On How Modern Classic 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith Provided Inspiration for #CurmudgeonAvenue (After I started writing it) @McCallSmith #IART @LittleBrownUK

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It all started at Whitefield Library in 2014 when my nursing career ended (I accepted ill-health retirement due to MS).

My hometown of Bury provides an adult learning service. Despite my initial ambivalence, I signed up to a two hour per week creative writing class delivered by a beautifully inspiring teacher, whose name begins with Jill. One of our first tasks in the course was to write a short story titled ‘Winter’. What was I going to write? How would I approach this? As I drove home from Whitefield that autumn day, the sun shone lower in the sky and the rust coloured leaves drifted on to my car windscreen. I knew then that ‘Winter’ should be set in Whitefield. This same road reminded me of queuing in traffic, halfway home from my job in Salford. I remembered glancing at the houses on either side of my car. Commuters already home from work inside their houses lit up by the TV. I wondered what these Whitefield folk did with their lives.

Later that same week, Mr Henthorn and moi encountered an incident in a supermarket carpark involving a disgruntled driver and a disabled parking badge. A curmudgeon! I thought to myself (admittedly, I used a different word under my breath). Following this, the characters Harold, Edith and Edna were born, and I delivered my short story ‘Winter’ to a circle of keen creative writing students, nodding and praising one another without fail. ‘Winter’ was awesome – even if I say so myself – and it eventually made its way into the pages of Edna and Genevieve Escape From Curmudgeon Avenue

This is where 44 Scotland Street finally gets a mention. The beautifully inspiring teacher I mentioned was subjected to further creative writing pieces including Harold, Edna and Edith.

‘You should read 44 Scotland Street’ I was encouraged ‘It’s like your Curmudgeon Avenue, about a street and all the characters that live there.’

I had heard of Alexander McCall Smith – of course, I had (someone who attended the same physio recommended I read The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency which I knew from The BBC). But I did not know about 44 Scotland Street. However, I immediately started to read the series (currently on volume 13, 2019) and thought this is right up my street! Book number one opens with Pat viewing a flat in 44 Scotland Street, the notable narcissist Bruce shows her round – I was drawn to this. Who doesn’t have a story about a narcissist? They’re everywhere! Later, Bruce has a conversation about Chardonnay, recounting a story about the ABC clubs of New York ‘Anything But Chardonnay’. His counterpart was tempted to tell him that Champagne is made from the Chardonnay grape.  When I read this I was over the moon, having recently had a similar ‘Anything But Chardonnay’ irritation at a book club in the village of Greenmount.*

I have read and loved all thirteen of the 44 Scotland Street books. I have doted on Bertie, never getting past age seven. Gaining freedom from his overbearing mother Irene who invents a schedule for him including yoga and psychotherapy; only to be bossed by the domineering Olive in his same class. (Fear not for Bertie, he has a friend Ranald Braveheart McPherson – love that name). I have enjoyed Angus’ and Domenica’s courtship and eventual marriage – but not before Domenica’s anthropological adventures. Big Lou’s cafe (and some of her romances) has been the hub of society. Matthew and Pat work in an art gallery (typical of what I now imagine Edinburgh to be). Matthew marries Elspeth who used to teach at Bertie’s school and they have triplets. You kind of have to be there – and I would recommend you read them all.

On the note of ‘being there’ here is my review of the most recent volume ‘The Peppermint Tea Chronicles’ 

Samantha Henthorn Author

24 November 2019

I have read and enjoyed every book in this series, I admit to having formed romantic ideals about Edinburgh. As a result – if I ever was to visit the real Scotland Street (minus the fictional 44), then I would be gutted not to bump into my friends – Big Lou and young Bertie. Because they are my friends., the characters have been created and continued so consistently I feel like I know them. In this book, I was delighted to read Angus and Dominica’s everyday situations, such as losing the right to carry a large bag about in private because they are married. My heart melted to find out about Bertie and Ranald’s wish for a pet puppy – and laughed out loud at young Bertie’s observation that ‘no matter what you did, girls would get you’. All rounded together nicely by a happy ending for Pat, Lou and Elspeth, and a satirist’s view of local authority call centres and shoe choices in social situations and saying ‘dinner rather than tea’. A book – a series that restores faith in human nature.
**********
Thank you again to the beautifully inspiring teacher that encouraged me to read 44 Scotland Street, and to Alexander McCall Smith for writing it.
Now you must allow me to talk a little about my Curmudgeon Avenue series.
*Greenmount, I mentioned earlier is a village just up the road from where I live and grew up the same house in Greenmount will cost you 100,000 more than anywhere else in the Bury area. It is inhabited by wealthy incomers – no one – it seems is originally from there, apart from my husband who I often tease would have been ‘Able to look down on me from Greenmount.’ I dislike snobbery fiercely, and this is reflected in the satirical style that Curmudgeon Avenue is delivered. (See – there is a curmudgeon in everyone).
After a few drafts and publishing other books in between, Curmudgeon Avenue took on a life of its own. Where 44 Scotland Street is omnisciently narrated, Curmudgeon Avenue is dangerously and unreliably witness narrated. Not intentionally – I wanted the house to speak for itself. This became the series where the house tells the story (often in brackets). Four books on, The Ghosts of Curmudgeon Avenue was published in October. I have just started writing book number five The World Does Not Revolve Around Curmudgeon Avenue; where sisters Toonan and Wantha have fallen out, there is half a wedding and enemy Georgina Foote moves in at Number Thirteen. Reviews are coming in ‘Witty, dry and weirdly funny’ – ‘made me wonder what my house would say about me!’ and even ‘Move over Fawlty Towers!’ And the audiobook – narrated by established voice-over actor Lindsay McKinnon is due to be released early next year (2020).
Genre is everything to the independent author. I would say that Curmudgeon Avenue is a comedy-drama and it ticks the satire box (as I have when listing the series with KDP). It has been difficult to find other authors who write in the same genre. This is why I wanted to share this in a blog post; Curmudgeon Avenue – a bit like 44 Scotland Street. (Dare I say it!)
My series does not have the refined Edinburgh gentleness*, but it does have the Manchester sense of humour and northern warmth – it is a satirical window into first world problems – some of the scenarios are recipes for disaster but I love that house and all who live in her!  It is very different from 44 Scotland Street. Not exactly the same reading experience but essentially a book about the intertwined lives of people who live in and around the same street. ‘On the day this all started the sky was filled with August Apologies for a summer undelivered. 
*And I am not Alexander McCall Smith – he’s a genius obvs. 
Do you have any book inspirations or comparisons? I’d love to know.
Thank you for reading, Samantha xx

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