frequently very empathetic. As a result, one finds a balance of humour and good nature in such societies’ (California Literary Review, cited above). The series has been praised particularly for the way in which it captures African life positively without being sentimental or patronising - this is probably due primarily to McCall Smith’s genuine interest in the environment in which he grew up and spent much of his early adulthood.

McCall Smith’s next series, starting with The Sunday Philosophy Club in 2004, has some similarities with Mme Ramotswe’s stories, but this time the location is Scotland. The series, which includes Friends, Lovers, Chocolate (2005), The Right Attitude to Rain (2006) and The Comfort of of Saturdays (2008), centres on Isabel Dalhousie, who lives a materially comfortable existence as the editor of The Review of Applied Ethics, host of ‘The Sunday Philosophy Club’ and amateur sleuth. Isabel’s lifestyle is very different to that of Mme Ramotswe, but they share a similar sense of humour, along with a common-sense approach to right and wrong and a belief in manners and common decency.

Isabel is continually debating with her own conscience - for instance, she feels guilty for reading celebrity gossip - and it is through this character that McCall Smith explores his fascination with everyday moral dilemmas:

'I’m quite intrigued by how modern philosophers who are engaging with the world answer the question of how we should live. In my books I’m increasingly going to look at that question: how people resolve ordinary dilemmas and moral issues in their day-to-day life.' (McCall Smith in The New York Times, cited above) 

It is here that a clear link emerges between McCall Smith’s fiction and his academic background in law and ethics. His fiction, particularly the Philosophy series, demonstrates his remarkable down-to-earth ability to articulate ethical discussion, not only in a manner that is accessible and relevant to everyday life, but also within the context of delightful and humorous fictional stories.

Alongside his two popular series on Mme Ramotswe and Isabel Dalhousie, this prolific author has also produced two more series: 44 Scotland Street and the Von Igelfeld series. 44 Scotland Street and its sequels - Espresso Tales (2005); Love Over Scotland (2006); The World According to Bertie (2007); and The Unbearable Lightness of Scones (2008) - which observe Edinburgh life with the same good-natured humour that is evident in the Botswanian stories, started out as a daily serial in The Scotsman newspaper. This has lead to comparisons with Dickens, whose literary career began in a similar fashion. A tight, pressured deadline which requires 1,000 words daily is something that would make most authors shudder with horror - so McCall Smith’s ability to produce the daily episodes with ease is testimony to his self-discipline and exuberant energy.

The Von Igelfeld series consists of At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances (2003), Portuguese Irregular Verbs (2003) and The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs (2003), all of which were published together as The 2½ Pillars of Wisdom in 2004. The series’ protagonist is Professor Doctor Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, who is described in McCall Smith’s official website as ‘a memorable character whose insouciance is a sublime blend of the cultivated pomposity of Frasier Crane and the hapless gaucherie of Inspector Clouseau’ (http://www.alexandermccallsmith.co.uk). The series affectionately mocks the academic world, and demonstrates McCall Smith’s ability to combine familiar styles and archetypes with his own unique brand of wit and insight.

McCall Smith continues to add regularly to his No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, The Sunday Philosophy Club series and the 44 Scotland Street series. However, unusually for this author, he has also written a stand-alone novel, La’s Orchestra Saves the World (2008). La (short for Lavender), emotionally wounded from a broken marriage, moves to a country village just as World War II breaks out. She forms a local orchestra, and as she heals her own broken heart, she helps others to stay uplifted and strong in the midst of a war-torn world. La’s Orchestra is a poignant story of the strength of the human spirit and, as always, McCall Smith depicts love and friendship without sentimentality.

In 2008, McCall Smith began Corduroy Mansions, an online novel published in 100 episodes on the Telegraph website, followed by book publication in 2009. It is the first of its kind, and McCall Smith allowed readers to make suggestions about the storyline as it progressed. Having set many novels in Africa and Scotland, Corduroy Mansions takes place in Pimlico, London, and explores the lives of the residents of a mansion block. It features McCall Smith’s usual warm-hearted wit and perceptive observations of human nature, along with a skilful episodic structure which has once again led to comparisons with the work of Dickens.

