Smith in the city

Published: 06 December, 2011 09:19 IST | Urmimala Banerjee |

When we ask best-selling author Wilbur Smith the reason for always choosing Africa as the backdrop for all his novels, he says, "You can't write about places you don't know like the palm of your hand

When we ask best-selling author Wilbur Smith the reason for always choosing Africa as the backdrop for all his novels, he says, "You can't write about places you don't know like the palm of your hand. It's better to write science fiction instead." Born in Northern Rhodesia (modern Zambia), the 78- year-old author says that his latest novel, Those In Peril might just be his last. "I may be writing in my next life post this," says Wilbur tongue-in-cheek. As he prepares for a special book reading session as a part of his tour, CS gets talking with him:

Who: Author Wilbur Smith
What: Talking about his love for India and latest novel
Where: At Colaba

Incredible India
I know the name of quite a few Indian authors but it's tough to get the pronunciations right (laughs). RK Narayan's Malgudi Days is an all-time favourite. And I also like Anita Desai's novels. But the book about India that really captured by imagination was Jim Corbett's Man- Eaters of Kumaon, because I really love wildlife. My wife Mokhiniso and I are planning a trip to Corbett National Park at the end of this tour. Besides the tiger, I really want to see the elephants. As children, we knew India as the land of the Maharajas, elephants, tigers and snake-charmers. In fact, I firmly believed that Indians had elephants at home as pets (laughs out loud).

My first trip to India was 25 years ago. I am awed by the size and population of the country. India is a traveller's paradise right from the snowy caps of Himalayas to the forests, deserts and seaside resorts. I also love the Hindu Gods. Lord Ganesha is my favourite because he's the god of success (laughs out loud). And Bombay or Mumbai simply pulls you in with its energy and drama.

Ocean adventure
My latest novel is a thriller with the backdrop of the Indian Ocean. Loyalty, love, vendetta, adventure and action are the main elements. I didn't have to do much research because I have travelled to East Africa and Somalia, which is the epicenter of all the action in this novel. Yes, I did speak to a lot of naval officers, ship building architects and people who have suffered in the hands of sea pirates to bring authenticity
to my book.

Writer's block
Making a living out of writing is no mean feat. Out of the hundreds who dream of writing a book, only 10 actually manage to pen down a book. One of my friends in Africa, who's the editor of a magazine, once told me, "Wilbur, if you can become a writer, so can I." I retorted saying, "Don't tell me, show me." Andrew, my friend took six months off from work, (his wife organised a special study for him) and got down to writing. Six months later, he told me, "Wilbur, it's bloody hard work. I quit."

Moreover, the job of a writer looks very boring to the people around them. My wife often tells me, "Wilbur, stop writing now. It's enough for the day. Then, I tell her that I haven't even started as yet (laughs out loud). It is also a very lonely profession because you live all day long in a totally different world, just created by you. Last but not the least; you can't become a writer unless you are an avid reader. Period.

Fan mania
When I hear that women love my books, I feel very flattered (smiles). Once I got this letter from a fan in India and wrote back to her. Few years ago I got a letter from Alaska that read, "Sir, I might be your only Eskimo fan ever." It was really delightful to hear from someone from the North Pole (laughs out loud). Such appreciation makes the 50 years of 'bloody hard work' seem truly worthwhile.

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