44 Scotland Street: Alexander McCall Smith's serial novel returns in The Scotsman

It is a unique publishing phenomenon that has sparked a mini tourism boom for a corner of Edinburgh’s New Town.

Alexander McCall Smith. Picture: Jayne Wright/JPIMedia
Alexander McCall Smith. Picture: Jayne Wright/JPIMedia

Now a whole new series of chapters exploring life in a fictional tenement in Scotland Street are to unfold with the return of Alexander McCall Smith’s daily novel to the pages of The Scotsman.

The Edinburgh based author is today launching the 16th story in the 44 Scotland Street series, which began life in this newspaper more than 18 years ago and has followed the characters grappling with “the moral dilemmas of everyday life.”

It marks the return of Bertie, Big Lou, Fat Bob, Irene, Bruce, Domenica and Angus, whose travails have travelled the world thanks to the success of the serialisation in The Scotsman and the subsequent books bringing together each series of stories.

Alexande McCall Smith writes the 44 Scotland Street stories for The Scotsman.

The light-hearted series is said by McCall Smith’s publisher to have turned 44 Scotland Street into Edinburgh’s most famous address, although fans are often left baffled when they arrive in the real-life street because it was invented by the author.

The latest book being serialised, The Enigma of Garlic, heralds the arrival of “the most anticipated event of the decade” – Big Lou and Fat Bob’s wedding.

Discussing the return of 44 Scotland Street at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, McCall Smith said: “It’s one of my favourite series – I love writing it. I write a Scotland Street book a year.

“It is usually published as I write it, but on this occasion for the first time ever I have actually just finished it. I actually finished it yesterday.

Author Alexander McCall Smith is the creator of the 44 Scotland Street stories.

“It’s set right on my doorstep and I’m very fond of all the characters. I love sitting down with them.

“It’s become a place of pilgrimage, although people do get very puzzled when they look for 44 Scotland Street because it doesn’t actually exist.

”Scotland Street has got a really lovely feel. It’s one of those really attractive streets where, because it’s so wide, you almost feel as if you’re in a courtyard. Other people are watching out for you.”

The author shot to fame with the The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, which is said to have sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.

Part of the inspiration for 44 Scotland Street was the Tales of the City series by American writer Armistead Maupin in the San Francisco Chronicle. McCall Smith shrugged off a warning from the novelist that he would regret writing a serial novel.

Discussing his love of the 44 Scotland Street stories, he said: "I’m obviously writing about Edinburgh, which I really enjoy, but it's also about the range of characters. When you spend a lot of time with literary characters they become very familiar and they almost become your friends, as if you’re sitting having coffee with them.

"I love writing about Bertie and his terrible mother and looking at the adult world through the eyes of a seven-year-old boy. They’re all different types of characters that I can have fun with.

"The whole thing is just wonderfully absurd, but there’s also an element of reality to the stories.

"The characters have to be people who one might recognise as being possible. It’s a fanciful world, but it’s set in a real place, with recognisable characters and issues in it.”

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