We met up with the famous writer and Stewart Christie & Co. Gentleman's Club Member to ask questions for a Creative Profile Q&A and find out more about the world of Alexander McCall Smith. Alexander wore his double sided, full length Stewart Christie & Co. Mac, tweed side out, on our wander around the New Town of Edinburgh.
Q Fame has come relatively late in life for you, was there a defining moment when you realised you were a household name?
A I don’t think there was a particular moment when I realised that people might know about me. However, I do remember very clearly the day that I realised that my books were taking off in a serious way. That was in New York and I had gone to see my new American publishers. I had expected a brief meeting but discovered that they had arranged a large lunch and numerous meetings. When I eventually left the building – much later than I had expected – I looked up at the sky and the realization came to me that my life was about to change. It was a very strange feeling.
Q You have ventured into children's literature, written many academic papers and you seem to be constantly creating and writing, what do you do to relax?
A I am a very keen sailor. I have a boat over in Argyll and I love being on the water. I go on sailing trips in Scotland but also abroad. A few months ago I sailed in the Malacca Straits.
Q Your childhood was spent in Zimbabwe, what was your favourite childhood adventure?
A Going camping in the bush. In retrospect, that was quite dangerous. I remember finding a very dangerous snake right next to the tent.
Q Do you still play the bassoon and will we ever get to hear Edinburgh's RTO (ReallyTerrible Orchestra) play at the Usher Hall?
A I still play in the Really Terrible Orchestra, although I have a bad record of attendance at rehearsals. My wife and I set that orchestra up twenty years ago to provide a home for musically challenged players. We have played in the Usher Hall before – about ten years ago, I think. We have also been on tour to London and New York.
Q You have been compared to Harold Pinter due to the realism of your characters, do you think this is the reason your books translate so well into a screenplay?
A That’s a bit too flattering! I think my Botswana characters did come out rather well in the films - the other series are currently optioned for television, but we shall have to wait and see how they work.
Q Stewart Christie & Co featured in 44 Scotland Street, do you think we would make a good novel or more of short story?
A Stewart Christie has been mentioned in a number of the Scotland Street books. I think the shop is a good character in either a short story or novel.
Q You have been a client of the company for many years, which is your favourite Item purchased from the store?
A I have bought suits, jackets, kilts and so on. However, one purchase I am particularly fond of is a pair of Dubarry boots. I wear those a great deal when I am in Argyll. I also wear the linen suit you made for me a lot – it is a real favourite of mine.
Q Where do you get the inspiration for your characters and have you ever portrayed yourself as a character in any of your books?
A I get inspiration for characters from observation of those I meet. I don’t think I would ever like to be a character in one of my books although in one of the Mma Ramotswe books Mma Ramotswe sees a photograph of somebody who might just be me!
Q Scotland and Edinburgh are a constant source of inspiration for writers, artists and poets. Are there any emerging creatives who you particularly admire?
A There are a number of emerging writers who have interesting things to say about Scotland and Edinburgh. I would prefer not to single anybody out.
Q We know you are a very private person but will we one day be able to read your autobiography or is this a project for someone else?
A I would never like to write an autobiography, I’m afraid. Sorry about that!
Many thanks Sandy, we look forward to seeing you soon!
Name Will Lyons
Occupation Writer, Columnist, Wine Expert.
In your role tasting so many wines do you mainly enjoy european wines or the New World wines?
My first love has always been the classic wines of Europe. I very much learned to taste wines analytically in Edinburgh at the University Wine Society, a city which has been drinking and enjoying the wines of Bordeaux for hundreds of years. Back then we were fortunate enough to taste a wide variety of wines from all over the world. But it was a Scotsman, Hew Blair, then buying director of Justerini & Brooks who introduced me to the great wines of Bordeaux, the Loire and Burgundy. In 2005 I started writing a wine column for Scotland on Sunday newspaper, then I was 28 and I made a point of writing about the great wines of France. When I filed a column on vintage Krug Champagne, it raised a few eyebrows with the editor as it cost more than £200 a bottle!
