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The Courier-Mail May 21 2005

PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2006 11:53 pm
by Nefer
I had this sitting on my hard drive... The link doesn't work anymore, so what I've posted is taken from the Google groups website.

WILBUR Smith's father taught him how to hunt, but it was his mother who
passed on her love of books.

The African writer who, at least for a few weeks, knocked Dan Brown's
The Da Vinci Code off the top of the bestseller list, attributes his
longevity and success to sticking to a simple formula.

He knows how to write easy-to-read yarns of romance and adventure set
in colonial Africa. So that's what he does, again and again.

His 30th book, The Triumph of the Sun, brings together two families
that frequently feature in Smith's novels in a rollicking yarn centred
around the siege of Khartoum.

"Before I could actually read myself, I developed a fascination with
the written word," Smith said on a visit last week to Brisbane
promoting his new book.

"That was the days before television when mums still read to their kids
at bedtime and they didn't sit and watch the box."

His mother, aged 92, is a fan of his books, although his father was
among those who don't quite see the appeal of the novels. Smith says
his father never read a book, not even his.

"I think in the end he was immensely proud of me, although he wasn't
sure what all the fuss was about because I hadn't built a building or
run a ranch or opened a successful business," he says.

As a young man, Smith decided he wanted to be a journalist.

"My papa said to me go and get a real job and so my first job was with
the tax department," he says.

"I worked for the tax department and I still do."

He wrote When the Lion Feeds, based around the adventures of twin
brothers Sean and Garrick Courtney, in his evenings while he spent his
days working as head of the Deceased Estates Department of Salisbury
Inland Revenue. Within 10 days of sending the book off to a publisher,
he received a note of acceptance.

And, he says, he has been unemployed ever since. He also has sold more
than 100 million books.

He might be an out-of-work accountant, but Smith retains his work ethic
when it comes time to write his books.

"If you're going to write 30 books, it takes a lot of time sitting at
the desk doing it, not talking or thinking about it," he says.

He starts writing about 9am, and goes on until 3pm. Then he stops and
goes for a walk along the beach or up to Table Mountain, that hugs the
city of Cape Town where he lives.

He carries on the routine every day, until he hits a personal crisis
that always strikes mid-book.

"The spark is dulled a little," he says. "I've learnt not to push when
that happens. I just pack up the book and go off for a month and do
something completely different."

He describes writing his novels as being like a voyage of exploration.

"I have a point of departure, some islands in the stream which I will
visit and a probable, or possible destination," he says.

"But once the characters get up and start talking, they'll dictate the

Smith has a routine of writing for a year and then taking a year off,
to travel and to hunt.

Smith shot his first lions when he was 13. This year he plans to shoot
two elephants, on an old-fashioned boys' own adventure that will set
him back $165,000.

"The tree huggers, the animal rights people, stopped elephant hunting
in Botswana for 27 years," he says, clearly not feeling the pressure to
be politically correct.

Because of the hunting ban, Smith says Botswana has six times more
elephants than it can cope with. The fee to hunt elephant is split
between the tribes people who own the land and the company which
organises the hunt.

"I give them a quick death, and their death contributes to the welfare
of their species. I think it's a noble thing."

One thing you should not expect to read in a Wilbur Smith book is a
tale of the woes of modern Africa. Smith is happy to be rooted in the
past, when Africa was under European control.

"I've had people say, 'I'm not really interested in history'," he says.

"I'll say that's a pity, because you're not really interested in
yourself because you are in a stream of history. What you are is what
you've become from your forebears.

"Africa has reverted to being totally African, but this is not
something I wish to write about because I would be writing about people
who weren't my people.

"I'll leave the future story of Africa to the African writers."

Smith, who walks with a limp as a result of childhood polio, seems
younger than his years, a fact he attributes to having a wife nearly 40
years his junior.

He was married to his previous wife, Danielle, for nearly 40 years, but
their marriage collapsed after she developed cancer.

"It was the toughest time of my life," he says, but he kept writing.
"It was my escape from the reality of what was happening to us."

Smith says his wife was a different person after they cut away a tumour
from her brain - and he was a married man who lived a bachelor's life
for many years. After she died, he embraced his single status, even
becoming involved with an escort who sold her tale of sex romps with
the author to the British tabloids.

He met his present wife in a bookshop. She did not know who he was.
When he later told her he was a writer, she felt sorry for him. She
grew up in the former Soviet Union, and all the writers she knew were

Smith is a man content with his lot.

"I reckon I am one of the most fortunate of men," he says.

"I was born an English speaker and the English language is an
incredible language.

"And then I was born in Africa which is a treasury of story, history
and people, animals ... and the geographical terrain is so varied and
wonderful. All of those are the tools with which I work."

PostPosted: Fri Jan 13, 2006 6:06 am
by John R
Very nice interview. Thanks for posting that Neferk. I enjoyed reading it.

PostPosted: Fri Jan 13, 2006 10:12 am
by Nefer
my pleasure :)