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Interview with Alexander McCall Smith

Author's Diary - Ep. 3

HBO

The late Anthony Minghella, who directed the pilot, called 'No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' a quiet poem of Botswana. He discovered a great love for the country and its people. Could you tell us what made Botswana so attractive to you?

Alexander McCall Smith

People often say, when you visit Botswana that you are likely to be impressed by the spirituality of the place. Not in a religious sense, but just a sense of human spirituality, and spiritual possibilities. And, you can't help but be bowled over by the magnificence of the country, by the sense of being in this great natural theater of light and wonderful expanses of countryside and intense natural beauty. It's very moving. It's overwhelming. I fell in love with it.

HBO

So how did you come to set a detective agency in Botswana?

Alexander McCall Smith

It's a great literary device in that, if one were trying to tell the story about a country, about a town, or place, in a detective agency every day somebody can come in with a fresh issue, a fresh problem. These books aren't about crime. What they're about is somebody who helps other people with the problems in their lives.

HBO

How would you describe Mma Ramotswe's detective work?

Alexander McCall Smith

She is somebody who has a very sound, intuitive knowledge of what's what. And she has a very straightforward approach to solving mysteries. She takes the view that if you want to find out something, go and ask somebody, and they'll give you the answer. It's not very complex. But that's what life is like; life isn't like a mystery novel normally. Life is really quite straightforward. I think the little instants of our lives, the little challenges, the little peculiarities, the little amusing incidents are capable of saying a great deal. One can make really profound remarks about the world without resorting to all this tough and violent and distressing stuff.

These books aren't about crime. What they're about is somebody who helps other people with the problems in their lives.

HBO

And modest, too. Are the people of Botswana modest in general?

Alexander McCall Smith

Yes. They take a very modest approach. They're very courteous and modest people. And so somebody like Mma Ramotswe wouldn't boast. She would say, for instance, "Yes, well I'm the only private detective and therefore I am the number one."

HBO

In the series, the characters speak with a certain distinction, is that reflective of African English?

Alexander McCall Smith

Yes. It's very correct. When one considers the awful things that are happening to the English language in various parts of the world, where it's becoming debased and unduly simplified... where a lot of the richness is going. It's very nice to hear English used correctly and to hear people speaking in sentences, which one certainly finds in the English speaking countries in Africa.

HBO

As a country, what differentiates Botswana from the rest of Africa?

Alexander McCall Smith

Botswana is the most successful country in Sub-Sahara Africa, by far. They have been lucky in that, very shortly after independence in 1966, they discovered major diamond deposits, and that made a difference, because they have had a very good and frequent source of income from the diamonds. And they have used that to build roads, hospitals, schools, etc. And, they have had good government. It's a great advertisement for the advantages of democracy.

One can make really profound remarks about the world without resorting to all this tough and violent and distressing stuff.

HBO

And the diamond industry is regulated pretty heavily by the government?

Alexander McCall Smith

It's very well regulated. One knows that those diamonds  the Botswana diamonds  come from impeccable sources. It's a very well-run industry. And it's been socially responsible as well, which is very nice. It's a very positive story, the story of diamonds and Botswana.

HBO

What would you like for us to take away from 'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency?'

Alexander McCall Smith

That we can learn from this particular African society. If it somehow manages to persuade people that a gentle approach to life is possible, is feasible, that that exists, then that's fine. One of the things I suppose I do feel quite strongly about is that Mma Ramotswe has great attachment to the value of forgiveness. She doesn't believe in punishing people and making life difficult for people. She tries to win people over  to use the power of forgiveness, the healing power of forgiveness. I would very much hope that people might pick that up.

 

 

Get more information on the international bestselling 'No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' book series and learn more about the author behind the nine novels on Alexander McCall Smith's website at Random House.

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