McCall Smith is essentially an optimist who celebrates life. He has faith in the goodness of human nature, and his fiction is uplifting and life-affirming. His depictions of Africa and Britain avoid nitty-gritty social realism and darkness, and this is something for which he has been criticised. Yet his images of life are not naïve or rose-tinted either - he simply prefers to take a humorous approach, and to focus on everyday dilemmas which are ‘manageable’, rather than addressing deep, dark questions which often lead only to despair:

'If we take a hard-nosed look at the world, we could say, “Well, it doesn’t always work, and ultimately people will actually disappoint us”. But the trouble with that is that it isn’t a particularly useful philosophy to get us through life. We can’t necessarily answer the great questions about meaning […] There is a role for books that say to people that life is potentially amusing and that there are possibilities of goodness and kindness - that kindness needn’t be dull, that it can also be elevating and moving.' (McCall Smith in The New York Times, cited above)

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency has been adapted into a popular television series, scripted by Richard Curtis. The pilot version was directed by the late Anthony Minghella.

Elizabeth O’Reilly, 2009   

R. Alexander "Sandy" McCall Smith, CBE, FRSE (born 24 August 1948), is a British writer and Emeritus Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh. In the late 20th century, McCall Smith became a respected expert on medical law and bioethics and served on British and international committees concerned with these issues.

He has since become internationally known as a writer of fiction, with sales of English-language versions exceeding 40 million by 2010 and translations into 46 languages.[1] He is most widely known as the creator of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.[1][2] "McCall" is not a middle name: his two-part surname is "McCall Smith".[3][4]

Early life[edit]

Alexander McCall Smith was born in Bulawayo in 1948 in the British colony of Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe), the youngest of four children.[5] His father worked as a public prosecutor in Bulawayo.[6] McCall Smith was educated at the Christian Brothers College in Bulawayo before moving to Scotland at age 17 to study law at the University of Edinburgh, where he earned his PhD in law.[5][7] He soon taught at Queen's University Belfast, and while teaching there he entered a literary competition: one a children's book and the other a novel for adults. He won in the children's category.[6]

Professional career[edit]

He returned to southern Africa in 1981 to help co-found the law school and teach law at the University of Botswana.[5] While there, he co-wrote what remains the only book on the country's legal system, The Criminal Law of Botswana (1992).[8]

He was Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh and is now Emeritus Professor at its School of Law. He retains a further involvement with the University in relation to the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

He is the former chairman of the Ethics Committee of the British Medical Journal (until 2002), the former vice-chairman of the Human Genetics Commission of the United Kingdom, and a former member of the International Bioethics Committee of UNESCO. After achieving success as a writer, he gave up these commitments. He was appointed a CBE in the New Year's Honours List issued at the end of December 2006 for services to literature.[9] In June 2007, he was awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws at a ceremony celebrating the tercentenary of the University of Edinburgh School of Law. In June 2015 he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters at a graduation ceremony at the University of St Andrews.

Personal life[edit]

He settled in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1984. He and his wife Elizabeth, a physician, bought a Victorian mansion that they renovated and restored, raising their two daughters Lucy and Emily. They lived in the same home in 2010.[1] In the Merchiston area of Edinburgh, he lives close to the authors J. K. Rowling, Ian Rankin and Kate Atkinson.[1][10]

An amateur bassoonist, he co-founded The Really Terrible Orchestra. He has helped to found Botswana's first centre for opera training, the Number 1 Ladies' Opera House,[11] for whom he wrote the libretto of their first production, a version of Macbeth set among a troop of baboons in the Okavango Delta.[12][13]

He is the author of a testimonial in The Future of the NHS (2006).[14]

In 2014, McCall Smith purchased the Cairns of Coll, a remote, uninhabited chain of islets in the Hebrides. He said, "I intend to do absolutely nothing with them, and to ensure that, after I am gone, they are held in trust, unspoilt and uninhabited, for the nation. I want them kept in perpetuity as a sanctuary for wildlife – for birds and seals and all the other creatures to which they are home.” [15]


