Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Four Scotsmen and an oystercatcher . . .

Ran to post office (as best I could in blazing sunshine and wearing flip-flops) at 5.10 pm just in time to get a parcel sent Special Delivery to East Kilbride. Emerged from post office at 5.20 pm to that wonderfully nose-tingling smell of rain hitting scorched tarmac. By 5.22 pm, and still some several hundred yards from home, I was completely drenched, the road was a river, and I was carrying my flip-flops lest they float clean off my feet. Ahem, Mr Weather Man, wot is goin' on, please? Not a blue drop to be seen on your confident yellow forecast for the Colchester area this morning, I note.

Just visited Alexander McCall Smith’s very nice website . A copy of his latest novel, The World According to Bertie, is on its way to me from Amazon. It should rightfully go to the bottom of the pile of yet-to-be-read books on my bedside bookcase, but I have a feeling (actually, I’m completely certain), that I will drop all other reading matter the instant it arrives and read it from cover to cover, ignoring all interruptions. McCall Smith is like no other – his fan-base is wider and more varied than that of any other writer I’ve come across. He cuts across boundaries and defies categorisation. Readers either ‘get’ him or they don’t at all. He’s one of those writers whom it is impossible to recommend to other readers, because one can simply never tell whether someone’s going to like his novels. There's a minimalism to his writing, a consistent lightness of touch, yet also a profound sense of wisdom, humanity and - well, 'goodness', really, I suppose - but never in remotely sickly or facile sense. The title of one of his novels, Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, just about sums up how I feel about AMC’s books – they're cosy, familiar yet challenging, stimulating yet deeply reassuring, ultimately rather sweet and delicious and you just want lots, lots more.

As soon as I discovered, several years ago, that the first of the 44 Scotland Street stories was going to be serialised in The Scotsman newspaper, I signed up immediately to receive a free electronic copy of that august publication (why are publications always ‘august’ when one is grubbing around for a tired old cliché?) every morning in my email inbox. Silly me. Only subscribers to the exclusive PAID FOR (at vast cost) version of the e-Scotsman were allowed to read the serialised novel. Might have guessed. A cryptic clue in the title of the publication, you say? Oh, surely not! You cannot possibly suppose that I would stoop so low as to indulge in any lazy cross-border stereotyping? The very idea.

Suffice to say, I had to wait almost a year and then fork out a double-figure sum of my English Pounds before I could get my hands on, and my eyes inside, the first in the Scotland Street series. By then I was already a devotee of the Mma Ramotzwe series.

Before he became a best-selling novelist, as is now well known, Alexander McCall Smith was a Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh, and co-author of Mason and McCall Smith's Law and Medical Ethics, now in its seventh edition (although while it still bears his name he does not, I believe, any longer contribute), which was for many years published by Butterworths (before they sold it to Oxford University Press). For a number of its Butterworths editions, the book was copy edited and typeset by me. I didn’t ever actually meet AMC, however, because his co-author, the delightful Professor Ken Mason always co-ordinated everything. This is, of course, now a source of mild regret – it would have been good to meet the man in his ‘before he was famous’ days (although, of course, he was justly renowned in the world of legal academia and far beyond, long before his novels were widely published).

Anyway, this was meant to be a very short posting to say – do please have a look at the AMC website – it has charming animated illustrations by Hannah Firmin and the incomparable Iain McIntosh , and you can, should you wish, join a forum in which to discuss his works.

As usual, I have rambled on for ages. When does a musing turn into a rambling? Now there’s a Thought For The Day. If anyone can shed any light on this, do please get in touch.

Finally, for the strange tale of the Mersea oystercatcher who was attacked by an oyster, see Mersea Wildlife Blog .

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