R. Alexander "Sandy" McCall Smith, CBE, FRSE (born 24 August 1948), is a British writer and Emeritus Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh. In the late 20th century, McCall Smith became a respected expert on medical law and bioethics and served on British and international committees concerned with these issues.

He has since become internationally known as a writer of fiction, with sales of English-language versions exceeding 40 million by 2010 and translations into 46 languages.[1] He is most widely known as the creator of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.[1][2] "McCall" is not a middle name: his two-part surname is "McCall Smith".[3][4]

Early life

Alexander McCall Smith was born in Bulawayo in 1948 in the British colony of Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe), the youngest of four children.[5] His father worked as a public prosecutor in Bulawayo.[6] McCall Smith was educated at the Christian Brothers College in Bulawayo before moving to Scotland at age 17 to study law at the University of Edinburgh, where he earned his PhD in law.[5][7] He soon taught at Queen's University Belfast, and while teaching there he entered a literary competition: one a children's book and the other a novel for adults. He won in the children's category.[6]

Professional career

He returned to southern Africa in 1981 to help co-found the law school and teach law at the University of Botswana.[5] While there, he co-wrote what remains the only book on the country's legal system, The Criminal Law of Botswana (1992).[8]

He was Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh and is now Emeritus Professor at its School of Law. He retains a further involvement with the University in relation to the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

He is the former chairman of the Ethics Committee of the British Medical Journal (until 2002), the former vice-chairman of the Human Genetics Commission of the United Kingdom, and a former member of the International Bioethics Committee of UNESCO. After achieving success as a writer, he gave up these commitments. He was appointed a CBE in the New Year's Honours List issued at the end of December 2006 for services to literature.[9] In June 2007, he was awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws at a ceremony celebrating the tercentenary of the University of Edinburgh School of Law. In June 2015 he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters at a graduation ceremony at the University of St Andrews.

Personal life

He settled in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1984. He and his wife Elizabeth, a physician, bought a Victorian mansion that they renovated and restored, raising their two daughters Lucy and Emily. They lived in the same home in 2010.[1] In the Merchiston area of Edinburgh, he lives close to the authors J. K. Rowling, Ian Rankin and Kate Atkinson.[1][10]

An amateur bassoonist, he co-founded The Really Terrible Orchestra. He has helped to found Botswana's first centre for opera training, the Number 1 Ladies' Opera House,[11] for whom he wrote the libretto of their first production, a version of Macbeth set among a troop of baboons in the Okavango Delta.[12][13]

He is the author of a testimonial in The Future of the NHS (2006).[14]

In 2014, McCall Smith purchased the Cairns of Coll, a remote, uninhabited chain of islets in the Hebrides. He said, "I intend to do absolutely nothing with them, and to ensure that, after I am gone, they are held in trust, unspoilt and uninhabited, for the nation. I want them kept in perpetuity as a sanctuary for wildlife – for birds and seals and all the other creatures to which they are home.” [15]


Alexander McCall Smith signing books in Helsinki April 2007

McCall Smith is a prolific author of fiction, with several series to his credit. He writes at a prodigious rate: "Even when travelling, he never loses a day, turning out between 2,000 and 3,000 words [a day] – but more like 5,000 words when at home in Edinburgh. His usual rate is 1,000 words an hour."[2] He has gained the most fame for his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, featuring Mma Precious Ramotswe and Gaborone, Botswana. The first novel was published in 1998. In 2009, the success of that series was described in The Telegraph: "the staggering success of his Botswanan novels in the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series – they have sold more than 20 million copies in English editions alone and been translated into 40 languages".[2] A further description of his readers, his fans is in strong words: "To say McCall Smith is a literary phenomenon doesn’t quite describe what has happened. He has become more of a movement, a worldwide club for the dissemination of gentle wisdom and good cheer."[2]

According to his publisher in Edinburgh, Polygon (an imprint of Birlinn Books), "He was, until 2005, a professor of medical law at the University of Edinburgh, but gave up the position to concentrate on his writing and now writes full time."[16]

He published 30 books in the 1980s and 1990s before he began the series that has brought him the world's notice.[1] In 2008 he wrote a serialized online novel Corduroy Mansions, with the audio edition read by Andrew Sachs made available at the same pace as the daily publication. He wrote more than ten chapters ahead of publication, finding the experience of serialized publication to be "a frightening thing to create a novel while his readers watched. 'I am like a man on a tightrope.'"[2]

In 2009 he donated the short story Still Life to Oxfam's "Ox-Tales" project, comprising four collections of stories written by 38 British authors. McCall Smith's story was published in the "Air" collection.[17]


The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series

  1. 1998: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
  2. 2000: Tears of the Giraffe
  3. 2001: Morality for Beautiful Girls
  4. 2002: The Kalahari Typing School for Men
  5. 2003: The Full Cupboard of Life
  6. 2004: In the Company of Cheerful Ladies (also known as: The Night-Time Dancer)
  7. 2006: Blue Shoes and Happiness
  8. 2007: The Good Husband of Zebra Drive
  9. 2008: The Miracle at Speedy Motors
  10. 2009: Tea Time for the Traditionally Built
  11. 2010: The Double Comfort Safari Club
  12. 2011: The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party
  13. 2012: The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection
  14. 2013: The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon
  15. 2014: The Handsome Man's De Luxe Café
  16. 2015: The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine
  17. 2016: Precious and Grace
  18. 2017: The House of Unexpected Sisters

