Your writing is also different from a lot of modern fiction. In the typical New Yorker story, for example, the plot seems to be that someone's life is empty, and then something happens, and then that person's life becomes just a bit more miserable. And then the story ends.
Yes. I think I have to agree with you about so much fiction being about desperation and dysfunction. Which is curious, because obviously there is despair and dysfunction in this life, but it's not the full story. In fact, most people's lives are reasonably functional.
Your characters are very functional. They radiate warmth, and they're easily contented by things like red bush tea or new shoes. Does it take independence to write like that at a time when so much fiction is about desperation?
I think there are fashions in literature. There was a period when it was difficult for me to get published because my writing was optimistic in its general tone, and that wasn't thought to be the way in which Scottish literature was done. Scottish literature was supposed to be much more gritty and in your face.
But then I was very lucky in that my books became quite popular, so that meant I was in a position to say, "Well, this is the tenor in which I wish to write. This is my voice." And then I was able to do it, because the publishers knew the books had their audience. Had that not happened, I think I would have probably been ignored as a writer who was too positive—a utopian writer.
When you sit down to write, do you automatically tap into that peaceful state of mind, where people are happy just watching the cattle go by?
For the most part, yes. I sit down to write, and that becomes the way I feel. But I often listen to music when I write. That, I find, is very helpful, certainly in creating a mood. For example, when I'm writing the Isabelle Dalhousie books, I often listen to Mozart—in particular, the trio "Soave sia il vento" from Cosi van Tutti. That puts me in an Isabelle Dalhousie mood. When I write about Mma Ramotswe, I listen to this wonderful East African musician called Ayub Ogada. He's just incredible. But the music has to be carefully chosen. There's a wonderful group called the Penguin Café Orchestra that are quite good for writing, too.
You're sort of a musician yourself.
A very bad musician.
You founded the Really Terrible Orchestra in Edinburgh in 1995. What happens when the Really Terrible Orchestra plays together long enough that it starts actually sounding good?
You see, it never will. Sometimes it gets a bit better. But it will never really be any good, so we just continue.
I've heard there are certain notes you refuse to play on the bassoon.
I don't like the C-sharp. It has odd fingering. So I tend not to play that. And the higher notes I don't play.
We do concerts, you know. We do a concert at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival every year. And last April, we played in New York at the Town Hall. I think we had 1,200 people there. And people got the joke—they loved it! They were waiting for us to sound awful and we did.
In the midst of your busy career as a musician, I'm glad to hear that you're planning to write future installments in the Ladies' Detective series.
That's very kind of you to say. I'm under contract now to write 14. And when we reach 14, we'll reevaluate the situation. I'll probably carry on. I'm certainly enjoying my conversation with Mma Ramotswe.