Last weekend I struggled from my sickbed and went to hear Alexander McCall Smith speak. This may be a good time to think the two kind people who drove me there and back respectively, by the way :)
I love Alexander McCall Smith. My favourite of his series is 44 Scotland Street. When I read it, I was living in a Georgian house subdivided into flats too, although the fellow occupants of my building weren't as interesting or as pleasant (I only encountered one of them, and I'm saving her for a novel). I also love Isabel Dalhousie, and Precious Ramotswe and the whole shooting gallery.
Sandy, as he likes to be called, is terribly charming and utterly lovely, and I'd go to hear him speak again. My favourite bit was probably his story about how he met his friend Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers ('Mr. Flea', he calls him) at a lunch in Beverly Hills and Flea invited him to a concert (Sandy sent his daughter and a friend as he couldn't go. Flea put chairs for them beside the stage and they ended up all over the TV).
He also addressed that fact that he has been criticised for producing 'light reading', and for his lack of realism. And it is true that his books are sweet, and escapist, and easy to read, and his protagonists tend to be very nice people with sound moral outlooks on life. But he does deal with difficult subjects - he just does it with a very pleasant and sweet voice rather than a cynical one, and through the eyes of the aforementioned nice protagonists. But he writes the books he wants to write, and he does it in a way that no one else can do. Which, let's be honest, is what we all should be after.
A side note: Sandy mentioned that although he's often classified as a crime writer, he feels uncomfortable with the label. He said Ian Rankin, who lives near him in Edinburgh, is a proper crime writer, with stubble and a leather jacket and several black t-shirts.
My friend, who was with me, leaned over at this point and whispered 'So it turns out that being a writer is largely sartorial, then.'
'Looks like it. How do you feel about that?'
' . . . delighted, actually!'