LAST YEAR, WHEN I recommended Alexander McCall Smith's stories of the Botswanan female investigator Mma Precious Ramotswe (the latest of which, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, is published by Polygon this month) as holiday reading, his name was not yet widely known. He was the Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh, Vice Chairman of the Human Genetics Commission, and a member of numerous national and international committees on Bioethics - a distinguished academic who had set up Botswana's first Law school and turned out gentle, whimsical stories in his spare time. His life has turned upside down since then. Word-of-mouth recommendations transformed his books into huge bestsellers in thirty languages and suddenly he found himself an international celebrity. Now he has resigned from most of his committee posts and taken three0 years' leave of absence from his university.
Alexander McCall Smith was born in 1948 in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). After a happy childhood there, at eighteen he came to university in Edinburgh, where he, his GP wife and two daughters now live in a substantial suburban house comfortably crammed with books, twentieth-century Scottish paintings and precarious piles