McCall Smith is a prolific author of fiction, with several series to his credit. He writes at a prodigious rate: "Even when travelling, he never loses a day, turning out between 2,000 and 3,000 words [a day] – but more like 5,000 words when at home in Edinburgh. His usual rate is 1,000 words an hour."[2] He has gained the most fame for his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, featuring Mma Precious Ramotswe and Gaborone, Botswana. The first novel was published in 1998. In 2009, the success of that series was described in The Telegraph: "the staggering success of his Botswanan novels in the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series – they have sold more than 20 million copies in English editions alone and been translated into 40 languages".[2] A further description of his readers, his fans is in strong words: "To say McCall Smith is a literary phenomenon doesn’t quite describe what has happened. He has become more of a movement, a worldwide club for the dissemination of gentle wisdom and good cheer."[2]

According to his publisher in Edinburgh, Polygon (an imprint of Birlinn Books), "He was, until 2005, a professor of medical law at the University of Edinburgh, but gave up the position to concentrate on his writing and now writes full time."[16]

He published 30 books in the 1980s and 1990s before he began the series that has brought him the world's notice.[1] In 2008 he wrote a serialized online novel Corduroy Mansions, with the audio edition read by Andrew Sachs made available at the same pace as the daily publication. He wrote more than ten chapters ahead of publication, finding the experience of serialized publication to be "a frightening thing to create a novel while his readers watched. 'I am like a man on a tightrope.'"[2]

In 2009 he donated the short story Still Life to Oxfam's "Ox-Tales" project, comprising four collections of stories written by 38 British authors. McCall Smith's story was published in the "Air" collection.[17]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ abcdePhilby, Charlotte (19 June 2010). "Alexander McCall Smith: The No1 novelist's guide to Edinburgh". The Independent. Retrieved 26 August 2012. 
  2. ^ abcdeGrice, Elizabeth (13 March 2009). "Alexander McCall Smith talks about 'Corduroy Mansions' – interview". The Telegraph. Retrieved 15 October 2013.  
  3. ^McCall Smith, Alexander. "A. McCall Smith (McCallSmith) on Twitter". Twitter.com. Twitter.com. Retrieved 15 October 2013. 
  4. ^"McCall Smith praises inspiration of islands". The Herald Scotland. 13 October 2013. Retrieved 15 October 2013. 
  5. ^ abc"Alexander McCall Smith: Reader's Guide"(PDF). Just Buffalo Literary Center. Buffalo, New York. 2012. Retrieved 1 December 2017. 
  6. ^ abHunter, Jeffrey W. (2009). Contemporary Literary Criticism. Detroit, Michigan: Gale. ISBN 978-1-4144-1944-2. 
  7. ^Nicoll, Ruaridh (2 May 2004). "Handy Sandy". The Observer. Retrieved 12 May 2008. 
  8. ^Frimpong, Kwame; McCall Smith, Alexander (1992). The Criminal Law of Botswana. South Africa: Juta Publishers. ISBN 978-0702126703. Retrieved 28 June 2016. 
  9. ^"New Year Honours—United Kingdom". The London Gazette. 29 December 2006. Retrieved 3 January 2009. [dead link]
  10. ^Rankin, Ian. "Alexander McCall Smith". No. 1 Magazine, Scotland's Glamorous Glossy. Archived from the original on 1 March 2014. Retrieved 24 February 2014. 
  11. ^"Unknown". Times. (Subscription required (help)). 
  12. ^AFP news report on the "Okavango Macbeth" on YouTube
  13. ^"The Okavango Macbeth". Goodmusic. 2011. Retrieved 28 June 2016. 
  14. ^Tempest, Michelle (2006). The Future of the NHS. ISBN 1-85811-369-5. Retrieved 13 October 2015. 
  15. ^"McCall Smith vows to give Cairns of Coll back". www.scotsman.com. Retrieved 2017-03-17. 
  16. ^"Alexander McCall Smith". Birlinn. Retrieved 28 June 2016. 
  17. ^Oxfam: Ox-TalesArchived 18 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. ^Maclean Dubois; 1st Edition (1997) Retrieved 5 December 2012.
  19. ^Scots language translation by James Robertson

External links[edit]

Alexander McCall Smith signing books in Helsinki April 2007

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