Author McCall Smith defends his "upbeat" Africa

Fri Jan 22, 2010 1:18am EST
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By Rina Chandran

JAIPUR, India (Reuters Life!) - Alexander McCall Smith has sometimes been criticized for portraying an unreal Africa, but the creator of a series of detective novels set in Botswana believes writers are unfairly condemned for their craft.

In Smith's "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series, there is little corruption, disease or dictatorship, but it was not his intention to be deliberately upbeat, he said.

"I didn't sit down planning to write a sunny, bright book about Africa," he said at the Jaipur Literature Festival during a discussion of his works.

"Sub-Saharan Africa has a lot of problems, but it is not universally bleak and I wanted to show the inherent goodness in Botswana, which is a very well run country, with very little corruption and a wonderful people," said Smith, who taught medical law for many years in Edinburgh.

"Some people say it's the role of a fiction writer to show the reality. But they don't say that about the other arts: they don't ask, why are you painting cheerful flowers when there are so many problems in the world?"

Smith, who was born in Zimbabwe and worked briefly in Botswana, turned seriously to writing after winning a competition with a children's book, which was never published. He has written more than 30 books for children since then.

But it was his "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series that catapulted him to fame, although it was first published by a small Scottish publisher with a print run of only 1,500 copies.

"They were very pleased when they had to do a re-print of 500 copies," said Smith, who has the affability of his most famous protagonist Mma Ramotswe, because of whom he says he is "constantly accosted by traditionally built" African women who want to appear in his novels.   Continued...