HIS words were set in stone yesterday to help promote Edinburgh’s status as a world city of literature, but Alexander McCall Smith took the opportunity to raise concerns about the quality of the city’s bookshops and publishing industry.
The creator of 44 Scotland Street warned that Edinburgh was lagging behind other UK cities because of its lack of a major independent bookstore operator. He said there was a real need for book-loving residents to show more support for their local bookshops if they wanted to avoid them suffering the same fate as record stores.
McCall Smith said the publishing industry in the city was also struggling, because literature was not being treated on an equal footing with other artforms.
The law professor-turned-author was chosen to be honoured by the city council in a new thoroughfare in the capital.
A quote from McCall Smith about his fondness for Edinburgh has been engraved into a 30-metre “art wall” which has been created as part of a development to extend the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.
The installation, between two parts of the “Atria” development, also features a classic image of the Edinburgh skyline.
The council said McCall Smith had been honoured for the way his work, including The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series of novels, helped promote Edinburgh’s status as the world’s first Unesco City of Literature.
The status was conferred upon Edinburgh in Paris in 2004 after a bid was mounted by leading publishers, authors and other literary figures.
McCall Smith said: “The world City of Literature status has been a great success and they are doing the best of making the most of it. It is a very good idea and a number of other cities have got in on the act.
“The book festival is the centrepiece of it and seems to be going from strength to strength. But we could do with more independent booksellers in Edinburgh. We have got to keep bookshops alive – that is really, really important. The problem is, it is so easy to order books online. We must not lose the bricks-and-mortar bookshops in Edinburgh.
“When you try to think of what independent bookstores we have got of any size, it is difficult to think of any. There are a few small ones, but we don’t have the equivalent of any of the large independent book-sellers that you find in other places in Britain, such as Daunt’s in London.
“I would urge people in Edinburgh to remember the importance of the local bookstore and to try to get their books from an actual bookseller.”
Authors and publishers have been among the harshest critics of arts agency Creative Scotland, with the body accused of failing to act on a major review of the sector, and providing scant resources to support the industry. It has invested £700,000 over the past three years.
McCall Smith added: “We have some really good publishers in Edinburgh, but there have been some losses recently. We really need to support the publishing industry and that involves making sure it gets its fair share of arts funding. We cannot rest on our laurels.
“We need a strong, independent publishing sector. We have a lot of energetic people in publishing and really are punching above our weight, but to a great extent it depends on real devotion from people in publishing. It is a tough existence.”
Meanwhile, Creative Scotland has confirmed that its head of publishing and literature, Gavin Wallace, has passed away.