The books, music and luxuries that author Alexander McCall Smith can't live without

The writer of The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency will host a talk at the 2018 Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature in Dubai

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 13: Scottish writer Alexander McCall Smith poses during a portrait session held at Edinburgh Book Festival on August 13, 2007  in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Marco Secchi/Getty Images)
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The 69-year-old Scottish author of The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency has sold over 40 million copies of more than 100 titles, ranging from mysteries and short stories to children’s books and academic texts. An avid sailor and art collector, McCall Smith says he manages to maintain his passions despite a strict work regimen. The author will host a talk at the 2018 Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature in Dubai.

If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would you be?

I would like to find myself in the Australian bush – around Western Australia. When it is not too hot, the air has a lovely dry quality and the trees have the scent of eucalyptus. I would love to wake up to the extraordinary sounds of birdsong, which is absolutely gorgeous. I normally wake up at 4am and write till 7am every day.  

Your perfect meal: where are you and what are you eating?

I am in Tuscany in a small and simple Italian restaurant. I would begin with tasty bean soup – they love their beans in Tuscany – followed by an elegant pasta with olive oil and lots of garlic.

Your dream home: what does it look like?

An old building in France with stone floors and a view of the mountains.

What does luxury mean to you?

To me, it means the aesthetic satisfaction that comes with well-designed surroundings. I am not one to demand water flowing from golden taps, but I would like some beauty in the design. And you know what? That can be simple, too. Simplicity and luxury can go hand in hand.

What's the most overrated luxury, according to you?

Designer clothes – they are totally overrated.

What was your first-ever luxury purchase?

I bought myself a mottled green fountain pen when I was really young, and I remember being so proud of it.

Are you a collector?  

I do have a nice collection of paintings. They are very important to me, and I get great pleasure from looking at them. I have a particular interest in early Scottish paintings and portraiture.

What are you reading at the moment?

I tend to have a whole lot of books on the go, one of which is On Betrayal by Avishai Margalit. This is quite interesting as it is a philosophical study on betrayal and what it means to betray people, locations or causes. Also, every so often, I return to the works of Homer, and I am presently working my way through the Iliad. Before, I read excerpts of it – now I plan to read the whole thing.

Do you use an e-reader?

I tend to read physical books because I love the experience of holding one. But I do understand that on-screen reading is more convenient, and I do think there is a world for both.

What's your next holiday destination?

Sri Lanka is next on the list. I have been looking forward to exploring this beautiful country for a while.

Three things you always travel with?

A copy of WH Auden's collection of poems, a portable kettle and supply of redbush tea, as well as Marmite. I find that hotels don't often have kettles, and instead they have a coffee makeryou can't be having tea from an appliance used to make coffee.

What is the best piece of advice that you've ever received? 

There are two lines in one of the poems by WH Auden, which to me encompasses my philosophy in life. He wrote: "If equal affection cannot be, then let the more loving one be me." You can go through life with just that, and it would answer a lot of life's philosophical questions.

What's your favourite song?

A piece from Mozart's opera Così fan tutte called Soave sia il vento. It's the most beautiful piece of music ever written in my view, and its message is lovely. The message of the aria is, effectively, may the winds of your voyage be gentle, and may all your desires in life be met.

Alexander McCall Smith will be speaking at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature from 1-10 March 2018. Get your Early Bird Discount Tickets at


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