IT STARTED life a decade ago in the pages of The Scotsman and has gone onto to become the world’s longest-running serial novel.
Now Alexander McCall Smith has revealed he will keep writing his 44 Scotland Street stories - because he cannot bear to bring the series to an end or kill off any of the main characters.
The best-selling author revealed he planned to introduce a host of new characters - and was even allowing child prodigy Bertie to grow up a bit.
Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, McCall Smith said he had originally envisaged just one book emerging from the series, which he set in a fictional building in a real-life street in the capital’s New Town.
But the comings and goings at number 44 proved so popular that McCall Smith has produced 10 books over the last decades - and shows no sign of giving up anytime soon.
He was appearing at the festival to mark both the publication of new instalment The Revolving Door of Life and the 10th anniversary of 44 Scotland Street, each story of which appears in The Scotsman in episodic form for three months at a time.
The former law professor has become one of Scotland’s most prolific authors over the last 15 years, since shooting to fame with The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. His books about Botswana detective Precious Ramotswe have sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.
The first 44 Scotland Street novel was named one of the nation’s top 10 books of the last 50 years in 2013, alongside Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, William McIlvanney’s Docherty and Morvern Callar by Alan Warner.
The serial was also turned into a Fringe show four years ago. McCall Smith’s original series for The Scotsman was partly inspired by the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Tales of the City,” by Armistead Maupin, after a chance encounter between the two writers at a party in the US.
He told his festival audience: “We’re now on volume 10 of 44 Scotland Street. I hadn’t really anticipated anything beyond a single volume when I started. It has just continued.
“I am intending to carry on with the series, although I don’t want Bertie to grow up too quickly. There are still lots of things that can happen. I can introduce new characters and go off at a tangent, as I often do.
“If there is an ending it will be a happy one, but there not be an ending, it may just carry on and on. I won’t really dispose of any characters. My characters generally speaking don’t die.”
The profile of McCall Smith, now 66, has soared in recent years thanks to high-profile projects like a Scottish Opera collaboration to mark Glasgow’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games and his instigation of The Great Tapestry of Scotland.
Earlier this year he won the UK’s top award for humorous fiction, with stand-alone story Fatty O’Leary’s Dinner Party, while he has joined forces with composer James Ross to create a song cycle about Scotland and the sea, which is being unveiled at the Fringe this month.
He told his fans: “I quite enjoy getting up very early and morning. I find the hours between 3.30 or 4am and 6 or 7am are very good. I actually manage to do quite a bit of writing then.
“There are no disturbances. Nothing much is happening. I find that quite useful. But I do actually go back to bed around 7am and have an hour and a half of sleep, which is a period of quite vivid dreaming.”