Last week's Sunday Standard repeated excerpts from Alexander McCall Smith's lovely interview in Time. There are so many people with so many opinions about Alexander McCall Smith. I think he's lovely. I think he's done wonderful things for Botswana and Batswana writers and other people in the arts. People complain that his books are too happy, that his settings and plots are simplistic and portray Batswana as simpletons. I don't know. Do Mr. Bean and Adrian Mole mean that all British people are silly, self-centred idiots? I don't think so. Fiction, people- isn't this why we all love it? We can make the world we want.
In the interview when McCall Smith is asked about this he says:
"Fiction is able to encompass books that are bleak and which dwell on the manifold and terrible problems of our times. But I don't think that all books need to have that particular focus. If you look at music, do we expect all composers to write dirges? The answer surely is no. There are many other emotions and moods which music can deal with or engage with. And similarly with art. With painting one would expect that there are some which are dark and gloomy and threatening and other paintings that are filed with light and optimism.
But when it comes to literature, there's this curious argument put forth by an extraordinary amount of people that fiction must always dwell on difficulties, and if you write about a situation without dealing with all the difficulties that are attendant on the particular time or place you're writing about, that you're somehow not doing your job as a writer. That seems to me to be an extraordinary argument. My Botswana books are positive, and I've never really sought to deny that. They are positive. They present a very positive picture of the country. And I think that that is perfectly defensible given that there is so much written about Africa which is entirely negative."
I never knew Alexander McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe, I only learned it in this article. It makes me think a bit about Bessie Head. South Africa claims her as their own since she was born there and we claim her as ours since she wrote here. I wonder why Zimbabwe never tries to claim McCall Smith, or perhaps I've just never heard about it.
I was astounded to also learn that he writes four to five books a year. I also write quickly and often wonder if I'm not giving my writing the attention is deserves since I hear of people who take years to write a single novel that I could finish in less than six months. McCall Smith's take on his speedy writing?
"I use an analogy of which I have no actual knowledge — namely tightrope walking. I have never walked on a tightrope, and indeed know nothing about it. But I imagine that tightrope walkers don't actually look down while they're doing their thing, they look ahead, which is the sort of approach I take. If you look at what my commitments are, I'm doing either four or five books a year, which is breaking all the rules of publishing. And If I stop to think, "Well my goodness me, what am I going to do," I would fall off the rope."