Have European wines generally improved since you started wine tasting?
I think all wines have improved. Improvements in viticulture, greater understanding of picking grapes at optimum ripeness, good husbandry in the vineyards, the introduction of sorting tables and a general upsurge in investment has pushed quality levels to new highs. If you drive around the vineyards of Bordeaux, the investment in new winemaking and tasting facilities is colossal. Take Château Margaux, not content with having perhaps the grandest looking property in the world they recently opened a brand-new cellar designed by Norman Foster.
Brexit! This must have caused European wine prices to rise with the fall in the value of the £. Is life going to get tougher for the wine-lover?
Without sitting on the fence my honest answer is, it’s too early to tell. What we do know is that we have been buying and trading the wines of Europe since Medieval times and Bordeaux has been regularly drunk in Scotland since the 12th century. Having said that, today the wine map is truly global and the U.K. drinks more wine from Australia than any other country. Sorry to be so vague – with Brexit there are no easy answers!
Mark Thomson is simply the best chap for the job - Ambassador to Scotland for Glenfiddich Single Malt Whisky and a man of Distinction and Style
Ian was brought up in Fife, but finally settled in Edinburgh, with his wife and two sons. Before becoming a full-time novelist, he had a rather wide variety of character building jobs, such as a grape picker, taxman, alcohol researcher, hi-fi journalist, college secretary and punk musician-to name but a few. Now his immense passion and knowledge for music and writing go hand in hand. We had the great pleasure of Ian's company in the Oxford Bar for a quick pint and a catch up, after measuring him up in the store for his first Stewart Christie bespoke three-piece, in a soft grey lambswool tweed to be completed for the Edinburgh International Book Festival, where he will present various events in true Scottish style.
Name? Ian Rankin
Do you usually complete your work and then get it published or have you got some novels that you’ve secretly shelved that you may finally release at a later date?
I've only got one unpublished novel - my very first. Unlikely ever to see the light of day. It was a not very funny comedy set in a Highland hotel. There is one novel, Westwind, which was published, but I was unhappy with. I've never allowed it to be reissued.
Very interested to know what you are currently working on that we may look forward to?
This is a sabbatical year. I am tinkering and pottering, but not doing a novel. A few short stories, meetings about film and TV. Travelling to festivals far and wide to promote Inspector Rebus' 30th anniversary.
It’s incredible that Rebus has been translated into 22 different languages, have you ever read them in other languages? We understand you resided in France for a while. It must be quite a strange feeling to see them in French, not that you would read it, but is there anything that would make you read any of your novels again once you've written them?
Translated into 35 languages - I need to update the information available online! I lived in France for six years but it wasn't translated into French until after I'd moved back to the UK, which was a bit annoying. I only ever reread my novels when asked by my publisher to provide the introduction to some new edition.
Where do you find your inspiration in Edinburgh for such crime stories? Do you have a few "favourite haunts" you like to go to and write, or are you one of those writers who is constantly inspired throughout the day, like Alexander McCall Smith, who is forever writing?
I write seldom. I'm certainly no McCall Smith. The man is a machine. I hang out in pubs, especially the Oxford Bar. I eavesdrop on conversations. I go for drinks with retired cops. I am also a news junkie, and often get ideas from newspaper reports and such like.
We know you have a great passion for music. In a recent interview with Tim Burgess at the book festival, we experienced your immense knowledge of artists and albums, it was an interesting talk. Would you host or partake in more of them this year?
Like most crime writers, I am a frustrated rock star. Putting so much music in my books has led me to form friendships with a host of musicians, which is a lovely bonus. I will be interviewing at least one musician at this year's festival - but it's under wraps at the moment.
We spent the day with Dominic Le Moignan, a London based Actor and Creative Director up Arthur's Seat to test out the performance of his bespoke three-piece in a rifle green barathea.