Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Confessions of a Really Terrible Writer

In the church

I should point out that the Really Terrible Writer of the title refers to myself, not to Alexander McCall Smith, the speaker of the first event I attended at this year's Oundle Festival of Literature.

It comes from the opening words of Alexander's talk when he described his ability to 'partly play' the Bassoon in the Really Terrible Orchestra (helping the musically disadvantaged since 1995), where, unable to play any of the high notes, he is forced to wait for the music to descend to a level where he can pick up the score.

St. Peters Church was packed for the event. This was obviously a hot ticket and by all accounts, could have been sold out many times over. As I took my seat, I must admit that I was not at all sure what to expect. He is, after all,   Emeritus Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh and famous author, so anything could happen.

I wasn't disappointed. He spoke with great wit, warmth and a deprecating humour about a wide range of topics including his huge portfolio of work. Among the anecdotes he treated his audience with was an explanation of his affliction of being a serial novelist (although laying the blame partly at the door of his publisher who insisted that characters should marry at the end of books, not simply become engaged). We were told that nothing much happens in his books and he just didn't do car chases and the nearest he has come is a thrilling chase involving supermarket trolleys.

I admit to a fair amount of jealousy when he told us that he writes about 1000 words an hour (he treats writing the same way as walking a tightrope 'I just look straight ahead and never look down and just keep going') and complete a book in two months.

There were numerous other topics touched on and of course anecdotes from Botswana, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and his heroine, Precious Ramotswe.

At the end, there was a touching moment when the daughter of a man behind the SOS Children's Villages in Botswana asked a question. Alexander played a handsome tribute to her father as well as admitting that he drew on his visits there for some characters and the famous fruit cake in the stories.

All in all, a good evening. When I left, the book stall was in full swing and the signing queue was still snaking around the back of the church. As I turned up my collar and stepped out into the wind and the rain, I couldn't help agreeing with Alexander McCall Smith in bemoaning the lack of authors writing for the Dry Cleaning genre and wondering if I could ever put that right - although it would never be at 1000 words per hour.

As Saturday is fast approaching (tickets still available at reasonable prices and there will even be refreshments serves!), in the course of researching this entry, I came across the blog for the Really Terrible Orchestra.


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