44 Scotland Street series

  1. 2005: 44 Scotland Street
  2. 2005: Espresso Tales
  3. 2006: Love Over Scotland
  4. 2007: The World According to Bertie
  5. 2008: The Unbearable Lightness of Scones
  6. 2010: The Importance of Being Seven
  7. 2011: Bertie Plays The Blues
  8. 2012: Sunshine on Scotland Street
  9. 2013: Bertie's Guide to Life and Mothers
  10. 2015: The Revolving Door of Life
  11. 2016: The Bertie Project
  12. 2017: A Time of Love and Tartan

The Sunday Philosophy Club series

also known as Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries

Corduroy Mansions series

Professor Dr von Igelfeld Entertainments series

Other novels

Short stories

  • 2011: "The Strange Story of Bobby Box" (published in the young adult anthology: What You Wish For)


  • 1991: Children of Wax: African Folk Tales
  • 1995: Heavenly Date and Other Flirtations
  • 2004: The Girl Who Married a Lion and Other Tales from Africa
  • 2015: Chance Developments: Unexpected Love Stories
  • 2016: Baboons Who Went This Way and That (Tales from Africa)

Children's novels

School Ship Tobermory


Harriet Bean

Max & Maddy

Young Precious Ramotswe

Academic texts

  • 1978: Power and Manoeuvrability (with Tony Carty)
  • 1983: Law and Medical Ethics (with J. Kenyon Mason) (this text has gone through several editions: an eighth, by Mason and Graeme Laurie, was published in 2010; McCall Smith contributed to the first six editions)
  • 1987: Butterworths Medico-Legal Encyclopaedia (with J. Kenyon Mason)
  • 1990: Family Rights: Family Law and Medical Advances (with Elaine Sutherland)
  • 1991: All About Drink and Drug Abuse (educational text)
  • 1992: The Criminal Law of Botswana (with Kwame Frimpong)
  • 1993: The Duty to Rescue (with Michael Menlowe, 1993)
  • 1992: Scots Criminal Law (with David H Sheldon, second edition published 1997)
  • 1997: Forensic Aspects of Sleep (with Colin Shapiro)
  • 2000: Justice and the Prosecution of Old Crimes (with Daniel W. Shuman)
  • 2001: Errors, Medicine and the Law (with Alan Merry)
  • 2003: A Draft Criminal Code for Scotland (with Eric Clive, Pamela Ferguson and Christopher Gane)
  • 2004: Creating Humans: Ethical Questions where Reproduction and Science Collide (collected lectures, audio recordings)

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Philby, Charlotte (19 June 2010). "Alexander McCall Smith: The No1 novelist's guide to Edinburgh". The Independent. Retrieved 26 August 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Grice, Elizabeth (13 March 2009). "Alexander McCall Smith talks about 'Corduroy Mansions' – interview". The Telegraph. Retrieved 15 October 2013. To say McCall Smith is a literary phenomenon doesn't quite describe what has happened. 
  3. ^ McCall Smith, Alexander. "A. McCall Smith (McCallSmith) on Twitter". Twitter.com. Twitter.com. Retrieved 15 October 2013. 
  4. ^ "McCall Smith praises inspiration of islands". The Herald Scotland. 13 October 2013. Retrieved 15 October 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c "Alexander McCall Smith: Reader's Guide" (PDF). Just Buffalo Literary Center. Buffalo, New York. 2012. Retrieved 1 December 2017. 
  6. ^ a b Hunter, Jeffrey W. (2009). Contemporary Literary Criticism. Detroit, Michigan: Gale. ISBN 978-1-4144-1944-2. 
  7. ^ Nicoll, Ruaridh (2 May 2004). "Handy Sandy". The Observer. Retrieved 12 May 2008. 
  8. ^ Frimpong, Kwame; McCall Smith, Alexander (1992). The Criminal Law of Botswana. South Africa: Juta Publishers. ISBN 978-0702126703. Retrieved 28 June 2016. 
  9. ^ "New Year Honours—United Kingdom". The London Gazette. 29 December 2006. Retrieved 3 January 2009. [dead link]
  10. ^ Rankin, Ian. "Alexander McCall Smith". No. 1 Magazine, Scotland's Glamorous Glossy. Archived from the original on 1 March 2014. Retrieved 24 February 2014. 
  11. ^ "Unknown". Times. (Subscription required (help)). 
  12. ^ AFP news report on the "Okavango Macbeth" on YouTube
  13. ^ "The Okavango Macbeth". Goodmusic. 2011. Retrieved 28 June 2016. 
  14. ^ Tempest, Michelle (2006). The Future of the NHS. ISBN 1-85811-369-5. Retrieved 13 October 2015. 
  15. ^ "McCall Smith vows to give Cairns of Coll back". www.scotsman.com. Retrieved 2017-03-17. 
  16. ^ "Alexander McCall Smith". Birlinn. Retrieved 28 June 2016. 
  17. ^ Oxfam: Ox-Tales Archived 18 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. ^ Maclean Dubois; 1st Edition (1997) Retrieved 5 December 2012.
  19. ^ Scots language translation by James Robertson

External links