Review of 'An Afternoon with Alexander McCall Smith'

Write on Kew


Alexander McCall Smith was interviewed by Alex Clark about his prolific writing for about 45 minutes. He was thoroughly enjoyable throughout making up some bizarre stories including him renting a bulldozer in Italy because they ran out of cars at the rental shop (“great views of the countryside”). A sharp wit Smith is able to also articulate very accurately what he does and the personality of his characters. A large amount of his talk was about his “No. 1 Detective Agency” novels set in Botswana – his first big literary success and a series that continues ever on. He did, however, touch on some of his other pursuits including his involvement in The Really Terrible Orchestra - A lot of fun.

One theme that was touched on several times was that his work is always very positive and good-natured. A question from the audience mentioned that his books have been assigned to people in anger therapy for precisely this reason. Talking about the “Botswana” books he mentioned that even though it is a detective agency, the books are definitely no crime novels, indeed, what little violence that occurs tends to be off-stage, as it were (he had a bit of a beef with crime writers who talk about writing “realistic” crime but always concentrating on the quite unusual crime of murder rather than, say, traffic crime which is far more realistic and common).

Smith appeared to me to be sort of an uncle figure, seeming to be slightly shy, looking at the ground frequently (though always listening intently), then mischievously taking a point and spinning a fantastic yarn. He frequently had the crowd in stitches yet always quite serious about his work.

I very much enjoyed this talk and also some words I had with him at the book signing that followed the talk which touched me quite deeply. Having lived in Africa for several years myself, I mentioned to him the concerns I had about someone living in Scotland writing about Africa when I first starting reading his books many years ago but then learning that he lived in Africa for some time and has been involved there ever since - so knew what he was talking about - and that he was portraying a very positive view of contemporary Africa to an audience used to hearing only negatives from that continent. He heartily agreed with my comments and talked to me in the most serious voice I had heard him use all evening - I annoyed those in the queue behind me as we chatted…At the end he stood up and shook my hand. I was really touched. I felt he was very sincere and, indeed, real.

The venue was a large hall in the basement of the Banks Building very close to Elizabeth Gate in Kew Gardens which seated several hundred people (and was crowded even at that). A good venue if a bit flat so those at the back probably did not have a great view (second row visibility was great!).


Review Date: 2016-09-25

Kew Gardens

Location: London (England)

Address: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB

Public Transport: NRLOGO Kew Gardens TUBE Kew Gardens

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 8332 5655


Wonderful place to visit with extensive gardens as well as the famous pagoda, the lake, and greenhouse with a very long history. The new treetop walk is also a great thing to do. Worth spending a good amount of time just wandering around - A day well spent.

There are a number of annual events held here including the Orchid Festival, “Kew the Music”, “Write on Kew” and,“Christmas at Kew”.