Most celebrities arrive at their engagements in a limousine, or perhaps even a helicopter!
However, celebrated author Alexander McCall Smith will be making his way to Lochmaddy, North Uist to give a literary talk on July 24, in an unusual form of transport.
"I keep a Fisher 34 - a very hardy boat," the author explains. "Last year, we sailed to Canna to Lochmaddy, then back up the mainland, so we are going to sail across the Minch for my engagement. I love the idea of sailing in - I do a lot of touring, but this is a unique opportunity to combine a sail with literary activity!"
Mr McCall Smith will be speaking in Lochmaddy as the guest of Comann na Mara (Society of the Sea). This was a result of a meeting last year with Gus Macaulay who heads the group.
Mr McCall Smith relates: "He was very welcoming and said: 'You must come and give a talk here at some point.' Lo and behold, he sent us the invitation and I was delighted to accept it. It will be a general discussion of books. It will be a general discussion about my books and it should be a lovely event. We love the islands and, for many years, we always took the children once every year."
Mr McCall Smith was born in what is now Zimbabwe, had a childhood spent in Africa, an adulthood in Scotland, a short period in Ireland and a year in Botswana... in his own words, he has "been around a bit!" He goes on to say: "I was a Professor of Medical Law at Edinburgh University, but I always used to write in my spare time. Gradually, when the books took off, I decided to become a full-time writer." Producing around four or five books a year, Mr McCall Smith transports readers to the warmth of Botswana in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series, to the streets of Edinburgh in his Scotland Street series and Isabel Dalhousie books, as well as writing stand-alone novels and children's books.
Recognition has recently been received for one of those stand-alone works: Fatty O'Leary's Dinner Party, which chronicles the comedic adventures of an American on holiday in Ireland. This book earned Mr McCall Smith the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize. Describing the style of Fatty O'Leary's Dinner Party as similar to his humorous Professor von Igelfeld books, Mr McCall Smith says: "I just sat down and wrote a ridiculous story and I had great fun!"
Whether they are light-hearted or serious, Mr McCall Smith's books are gentle, warm and amusing - and each of his titles hints at the personality behind the book. "I have a basic idea for the title, then discuss it with my New York editor, Edward Kastenmeier. He has a box of additional adjectives in his office, and he often suggests one to me!" Mr McCall Smith says. One of his upcoming books has a particularly delightful title - The Revolving Door Of Life, which is the latest Scotland Street novel, due to be released in August. This book promises another brief glimpse of freedom for put-upon Bertie when his overbearing mother goes to Dubai. "His grandmother, Nicola, comes and she buys him a kilt and lets him eat pizza and is terrific fun," Mr McCall Smith says.
In October, the latest Mma Ramotswe book will be released, entitled The Woman Who Walked In Sunshine. Younger readers can also enjoy Mma Ramotswe's adventures as a girl in the newly-released Precious And The Zebra Necklace.
In a world where bleak events do occur, Mr McCall Smith's books are like pocket rays of sunshine. How does he maintain his optimistic writing style, but, at the same time, face up to everyday problems? "People say I'm a utopian writer, but I don't think I am," he says. "I dwell on positive aspects of human nature, because the vast majority of people are well disposed towards other people. I think it's possible to be aware of the ways in which the world can be a vale of tears, but one doesn't need to make that the prevailing key of one's work. Philosophically, you can make a case for adopting an optimistic view of things on the grounds that nihilism doesn't actually help."
Mr McCall Smith will be speaking on July 24 at Lochmaddy Village Hall from 7:30pm and you are welcome to attend.
(Interview by Roz Skinner. Photograph by Alex Hewitt.)