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Biography of Wilbur SMITH

South Africa > Literature : Wilbur SMITH

Wilbur SMITH
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Born on 09/01/1933 (format : day/month/year)

Biography :

Wilbur Addison  Smith (b.January 9, 1933), is a bestselling novelist. He was born in  Broken Hill, Northern Rhodesia, now Kabwe, Zambia).

He was born in 1933, in what was then Northern Rhodesia. Like many of his heroes, he was brought up a rancher, and educated to be “very British”.

Born and raised on a 25,000-acre cattle ranch in what used to be Northern Rhodesia and is now Zambia, Wilbur Smith was blessed with an idyllic childhood. Accompanied by a pack of mongrels, Smith and his slingshot-carrying chums roamed far and wide over hills, through forests and across savannah grassland. The lads hunted and trapped birds and small mammals which they cooked over an open fire and devoured with great relish.

His memories of these early Boys’ Own-type adventures were to prove invaluable later in life when Smith began writing about the Africa he loves.

Smith was introduced to “the wonders of the written word” by his mother. After cutting his teeth on Biggles and Just William books, he moved on to the works of C S Forester, Ryder Haggard and John Buchan. But because his father considered Smith’s preoccupation with books to be “unnatural and unhealthy,” he was forced to read in secret. “I spent so much time in the outhouse long-drop latrine, where I kept a cache of my favourite books, that my father ordered my mother to administer regular and copious doses of castor oil!”
While at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, Smith told his father he wanted to be a journalist or professional hunter. “His blunt reply was that I was a bloody fool and that I would starve. He told me to get what he described as a ‘real’ job.”

Smith reluctantly became a chartered accountant. To preserve his sanity, he started writing as a hobby and soon found that people were prepared to pay for his literary efforts.
Undeterred, he wrote a  book, When The Lion Feeds, tapping into his childhood experiences of life on a ranch. He named the main character Sean Courtney after his grandfather, Courtney James Smith, who was a machine gunner in the Zulu Wars.

The novel was accepted by the first publisher his agent contacted. “That was a great stroke of fortune. I earned enough to become unemployed for the rest of my life!”

Smith resigned from the Inland Revenue Service, towed his father’s caravan into the mountains near his home, parked alongside a trout stream and wrote his next novel, The Sound of Thunder. The rest is publishing history.

During the past 42 years, Smith has sold hundreds of millions of copies of his 30 adventure novels in languages as varied as Icelandic and Hindi. Many of this master storyteller’s books follow the fortunes of successive generations of the Courtney and Ballantyne families, while others are unconnected but equally absorbing tales. His latest novel, The Quest, is the fourth book in his Taita of Ancient Egypt series. It will be published in March or April of next year.

All of Smith’s stories are set in his beloved Africa and draw heavily upon his own experiences and his studies of past and present Africa.

Some of my books were about the Rhodesian struggle, which I was very close to. I’ve also written extensively about Mozambique, which I’ll be revisiting soon – the infrastructure has been restored and tourism is building up again. I’ve also written a lot about Namibia and Egypt, the latter being the subject of my latest novel.”

Smith has long been interested in Ancient Egypt, partly because he grew up in the years following the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb. “It’s a fascinating part of the world and has served me very well as a backdrop for my Taita books. I went to Egypt at the earliest possible opportunity, travelling by caravan from Karnak to the Red Sea. I revisited it for The Quest, cruising down the Nile from Aswan to Karnak. I wanted to get the feel of the country again.”

He enjoys delving into the origins of conflicts, of national boundaries, of national perceptions and of feelings of patriotism and self-awareness. “I am also fascinated about mysticism and religion, from Islam to Christianity. Everything is here in Africa.



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Last update : 07/27/2009

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