Page 3 Profile: Alexander McCall Smith, author


I liked The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Is there a new one coming out?

Not yet. Far from his usual South African crime caper, it’s been announced he’s going to rework Jane Austen’s Emma, modernising the tale for today’s audience. It’s due for release next autumn.

I don’t remember Emma so well, what’s it about?

The novel follows Emma Woodhouse, a precocious 20-year-old who thinks she’s a natural match-maker. Things go awry when Mr Elton, her match for her best friend Harriet, announces he has eyes only for Emma. So begins the first of many love triangles, often involving a certain Mr Knightley…

Wait a minute, I also saw that a “new” Sense and Sensibility is out this month. What’s going on?

Well, HarperFiction recently acquired the rights to Austen’s works and wants to make the most of it. McCall Smith is the latest recruit in its “Austen Project”, writing alongside Joanna Trollope – who’s tackling Sense and Sensibility – and Val MacDermid’s take on Northanger Abbey. Mr Darcy is also being spruced up by Curtis Sittenfeld in a rejig of Pride and Prejudice.

But these are classics. Aren’t the originals perfect as they are?

You’d better get used to it: two more writers for the six-book project will be announced this year. McCall Smith has described it as “a privilege and real challenge.” The writers stress they want to refurbish rather than replace the originals, with Trollope stating she feels Emma would “benefit” from “being handled by a man”.

Are there any film adaptations?

Yes. Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale have both played Emma. The Nineties romantic comedy Clueless was also loosely based on Austen’s book.

What’s happening to Precious Ramotswe?

McCall Smith is Rhodesian-born and once taught law at the University of Botswana, so the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency will always be close to his heart. Precious will reappear in The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, a new instalment scheduled for Christmas.