If Canadian poet-novelist Margaret Atwood set the pace with her exquisitely-crafted speech at the inaugural session of the 9th Jaipur Literature Festival, two Scotsmen, author Alexander McCall Smith and festival director William Dalrymple gave the audience one of the best sessions of the day. It was almost laugh-a-minute session with McCall Smith talking about his characters and books, his craft and experiences that have often been the inspiration for his books.
Asked about how he manages to write nearly four books a year, McCall Smith in his trademark style said: “I suffer from a disease called ‘serial novelism… the symptoms: they will write novels after novels and then die… in fact for many authors dying is a great career move.” The audience almost collapsed laughing. “The publishing pressure is immense and sometimes while writing simultaneous novels, sometimes I crossover to the wrong fiction.”
McCall Smith, a former professor of medical law, said that this can be possible only because he is a disciplined writer. He is an early bird and starts writing because his “mind is fresh” at that time. Many a times his unexpected experiences make give him the fodder for a story like The Italian Bulldozer. On a vacation in Italy, McCall Smith was forced to drive a bulldozer to his destination near Pisa since his car rental company could not give him a car. What happened after is the fascinating story.
Does he ever think of killing his characters? “Characters belong to readers,” he said, and then went on to regale the audience with funny stories of what readers have said to him about his books.
And it is not only experiences that feed into his books, but also his dreams. “My dreams are quite narrative,” the creator of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series said. “Fiction originates in the subconscious mind.”
When a young lady, a wannabe author, asked him about writers’ block, he 67-year-old author answered with a smile: “Writers’ block is probably a form of depression or authors say that when they have nothing to say… a lot of people feel that they have a lot to say but actually there is no book in them.”
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