Wilbur Smith (1933 - ) was born on the 9th January in Northern Rhodesia, now called Zambia. He was educated at Michaelhouse in KwaZulu-Natal and at Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape. As a child he shared his mother’s interest in novels, especially adventure stories, where he immersed himself in the lives of the characters and the places. His love of adventure stories made him intensely aware of the environment and wildlife. His concern for the environment and the people of his native home are strongly reflected in his novels.
Due to the rapidly changing political situation in Southern Africa, Smith had his heart set on becoming a journalist so that he could chronicle the changes which were taking place. But his stern Victorian father, who had never read a book in his life, discouraged him, believing that writing was not a real job. So, instead of studying journalism, he became a tax accountant.
He married at the age of twenty four but this marriage ended in divorce. He then started writing as a diversion. He immersed himself in the characters and the setting of his novels. He became a full-time writer after the successful publication of When the Lion Feeds (1964). He has since written thirty novels and his books are now translated into twenty six languages. He is South Africa’s biggest selling author by far, and indeed a world best seller.
Africa is the inspiration and the setting for many of Smith’s novels. In order to carry out research for his novels, Smith spends a lot of his time travelling in Africa. He also travels extensively when he is not writing. Among some of his travels are safaris in Botswana and Zimbabwe, diving and fishing in the Seychelles and shooting and fishing in South America, skiing in Switzerland and visits to Australia and New Zealand for sea fishing.
Wilbur Smith currently lives in London. Smith was strongly influenced by the two modern writers, Hemingway and Steinbeck. As a child he read books by Forester, Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling as well as Victorian travel writers. His writing is strongly influenced by this literary genre.
Extract from When the Lion Feeds (1964)
Up here on the plateau it was grassland that rose and fell beneath them as they climbed the low round hills and dropped into the valleys. The grass around them moved with the wind: waist-high grass, soft dry grass the colour of ripe wheat. Behind them and on each side of the grassland rolled away to the full range of the eye, but suddenly in front of them was the escarpment. The land cascaded down into it, steeply at first then gradually levelling out to become the Tugela flats. The Tugela river was twenty miles away across the flats, but today there was a haze in the air so they could not see that far. Beyond the river, stretched far to the north and a hundred miles east to the sea, was Zululand. The river was the border. The steep side of the escarpment was cut by vertical gulleys and in the gulleys grew dense, olive-green bush.
Below them, two miles out on the flats, was the homestead of Theunis Kraal. The house was a big one, Dutch-gabled smoothly thatched with combed grass. There were horses in the small paddock: many horses, for the twins’ father was a wealthy man. Smoke from the cooking fires blued the air over the servants’ quarters and the sound of someone chopping wood carried faintly up to them.
Sean stopped on the rim of the escarpment and sat down in the grass. He took hold of one of his grimy bare feet and twisted it up into his lap. There was a hole in the ball of his heel from which he had pulled a thorn earlier in the day and now it was plugged with dirt. Garrick sat down next to him.
“Man, is that going to hurt when Ma puts iodine on it!’ gloated Garrick. “She’ll have to use a needle to get the dirt out. I bet you yell – I bet you yell your head off!’
Sean ignored him. He picked a stalk of grass and started probing it into the wound. Garrick watched with interest. Twins could scarcely have been less alike. Sean was already taking on the shape of a man: his shoulders were thickening, and there was a hard muscle forming in his puppy fat. His colouring was vivid: black hair, skin brown from the sun, lips and cheeks that glowed with the fresh young blood beneath their surface, and blue eyes, the dark indigo-blue of cloud shadow on mountain lake.
Garrick was slim, with the wrists and ankles of a girl. His hair was an undecided brown that grew wispy down the back of his neck, his skin was freckled, his nose and the rims of his pale blue eyes were pink with persistent hay fever. He was fast losing interest in Sean’s surgery. He reached across and fiddled with one of Tinker’s pendulous ears, and this broke the rhythm of the dog’s panting; he gulped twice and the saliva dripped from the end of his tongue. Garrick lifted his head and looked down the slope. A little below where they were sitting was the head of one of the bushy gullies. Garrick caught his breath.
‘Sean, look there – next to the bush!’ His whisper trembled with excitement.
‘What’s it?’ Sean looked up startled. Then he saw it.
‘Hold Tinker.’ Garrick grabbed the dog’s collar and pulled his head around to prevent him seeing and giving chase. ‘He’s the biggest old inkonka in the world,’ breathed Garrick. Sean was too absorbed to answer.
The bushbuck was picking its way warily out of the thick cover. A big ram, black with age; the spots on his haunches were faded like old chalk marks. His ears pricked up and his spiral horns held high, big as a pony, but stepping daintily, he came out into the open. He stopped and swung his head from side to side, searching for danger, then he trotted diagonally down the hill and disappeared into another of the gullies.
1964. When the Lion Feeds. London: Heinemann.
1965. The Dark of the Sun. London: Heinemann.
1966. The Sound of Thunder. London: Pan Books.
1968. Shout at the Devil. London: Heinemann.
1970. Gold Mine. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1971. The Diamond Hunters. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1972. The Sunbird. Johnannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1974. Eagle in the Sky. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1975. The Eye of the Tiger. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1976. Cry Wolf. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1977. A Sparrow Falls. London: Heinemann.
1978. Hungry as the Sea. London: Pan Books.
1979. Wild Justice. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1980. A Falcon Flies. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1981. Men of Men. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1982. The Angels Weep. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1984. The Leopard Hunts in Darkness. London: Heinemann.
1985. Burning Shore. London: Heinemann.
1986. Power of the Sword. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1987. Rage. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1989. A Time to Die. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1990. Golden Fox. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1991. Elephant Song. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1993. River God. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1996. The Seventh Scroll. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1997. Birds of Prey. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
1999. Monsoon. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
2001. Warlock. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
2003. Blue Horizon. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
2005. The Triumph of the Sun. New York: St. Martin's Press.
2007. The Quest. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
2009. Assegai. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.
2011. Those in Peril. Johannesburg: Pan Macmillan.