Category Archives: Alexander McCall Smith

The Truth Has Found Me Out: I Am a Serial Killer

In the preface of The World According to Bertie, McCall Smith writes, “All of [my characters] are, in their own way, looking for some sort of resolution in their lives, some happiness, which is what, I suppose, all of us are doing. Some of them find it in this volume–or appear to find it–others will have to wait. The whole point of a serial novel is that the future is open. If freedom eludes Bertie in this book, and if Big Lou does not just yet find romantic fulfillment, then all is not lost–there is always another chapter.”

Some of you know I began writing a serial novel on this blog more than a year ago. Some of you were regular readers of this serial novel–probably not you, however, because those readers most likely dropped my blog after I failed to fulfill my commitment to you with weekly installments. To you people whom I let down (and I know there was a handful, because I received e-mails from some of you), I owe you an apology. What use is a writer who doesn’t make good on her word, who doesn’t finish the work she begins?

By way of excuse, I’ll tell you a little secret: I was writing my serial for fun. I was writing it to escape the pressure of slamming out words with the hope of traditional publication–to escape from monotonous editing–and to engage in the sheer fun of creating characters and their stories. When the writing of the serial ceased to be enjoyable, I stopped midway, approximately 20,000 words in. At 1000 words per entry per week, 20,000 words divides into quite a few weeks of pleasure for Ella and Anthony and their mystery. But that doesn’t change the lack of resolution for these people and their lives.

It’s no secret that McCall Smith doesn’t waste much of his precious time on editing. He has a formula. And with his serial installments, he manages to tie his many threads together with a final party and poem. Most of the time, this works for him. His threads flow together, and it’s obvious he enjoys himself while working them–or he’s clever enough to hide his boredom. Occasionally, he backs himself into a corner, as with his first volume of Corduroy Mansions, and then simply wraps up the book because he must. However, in his own defense, he says of Corduroy Mansions, “[T]hese stories are character-based: what interests me is what makes the characters tick rather than intricate and potentially confusing plots” (The Telegraph).

I sorely wish I could exchange my anxiety and bad attitude for his attitude of fun. I wish I could shed my skin and escape myself, tell myself my serial is all about the characters. That’s all I care about in fiction, anyway. That’s all I care about in actual life, to be honest. I like people, and I enjoy watching them and determining the reasons behind their actions. Oh, I can’t help myself! I keep returning to his McCall Smith’s last words in the top quote: “[T]here is always another chapter.”

There is, isn’t there? And that brings me hope. Thank you, Alexander McCall Smith for your completed serials, and for your philosophy on life (I’ll learn someday that his philosophy is borne out of anxiety, too, and then I’ll nod and commiserate.) 

p.s. I had a comment suggesting I increase my font size, which was previously set at “normal”. Now it’s set on large. Is this better? Did you know you have the ability to increase the font size on your screen by hitting Ctrl +?


Half Magic is Full Magic to Me

Half Magic, by Edward Eager, was one my favorite books as a child. I rediscovered it recently–or, my children discovered it–at a library book sell, nearly lost to eager book searchers (forgive my pun) in the numerous dusty boxes of books spread across the community gym floor. I had to wait, of course, for both my eldest daughters to read it, but finally, finally, they left it for me on my desk. If they want me to read a book, they leave it on my desk, where I might push it aside if I can’t immediately read it. I did not push Half Magic aside.

Have you ever wondered why people seem to have different attractions to books, almost in the same way that they are biologically attracted to other people? As an adult, Alexander McCall Smith is one of my favorite authors, and I immediately began to wonder, when reading Eager’s book, if McCall Smith read this author as a child, also. For a start, there is the fencing scene in Half Magic, in which one knight lops off the tip of the other knight’s nose. Could it be a coincidence that this happens in a Dr. von Igelfeld Entertainment? Perhaps it is; perhaps so, but what of the strange mother–who becomes Jane’s mother near the end of the story–who is a spitting image of Bertie’s mother from the Scotland Street series?

I’m not even half suggesting that Alexander McCall Smith ripped of Edward Eager. On the contrary, McCall Smith’s books are clearly unique and wonderful. I’m simply wondering if authors subconsciously hold onto the details from books, as if they were buried childhood memories that then work themselves out here and there in their texts.

If that were the case, then I suppose details from Nancy Drew books would find themselves in my books (not to mention Half Magic, but no nose-lopping for me, thanks. I couldn’t possibly make it as unique as Igelfeld, and his poor friend who has his nose stitched on upside-down.)

What books would it be for you?