McCall Smith’s generous writing and dry humor, his gentleness and humanity, and his ability to evoke a place and a set of characters without caricature or condescension have endeared his books to readers
— New York Times
Alexander McCall Smith, often referred to as ‘Sandy’, is one of the world’s most prolific and best-loved authors. For many years he was a professor of Medical Law and worked in universities in the UK and abroad before turning his hand to writing fiction. He has written and contributed to more than 100 books including specialist academic titles, short story collections, and a number of immensely popular children’s books. His first book, The White Hippo—a children’s book, was published by Hamish Hamilton in 1980.
But it wasn’t until the publication of the highly successful The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series that Alexander became a household name. The series has now sold over twenty million copies in the English language alone, and since the books took off, he has devoted his time to writing.
His various series of books have been translated into forty-six languages and become bestsellers throughout the world. These include the popular 44 Scotland Street novels, first published as a serial novel in the Scotsman newspaper and now the longest-running serial novel in the world; the Isabel Dalhousie novels, and the von Igelfeld series. He is also the author of the Corduroy Mansions series, which started life as an engaging cross-media serial written for the Telegraph online.
In addition to these series, Alexander has written a number of stand-alone novels and collections of stories, including The Forever Girl, Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party, My Italian Bulldozer, The Second Worst Restaurant in France, Chance Developments, Pianos and Flowers, The Exquisite Art of Getting Even & Private Life of Spies.
Earlier stand alone books include Trains and Lovers: A Heart’s Journey; La’s Orchestra Saves the World; and Emma—a reworking of the classic Jane Austen novel.
Alexander’s first collection of poetry, In a Time of Distance, was published during the Covid pandemic and a second collection, I Think of You, follows in 2023.
He has also authored many non-fiction titles, the latest of which are A Work of Beauty: Alexander McCall Smith’s Edinburgh and What W.H. Auden Can Do For You.
Recently Alexander has written a new children’s series—The School Ship Tobermory—and we now have four books in the series. This increases the number of children’s books he has written to more than thirty.
Alexander has received numerous awards for his writing and holds twelve honorary doctorates from universities in Europe and North America. In 2007 he received a CBE for services to literature and in 2011 was honoured by the President of Botswana for services through literature to the country. In 2015 he received the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction and in 2017 The National Arts Club of America—Medal of Honor for Achievement in Literature. In 2020, he received the honorary fellowship of the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival. And in 2022 he received the Lifetime Achievement in the Saltire Literary Awards.
The breadth of his body of work vividly evokes places and characters who are infused with humanity, decency, wit and humour –The National Arts Club citation
Alexander received the Saltire Society Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022 for contribution to the Arts at the Scottish Book Awards. This prestigious Award meant all the more, coming as it did from his home country of Scotland. He joins previous recipients including titans of Scottish writing, Alasdair Gray, Edwin Morgan and Robin Jenkins.
In 2021, Alexander received the coveted Edinburgh Award,
“It’s an honour and a pleasure to present one of the Capital’s most prestigious accolades, the Edinburgh Award, to Alexander McCall Smith. His bestselling novels continue to draw positive, worldwide attention to the city and I’m delighted that fans of his work can now enjoy seeing his handprints immortalised in stone on our very own Edinburgh Award ‘walk of fame’.” – Rt Hon Lord Provost of the City of Edinburgh, Frank Ross
Previous recipients include Ian Rankin OBE (2007) and JK Rowling OBE (2008), as well as fellow academics Professor Peter Higgs (2011) and Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea (2017)
The Covid crisis prevented Alexander from receiving in person the honorary fellowship of the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival in April this year. He is however delighted to be honoured in this way. Previous recipients of the honorary fellowship have been Joanne Harris (2019), Anthony Horowitz (2018), Dame Penelope Lively (2017), Sir Alan Ayckbourn (2016), David Lodge (2015), Jan Morris (2014), Philip Pullman (2013), William Boyd (2012), Sir Kazuo Ishiguro (2011), Dame Antonia Byatt (2010) and Baroness P D James (2009).
Alexander was named as the recipient of the prestigious Edinburgh Award, 2020, chosen by the people and cross-party politicians of Edinburgh.
The National Arts Club of America—Medal of Honor for Achievement in Literature
Too often in Scotland we take our great writers or artists for granted, failing to see them as others elsewhere in the world do. We should all be proud of Mr McCall Smith’s achievements as he takes his place among such esteemed company– Scotsman (on news of the award of the National Arts Club Medal of Honor)
The Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction
Duke University, NC, USA—Duke LEAF Award for Lifetime Environmental Achievement in the Fine Arts
Burke Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Public Discourse through the Arts, Debating Society of Trinity College, Dublin
Presidential Order of Merit from the President of Botswana for services through literature to the country
Giuseppe Acerbi Literary Prize, Italy
Great Scot Award from National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA
Theakston Old Peculier Award—Book of the Year for Blue Shoes and Happiness
CBE for Services to Literature
Senior Fellow, Massey College, Toronto
British Book Awards—Author of the Year Award
Bookseller’s Association—Author of the Year Award
The SAGA Award for Wit
University of St Andrews – Honorary Doctor of Literature
University of Stirling – Honorary Doctor
University of Buckingham—Honorary Doctor of Letters
Southern Methodist University, Dallas—Honorary Doctor of Letters
Queen’s University, Belfast—Honorary Doctor of Letters
Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario—Honorary Doctor of Law
Newman College, University of Leicester—Honorary Doctor of Letters
University of East Anglia—Honorary Doctor of Science
University of Edinburgh—Honorary Doctor of Laws
University of British Columbia—Honorary Doctor of Letters
Aberdeen University—Honorary Doctor of Letters
University of Parma—Honorary Doctor of Law
Napier University—Honorary Doctor of Letters
University of Edinburgh Ph.D.
University of Edinburgh, LL.B. (Bachelor of Laws)
Not just a bestselling author and the man behind The Great Tapestry of Scotland, Alexander is also heavily involved with a number of charitable organisations across the globe.
Since 2004 he has been a Patron of Waverley Care, a Scottish charity that provides care and support to people living with HIV or Hepatitis C. The organisation also works to prevent new infections and raise awareness of both conditions.
In 2009 Alexander became a Patron of the Global Alliance For Rabies Control, an Edinburgh and US-based charity aimed at preventing human deaths from rabies and working to alleviate the effects of the disease in animals.
Alexander is also Patron of the Three Lochs Book & Arts Festival held every two years at the Sunart Centre in northwest Highland Scotland. Held over one weekend and with smaller events running throughout the year, the two-day festival encompasses everything from music and comedy, to literature and film. Previous speakers have included Jackie Kay, Linda Cracknell and Iain Banks.
Closer to home, Alexander is also heavily involved with a number of local charities and organisations. He is a Patron of the Eric Liddell Centre based in Morningside, Edinburgh; a charity that provides specialist care and support for people of all ages, cultures and abilities. Alexander is also a Benefactor of Edinburgh International Book Festival, a Patron of the National Library of Scotland, and of the National Museums Scotland and the Founding Trustee and Chairman of the Great Tapestry of Scotland Charitable Trust.
Alexander visits Botswana at least once a year (other than in the recent pandemic) and takes many trips across the world, regularly meeting with readers in India, Australia, America, and Canada as well as visiting festivals and bookshops to meet readers throughout the UK and Europe.
See below for a gallery of images from Alexander’s trip to Botswana.