Now Alexander McCall Smith, who went from working as an Edinburgh University law professor to becoming one of the nation’s most successful modern-day authors, has been honoured with a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to Scottish literature.
The Edinburgh-based author, who was born and brought up in Zimbabwe before moving to the Scottish capital as a teenager, was recognised at Scotland’s National Book Awards on Thursday night.
The new award was created by the arts organisation, which has been honouring Scotland’s writers for individual books since 1937, to an individual who has made “a meaningful creative contribution to the world of literature”.
The Saltire Society recognised McCall Smith at the return of its annual awards at the Traverse Theatre, which saw the coveted “Scottish book of the year” title go to an exploration of the role played by Scottish Highlanders in the exploitation of African slaves in Caribbean cotton, sugar and coffee plantations in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Also named best history book, David Alston’s Slaves and Highlanders looks at how Scots were involved in every stage of the slave trade, from captaining slaving ships to auctioning captured Africans in the colonies and hunting down those who escaped from bondage.
Mara Menzies won the fiction book of the year prize with an adaptation of her acclaimed stage show Blood and Gold, which explores her dual Scottish-Kenyan heritage. Chitra Ramaswamy's Homelands, which explores her friendship with Holocaust survivor Henry Wuga, was named best non-fiction book.
Cartoonist Will McPhail’s graphic novel In was named best first book.
McCall Smith is the creator of 44 Scotland Street, the world’s longest-running serial novel, which is set in a fictional tenement in a real-life street in Edinburgh’s New Town. His stories of the comings and goings there have appeared in The Scotsman since 2004 and have also been adapted into 15 best-selling books to date.
The 74-year-old first came to prominence with his Botswana-set No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, which has sold more than 20 copies in the English language. His other work includes The Sunday Philosophy Club and Corduroy Mansions series.
McCall Smith is the third recipient of the Saltire Society’s lifetime achievement honour after it was previously awarded to author Alasdair Gray and poet Douglas Dunn.
He said: “I’d like to thank the Saltire Society for the tremendous honour of this award. It means a huge amount and I’m deeply grateful for the kindness of all involved.
“When I write about Scotland and from Scotland, through fiction and through poetry, my hope is that people in far-flung places in this world might discover a little more of who we are and what makes us tick – hear our voice, feel the passion we have for our country and share in a little moment of our humour.
“I’m published in Scotland by the fine publishing house Birlinn and I’m so proud to call this country home – home not only to me and my family, but to my writing and many of my characters. Being honoured in this way in your home country is very special.”