‘I think Alexander was just too stimulating for us M, don’t you?’ ‘Yes! Do you think he’s still talking somewhere?’ she said in response. We giggled. ‘I don’t know but he’ll be getting up soon to write; he said sometimes he starts at 4am!’
We’d been at Daunt Books in Marylebone that evening to hear one of our favourite authors, Alexander McCall Smith, give a talk. He’d been supremely interesting and more to the point downright funny – in the kind of intelligent witty way Peter Ustinov had been back in the day.
Through the dark, I heard the sound of a cab passing outside as M, thirst quenched and back in bed, continued: ‘I was worried he wasn’t going to say anything about the Scotland Street series. Thankfully he did – the chat just flowed out of him, a bit like his books. He says the writing comes completely from his subconscious and he doesn’t even have to think about it’.
I looked at the clock – 3am now – and thought about how, on a recent holiday I’d been waking up at 3.30am each morning and unable to stop myself putting pen to paper.
‘I was impressed by the question you asked, M’ I said. ‘Well, I was impressed by yours’ she replied. ‘You genuinely wanted to know how he does it! Five books a year is extraordinary. What struck me about him was how involved he is with all his characters – they seem very alive to him; very real’.
Silence again as time ticked by. ‘M, did you say that Maeve Binchy’s husband encouraged her to start writing fiction?’ ‘Yes, because when they were out walking she’d be observing people and imagining their lives, so one day he suggested she start writing a novel’.
I felt around in the dark for my ear plugs: ‘Remember when he was talking about the RTO – the Really Terrible Orchestra – that he and his wife founded? So funny and such a great idea. Often people are put off playing an instrument because they think they’re not good enough. I love that story he told about their concert in New York and how everybody stood up at the end, but he wasn’t sure if it was because they loved the performance or were rushing off to get their train home!’
We chuckled again. ‘I’m just going to say one more thing’ said M: ‘I think a lot of novelists start off by writing short stories’. ‘Mmmm, yes, maybe. Night, night M’ I replied reaching for my notebook and pen and activating my phone to use as a torch.