Alexander McCall Smith is one of the world's most beloved authors—his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books, which inspired an HBO series, have sold more than 20 million copies, and most of his 60-plus novels have become bestsellers. Though they're set in disparate locales, Smith's works are linked by their gentle humor and generous spirit. His latest book, Corduroy Mansions, depends on the chaos that can arise when many people simply go about the job of living their lives in a small pocket within a larger city—London. It was first published as a serial—in print, and via podcast—by the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph newspaper and has just been released in the U.S. McCall Smith took a moment to speak to BookPage about the appeal of writing series and where he gets his sense of humor.
Writing series (at last count you have five on the go now) is your bread and butter. What is the allure to writing continuing series rather than stand-alone fiction? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all of your creations?
In some sense Corduroy Mansions feels very English and almost like a print version of such British staples as the long-running soap Coronation Street. Were you at all influenced by that show (or any other)?
Corduroy Mansions is the first in a new series set in London. How is writing about it different than writing about Edinburgh or Botswana? What made you choose London as the setting for this story?
A lot of the fun of your books is the humor you put into them. Are there other writers whose sense of humor you admire?
Philosophy plays a part in much of your work—there's a great scene in Corduroy Mansions where a character speculates on Freud as applied to the banking crisis. Do you often find yourself applying a philosophical outlook to everyday life?
You’ve published serial fiction, short story collections, children’s books and even academic texts on law and ethics. Is there any genre you haven’t tackled yet that you’d love to have a go at?
Corduroy Mansions was first released as weekly serial online, much as the works of Charles Dickens and other Victorian writers were. What made you decide to write a new series in this way?
With the ever-increasing popularity of the internet and ebooks, several notable authors have taken to releasing their books for free online. To some extent Corduroy Mansions is an expansion on this concept. What were your motivations in releasing the book online for free first?
>One of your most popular works is The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. Given that those novels always involve a dash of mystery, they must involve some degree of plotting. Did you find that in writing this way your writing became more flexible and spontaneous? To what extent was plot influenced by reader reactions?
When it comes to publication rates, few authors are as prodigious as you! How do you manage to write so unceasingly? Do you ever worry you might one day find your creative well has run dry?
I hope it won't! I very much enjoy what I do, and I suppose that helps.