With autumn already touching our gardens and woods with its warm colours, it may seem a little late to write a page about “summer reading” but isn’t it a good idea to make summer last a little longer. Indeed, the Indian Summer is still to come, isn’t it Janice?
But before embarking on our ”summer reading’ I would like to deeply thank our dear friends Iain and Margaret for their last Letter for Scotland. Never have I read such a beautiful text about WWII. Margaret’s page entitled ‘The Leningrad Album, a Token of Scottish-Russian Friendship in War ..’ is an unforgettable one and I can but highly recommend Margaret’s little book Dear Allies ! Had I learned history in such a marvellous way at school, I certainly wouldn’t have forgotten a single page of it!
As mentioned by Iain, we do correspond regularly by email! A very friendly and entertaining Scottish-French-Canadian correspondence, I can tell you . And to quote Iain:
We write in English, Marie-Agnès and Jean-Claude in French, and Janice often alternates between the two languages. I enjoy being reminded of French words I’d rarely come across since schooldays; my old French teacher would wisely give us little groups of words to be written together in our notebooks, to make clear the differences and to help us remember! For example, «une librairie» is a bookshop (or a publishing house); «une bibliothèque» a library (or collection of books; or even a set of bookshelves!) Yes, Marie-Agnès, we do have upstairs une bibliothèque tournante – a revolving bookcase. It’s a small one, but it holds a surprisingly large number of books.
‘Une bibliothèque tournante’! What a dream of a bookcase! I remember pretty well the very nice story Margaret told us, in one of her first messages, about this unique Scottish piece of furniture ‘faite sur mesure’.
By the way, while I was trying to find an image to illustrate my answer to Iain and Margaret, I fell upon an interesting method to learn each other’s language… I’ve not tried it still but it could prove useful at the start of a new school year
j’ai la certitude d’être encore heureux.
Books, books, books ! YES definitely
So, back to my ‘summer reading’.
The expression “summer reading” conjures up a lot of pleasant images, the summer being the season supposed to offer us fine weather as well as much time to read our favourite books. The chosen ones are of course a matter of personal choice and I’m not sure many readers will choose to read Proust’s A la recherche du Temps perdu A hard and big job according to Big Lou, one of the vivid characters depicted by Alexander McCall Smith in 44 Scotland Street (same title in English and in French), the first volume of the ’44 Scotland Street ‘ series (‘Les Chroniques d’Edimbourg’ in French).
Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street is a favourite on my summer reading list for it is exactly the kind of book I like when I want to relax.
As a matter of fact, I’ve just finished 44 Scotland Street and I’m quite eager to begin Espresso Tales, the second volume of this series (to me, the French title Edimbourg Express is more evocative of “un train express” than of a cup of Italian coffee!). 44 Scotland Street has made me smile, laugh and always eager to know what is going to happen next page. I’ve also learned in this book a lot of things about Edinburgh and its lifestyle, about Scotland and some of its artists, painters more especially. Last but not least, the author seems to have a talent for introducing in the dialogues and without taking them too seriously, a number of fundamental questions.
Each chapter has been given an expressive title and the English edition has black and white illustrations by Iain McIntosh. In the very interesting Preface written by the author we learn that the book was first published as a daily series in The Scotsman.
“Most books start with an idea in the author’s head. This book started with a conversation that I had in California, at a party held by the novelist, Amy Tan, whose generosity to me has been remarkable. At this party I found myself talking to Armistead Maupin, the author of Tales of the City. Maupin had revived the idea of a serialised novel with his extremely popular serial in The San Francisco Chronicle. When I returned to Scotland I was asked by The Herald to write an article about my California trip. In this article I mentioned my conversation with Maupin and remarked what a pity it was that newspapers no longer ran serialised novels. This tradition, of course, had been very important in the nineteenth century, with the works of Dickens being perhaps the best known examples of serialised fiction. But there were others, of course, including Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, which nearly landed its author in prison.
My article was read by editorial staff on The Scotsman, who decided to accept the challenge which I had unwittingly put down. I was invited for lunch by Iain Martin, who was then editor of the paper (…) At that stage I had not really thought out the implications of writing a novel in daily instalments; this was a considerable departure from the weekly or monthly approach which had been adopted by previous serial novelists. However, such was the air of optimism at the lunch that I agreed.
The experience proved to be both hugely enjoyable and very instructive. The structure of a daily serial has to be different from that of a normal novel. One has to have at least one development in each instalment and end with a sense that something more may happen. One also has to understand that the readership is a newspaper readership which has its own special characteristics.
The real challenge in writing a novel that is to be serialised in this particular way – that is, in small segments – is to keep the momentum of the narrative going without becoming too staccato in tone. The author must engage a reader whose senses are being assailed from all directions – from other things on the same and neighbouring pages, from things that are happening about him or her while the paper is being read. Above all a serial novel must be entertaining. This does not mean that one cannot deal with serious topics, or make an appeal to the finer emotions of the reader, but one has to keep a light touch.
When the serial started to run, I had a number of sections already completed. As the months went by, however, I had fewer and fewer pages in hand, and towards the end I was only three episodes ahead of publication. This was very different, then, from merely taking an existing manuscript and chopping it up into sections. The book was written while it was being published. An obvious consequence of this was that I could not go back and make changes – it was too late to do that.
(Extract from the Preface of 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith)
To this day, the ’44 Scotland Street series’ (‘Les chroniques d’Edimbourg’) is composed of 7 volumes:
2005 44 Scotland Street (44 Scotland Street, traduit en français par Élisabeth Kern, éditions 10/18, coll. « Domaine étranger » Paris 2007)
2005 Espresso Tales (Édimbourg Express, traduit en français par Élisabeth Kern, éditions 10/18, coll. « Domaine étranger » Paris 2009)
2006 Love Over Scotland (L’Amour en kilt, traduit en français par Élisabeth Kern, éditions 10/18, coll. « Grands détectives » Paris, 2009)
2007 The World According to Bertie (Le monde selon Bertie, traduit en français par Élisabeth Kern, éditions 10/18, Paris, 2010)
2008 The Unbearable Lightness of Scones (Ouvrage non encore traduit en français)
2010 The Importance of Being Seven (Ouvrage non encore traduit en français)
2011 Bertie Plays The Blues (Ouvrage non encore traduit en français)
A lot of books to read, don’t you think?
Next time, I will tell you why I do love 44 Scotland Street and more about the other volumes as soon as I have read them.
Bonne lecture ! A bientôt.