Edinburgh International Book Festival 2016 – Event reviewed (UK)

Date Published: 23rd August 2016

How can you describe such a literary phenomenon as Alexander McCall Smith? This prolific, best selling author with a richly imaginative mind creates the most endearing characters from Precious Ramotswe of Botswana to Bertie at 44 Scotland Street, from the philosophising, art lover sleuth, Isabel Dalhousie to Fatty O’Leary, whose farcical travels to Ireland won The Bolinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction.

Sponsored by Scott-Moncrieff, this event entitled “Edinburgh’s Most Eloquent,” is a fine description of such an intellectual, articulate and poetic writer, joined on stage by the very jovial presenter, Jamie Jauncey. Dressed in smart tartan trews, Mr McCall Smith said it was his greatest pleasure every year to appear at the Book Festival. The focus tonight is on his two most recent books, “My Italian Bulldozer” and “The Bertie Project.”

The conversation begins with a surprising statement – “Oh, I don’t write fiction,” comments our eloquent writer with a laugh, saying he has evidence that his novels are based on fact. It’s true that his books include cameo roles of real people such as Guy Peploe of the Scottish Gallery.

McCall Smith then relates his experience of arriving in Pisa Airport where the reserved rental car was not available and he had no choice but to drive a bulldozer. The way he tells the story all sounds plausible, although a tad far fetched. “My Italian Bulldozer” follows the adventures of Paul Smart who is visiting Montalcino to research a book on Tuscan food, a deliciously romantic comic tale, aromatically scented with truffle and Brunello wine.

“The Bertie Project” is the 11th book in the series, 44 Scotland Street, which is certainly a real street around the corner from the Cumberland Bar, frequented by the artist Angus and his dog Cyril). McCall Smith paints a very accurate portrait of the “ young accountants, estate agents, lawyers, and conspicuous by their less formal attire, some of the more bohemian, the more artistic inhabitants of Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town.”

Poor wee seven year old Bertie has to suffer life with his over-protective, pushy mother Irene; he can’t wait until he is 18 and move to Glasgow, the “promised land”. And a Book Festival chat is not complete without mentioning the Moray Place society of nudists who have endured a rather uncomfortable trip to Glen Etive during the midge season!.

While reading an extract from “The Bertie Project”, he chuckles with laughter at his own jokes. He is very much a sit-down comedian as he regales us with another hilarious anecdote about the comedy of manners, life and times of middle class Edinburgh.

What else can McCall Smith fans look out for? A new Isabel Dalhousie is published next Spring and he is now composing a novel about a Rocket Scientist who buys 26 pairs of Salvatore Ferragamo shoes on Ebay. We are assured that this is based on a true story!

Performance details:
“Alexander McCall Smith, Edinburgh’s Most Eloquent” took place on 17 August.
“My Italian Bulldozer” and “The Bertie Project” are both published by Polygon. See the full list of novels by McCall Smith for adults and children at www.birlinn.co.uk

Published in Edinburgh Guide