Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Wilbur Smith: I trailed my wife-to-be into a bookshop and showed her my novel

Wilbur Smith: I trailed my wife-to-be into a bookshop
Wilbur Smith followed Mokhiniso Rakhimova into a bookshop and bought her caviar. They later married (Picture: Rex)
I’m at a swish private members’ club in Mayfair to meet Wilbur Smith, the multi-millionaire best-selling author of 33 novels whose career has lasted almost 50 years.
With its wood panelling and portraits, it’s a suitably old-fashioned location to talk to the 80-year-old Smith, whose books are informed by a childhood in South Africa when women stayed at home and men went out and shot wild animals.
His father, who Smith idolised, owned a cattle ranch in Rhodesia and he’s written lovingly of seeing his dad shoot a lion that was prowling around their campsite while the family was sleeping.
Smith’s publishing success enabled him to buy a 36,000-acre game ranch in Africa in the 1980s, which he’s subsequently sold.
‘Man has always been a hunter,’ he says. ‘I was breeding animals rather than killing them. I bought a lot of them – by the time I sold it there were sable and kudu [antelope] running around that hadn’t been there for 100 years. In the process, I’d take down a couple of old bulls who’d done their business and put their seed back into the species – and their offspring were living on my expense,’ he laughs.
This sort of man’s-man worldview is reflected in his series of best-selling thrillers and historical adventures. His latest, Vicious Circle, is brimming with testosterone. It’s the tale of soldier turned freelance security expert Hector Cross, who assembles a team of mercenaries to take on terrorists who are out to annihilate his family.
Cross’s masculine credentials are well to the fore. We’re told on the first page about the size of his penis: ‘“Can’t you keep this monster of yours on a leash?” She reached down with one hand to his groin.’
A few pages later, while under attack from mystery gunmen, Hector pauses to contemplate Britain’s firearms legislation. ‘Instinctively, he thrust his right hand into the front of his jacket to where the Beretta 9mm automatic was usually concealed in its armpit holster.
Of course, it wasn’t there. Carrying handguns is strictly prohibited in Jolly Old England. “Bloody politicians!” he snarled.’
To the uninitiated, this might come across as a brain-boggling collision of James Bond and Top Gear. It feels as though we’re on the brink of someone saying: ‘This is political correctness gone mad’ at any minute. Is any of it tongue-in-cheek?
‘No, there are people like that. I know a lot of them,’ says Smith. ‘I’ve been involved in stuff. I was there through the transition in Rhodesia and know mercenaries who spent their lives in violent situations.’
While new novel Vicious Circle may give the author’s devoted following more of what they enjoy, Smith’s publishing career has taken an unexpected turn. He’s just signed a reported £15million deal to produce his forthcoming novels in a ‘shared authorship’ scheme – whereby he provides the plots and someone else writes the books.

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