Alexander MacCall Smith National Year of Reading event Warwickshire 2008

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Name of event:

An evening with Alexander McCall Smith 27th October 2008, Warwick


A high-profile national author event in conjunction with an established literary festival in Warwickshire. Alexander McCall Smith was engaged through The Reading Agency Reading Partners Major Author programme as part of the National Year of Reading.

Initial plans:

This event built on the highly successful author programme developed by Warwick Library along with the Warwick Words festival and Warwick Books. Originally it was hoped that the evening would take place during Warwick Words in early October. However, Alexander could not make this and the session was linked to a trip he was making to Birmingham later in the month. This ultimately added to the success of the evening in allowing the main festival publicity to advertise the event as a “Warwick Words xtra” session, yet drawing in a wider audience than might have attended the festival.

Warwick Words Committee undertook the main organisation of the event – publicity, box office, arrangements with Alexander McCall Smith, liaison with publishers and front of house duties on the night. Warwick Books, a partner in the festival was able to run the bookstall and secured the very first published editions of La’s orchestra saves the world ready for people to have copies signed. Even Alexander had not seen a published copy before the evening!

One of the committee members is a member of Warwickshire Library staff and was able to make arrangements from the library’s perspective, co-ordinating volunteer stewards on the night and overseeing the library’s participation in the event. In addition the NYR Co-ordinator for Warwickshire was able to ensure good publicity for the library service and NYR on the night, where new members were joined up and 14 new items of Alexander’s stock were issued.


The Bridge House Theatre at Warwick School was not available, so the main Guy Nelson Hall there was booked. This was useful as it has a capacity of 550 compared with Bridge House’s 300. In the event 530 people came and the auditorium was ideal in terms of staging and amplification.

Evidence for successes:

The near sellout testifies to the success of this event. Adults were charged £10.00 and many bought the new hardbacks at £14.99 each to be signed. People had come from the widest reaches of the West Midlands region as well as from counties as far afield as Cheshire and Wiltshire!

There was good organisation of the logistics of the event – stewarding, book sales, question and answer session with roving microphones.

The following comments by a member of Warwickshire County Council staff (but not from libraries!) captures the success of the event:

McCall Smith’s talk about the characters in the many series of books he has written was both amusing and illuminating. He gave a brilliant insight into the characters of his No 1 Ladies detective agency series, bringing to life Precious Ramotswe, J.L.B. Maketoni and Grace Makutsi.

He also managed to squeeze in an appreciation of some of his other unusual characters. The long suffering Bertie Pollock and his pushy Edinburgh mother from ‘The Sunday Philosophy Club’ were brought vividly to life even if you had not read the book. Similarly, the inspiration for ‘Portuguese Irregular Verbs’ series was illuminated for all by McCall Smith with his wonderful sense of humour.

His talk was scattered with hilarious anecdotes from his own life both in Africa and Edinburgh where he now lives all made all the more wonderful by his very personal and gentle delivery.



Stella Thebridge

NYR Co-ordinator for Warwickshire


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