Om Namah Shivaya

Om Namah Shivaya

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Dec 11, 2011

UP, CLOSE & PERSONAL: Wilbur Smith - Five Decades of Writing Books

Yesterday, 10th Dec, 2011 was an interesting day. It was the day of longest Moon Eclipse as well as the day when I met, for the first time, Mr. Wilbur Smith. He was the one author, I followed and read for the longest period of my life. Wilbur Smith’s books got me to appreciate nature through wild life and savannahs of Africa which later got engraved more firmly in my inner psyche through my spiritual forays into Himalaya’s and grew deeper routes through books like Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (Click here to read my feature about this book)
Wilbur Smith
Wilbur Smith has written 33 books starting with one of the most interesting fiction that I have ever read “Where Lions Feed” in 1964. About this book he says, “Out of my books, all are loved but then, such as is the case with a mother, the first born is always loved more. So I like my first book more”. And, in fact, so do I, Mr. Wilbur Smith. Yesterday, at the launch of his latest book “Those in Peril” in the famous book store Land Mark - Chennai, the world famous author shared memories from his five decades long journey of writing. 
Those In Peril - The latest Book by Wilbur Smith
He started his talk with interesting quips about things that are bound to get every one’s attention in India i.e. traffic and Cricket. “I enjoyed the traffic in India, just like video game with just a slight difference that you don’t die in video games” and goes on to add, “My driver, who has been taking me around in India, told me that to drive on Indian roads, you just need four things. Good Breaks, Good Eyes, Good nerves and Good luck”. 
At the end, in question and answer session, he responds in an answer to a question by a young reader Aaditya, about how he feels when he sees his words in print. “Well”, says Wilbur Smith, “it’s like scoring a 100 in cricket, specially against Pakistan” to a huge round of applause by the jam packed audience at the store.

But before I go further with his thoughts and his interaction at the book launch, let me give you a brief introduction about him and his books.

Wilbur Addison Smith (born 9 January 1933 in Broken Hill, Northern Rhodesia, now Kabwe, Zambia) is a best-selling novelist. His writings include 16th and 17th century tales about the founding of the southern territories of Africa and the subsequent adventures and international intrigues relevant to these settlements. His books often fall into one of three series. These works of fiction draw on history and help to explain the rise and historical influence of the Dutch and English whites in southern Africa that eventually claimed this diamond and gold rich and disputed territory as home.

Wilbur Smith in Napa Valley
Later Wilbur attended Rhodes University in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa. He became a journalist, writing about social conditions in South Africa, but his father's advice to "Get a real job" prompted him to become a tax accountant (chartered accountant). After he qualified as a Chartered Accountant, he married and had two children. The marriage ended badly and the divorce led to alimony and child support payments that left him penniless at only twenty four years of age.

His first successful novel 'When the Lion Feeds' was published in 1964, written while he worked for Salisbury Inland Revenue. It tells the story about a young man, Sean Courtney and his twin brother Garry. The character's name was a tribute to Wilbur Smith's Grandfather Courtney James Smith who had commanded a Maxim gun team during the Zulu Wars. The story wove in facts about Wilbur Smiths own father and mother. He added in early African history and included the perspective of black people and white. He wrote about hunting, gold mining, carousing, women, love, sex, and hate. This time he left out all the philosophies and radical politics and rebellious posturing that had been the backbone of his first attempt a novel. The book gained a film deal and its success encouraged him to become a full-time writer. His publisher and later agent, Charles Pick, gave him advice he never forgot: "Write for yourself, and write about what you know best." Pick also told him ""Don't talk about your books with anybody, even me, until they are written." Smith states that "Until it is written a book is merely smoke on the wind. It can be blown away by a careless word.
He states that Africa is his major inspiration, and currently he has over 34 novels published. Smith now lives in London, but avows an abiding concern for the peoples and wildlife of his native continent. In 2002, Wilbur Smith was granted the Inaugural Sport Shooting Ambassador Award by the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities.
Wilbur Smith with his Wife
At Monkey Temple in Rajasthan - India
In a bookstore in London he met a Tadjik girl, Mokhiniso Rakhimova 39 years younger than Mr Smith. Mokhiniso had received her law degree from Moscow University. He fell in love once again and they married in May 2000.

Some critics of Wilbur Smith argue that his novels often contain sexist and racist assumptions and that they may have a political agenda. Eye of the tiger (1975) bears many similarities to Hemingway’s "Islands in the Stream"

Text Source
Wikipedia, please click here to read the full article.
Going on... at the Launch

He continued with his talk by springing a surprise, that his first book never got published. And goes on to add, “That first book was the one where I have made all the mistakes and since then I have not repeated any of them”. Well, I think, this is one big Guru Mantrafrom an author, who has sold more than 120 Million books, which every aspiring writer should always remember - To be a great writer, write the first one for yourself and commit all the mistakes there and then never repeat it again in your further books.

In London, for his first book launch, Wilbur Smith recalls, “After many futile attempts to find my first published book in the shops around London, I had lost hope to meet any of my readers. Only on my way back, while waiting in the security area of the airport lounge, I found this fine lady reading the book. That gave me goose pimples and after watching her for sometimes, I approached her to ask about the book, saying “That’s my book you are reading....” And she replied, “Oh I am terribly sorry; I did not know that it’s yours. I found it lying on the ground”
Fishing in Ponoy River in Russia - 19lb Salmon
Wilbur Smith loves fishing

In one of the first book signing events in USA, after signing his pile of books, he went on to find and  write on his good friend Fredrick Forsyth’s book too in the store, as he was told by another author at the event, “In such events, I  sign as many copies as possible so that the store owners could not send them back”

Now below are some of the thoughts from his interaction... at the launch.

His books being made into Films: books and films are different things and my books are hard to film. Many of my books have been made into films, but I find them somehow lacking.”

Hardest part of writing a book: Anything that you do with your heart and soul is never so easy. Writing is a lonely work.

Development of Characters: When the character starts living after 20-30 pages, I feel like running with pack of hunting dogs, the characters take over my writing.

Re-incarnation: I believe that it’s possible that life force carries over into another life form as in re-incarnation which can be animals, human form or anything. I have always been fascinated and drawn towards supernatural.
In the end, as I was talking to him about his the first book 'which never got published', he said, “it was a still born baby so I could not love it. Probably it will go on with him to his another journey, in another life time...”
Well I am sure, you have long innings ahead, Mr. Wilbur Smith. We all look forward to many more book and personally many more interactions like this. 
Thank you for keeping your writing spirits alive in the Savannah of words...

Image Source : Wilbur Smith Website
ॐ नमः शिवाय
Om Namah Shivaya

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Thus Spoke Zarathustra - Nietzsche


  1. Wilbur Smith - A writer I adore... he re-awakened my imagination, made me fall in love with Africa and especially Egypt. How I wish I were in India now, just so I could meet him and thank him for his books and the fantastic world he helped me weave around myself.

  2. That was a wonderful write up of a great author whom I love reading.Loved his thoughts at the end, especially on writing.


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