Page last updated at 07:40 GMT, Monday, 6 April 2009 08:40 UK

Wilbur Smith answers your questions

Wilbur Smith
Smith published his first novel, When the Lion Feeds, in 1964

Author Wilbur Smith is one of the world's most popular writers.

He has published 31 books, including bestsellers like When the Lion Feeds, The River God and The Triumph of the Sun, which have been translated into 26 languages.

Set in Africa - where Smith was born in 1933 - his books include the Ballantyne, Courtney and Egyptian series of novels, which have secured him an army of fans.

As his latest novel, Assegai, hits shop shelves, Smith has answered some of your questions about his work.


With the political unrest and violence in so many countries within Africa, can you see a way forward to regain the beautiful Africa that was there before?
Ian McFadzean, Alloa

I'm not a prophet, I can only use historical reality to come to a view of the future, and my view is that Africa will return to being African and not European. The advent of colonialism was foreign to the country itself, but it will return to what it was before the Europeans arrived.

As a fellow Zambian I have watched my country of birth and Africa as a whole change beyond all recognition but I see now only despair and poverty caused by AIDS and conflict. Do you think you will ever write about this new Africa?
Mike, London

I certainly never will because Africa is changing so quickly that if I set out to write a book about present day Africa, by the time I got half-way through the book the whole scene would have changed and I could never really catch up with reality.

Like you I was brought up in Africa, do you think it is true that Africa never leaves you! You take it with you in your heart?
Ann Bain, Cupar, Fife

I think that if you were weaned on Zambezi water you can never escape Africa. The romance and the pulling power of Africa is much too large and too pervasive enough for us to ever break free from it, even though we might live in a land across the sea.

Did you ever consider using the Boer War as a central part of one of your books?
Gereld Boffa, Milford New Jersey, US

I've already done so - in the Sound of Thunder.

I have always been a fan because of the way you portray the African bush so well I can smell the dust and feel the heat of the sun. Will there ever be a sort of autobiography of your own adventures?
Carla Thompson, Sawtry

I would never have the hubris to write my autobiography because most of my time has been sat behind a desk dreaming up characters, but certainly there are parts of Africa that are more vivid and more looming in my mind than others. I love east Africa, I love Botswana, I love the east coast of Mozambique, and the Zulu land, but generally speaking I love all of Africa, even the big deserts - the Sahara and the Kalahari.

Do you still feel southern Africa has a role to play on the world stage?
Jason Beney, London

I don't think that South Africa is in the mainstream of the powerful G20 nations. It has vast amounts of basic minerals - gold, platinum, copper and others - but it is physically and mentally so far from the centre of events that it will always just be good old South Africa.


Where did you get the inspiration from to write River God?
Victoria Hansford, Saffron Walden

I was sitting in the Temple of Karnak on the Nile, as the sun was going down, and I was all alone, and the great Hypostyle Hall was full of shadows and ghosts of the past, and suddenly I heard this little voice saying "my name is Taita, write my story"… and if you believe that you'll believe anything!

The Sun Bird has two such great intertwined stories, what was your inspiration for this and why haven't you repeated this kind of format?
Neil Camp, Ely, Cambridgeshire

It was a very important book for me in my development as a writer because at that stage I was starting to become enchanted by the lure of Hollywood. There had been some movies made of my books and I thought "whoa, what a way to go… All that money!" and I thought "hold on - am I a scriptwriter or am I a real writer?" Writing a book that could never be filmed was my declaration of independence. I made it so diffuse, with different ages and brought characters back as different entities. It was a complex book, it gave me a great deal of pleasure but that was the inspiration - to break free.

Why did you make the Seventh Scroll a departure from the previous two Egyptian books? I've started reading the Seventh Scroll but finding it very hard to get into as it's not like the ones I'm used to.
Steve Farndale, Peterborough

Obviously if I have written 32 books some of them are going to disappoint readers of previous books if they have that model in their minds. But with The Seventh Scroll I just wanted to have a novel that was like a house of mirrors where there were mysteries to solve that were 2,000 or 3,000 years old, by a modern-day man, I really enjoyed writing the book, but I can see that if you really loved River God then you would be slightly disappointed, just as people who like the Courtney's don't like the Egyptian series. It's the old thing - you can't make all of the people happy all of the time.

How did the character of Taita appear to you at the very beginning?
Jo Naylor, Hamilton, Bermuda

I think one of the most poignant things is unrequited love and loneliness. So I had to have a man who was very interesting and attractive to females but who was unable to carry through his love for them because he was emasculated. A lot of people seem to empathise with the feeling I was trying to portray.

I have long wanted to make a film of Eagle in the Sky but I understand you do not want to have any more films made of his books after the disappointing early productions. Is this still the case?
Nigel Wooll, London

I would not want to be involved in the making of the movie because I have been on enough film sets to know that they are deadly boring places. There's not much going on, and unless you are one of the main movers and shakers of the story there is nothing except a lot of sitting around and talking nonsense. But if someone wants to make a movie of one of my books, and I feel they could do justice to the story, and they had enough capital to make it, then I would have no objection but I wouldn't want to be involved.

You have to let go of control. The producers are going to make you sign a clearance and you have no control over it, absolutely no creative control, and they can change the name of the movie, move where it is set from Africa to Mexico, and move the period it is set in. If you love the work you are doing you don't want to see it mucked around like that.

The Quest struck me, and many other people, as strangely inconsistent with your previous works. Could you comment?
Simon, Mulhouse, France

It was different, it was a chance of pace, I agree with that, and it was perhaps self-indulgent to give Taita his manhood back in the end, but I had become very, very fond of Taita. It was an adventure further into the realms of witchcraft and magic.


How do you get (and maintain) your inspiration to continue writing?
Mike Pitt, Plymouth

I don't know where the inspiration comes from, and I wouldn't want to get too deeply into that, but I just thank God it's there. I have never had too much trouble for creative ideas to spring up in my mind and now, in the later years of my life, I have slowed down the actual amount of writing and creating I do. I work on a book one year, and I take the next year off and I find that is helping greatly. It gives a little more time for the well to refill with water before I go to it again.

I dream about my books sometimes when I am in the middle of writing them. Very often I will go to bed worrying about a section or a transition area of the book. Where I am changing from one scene to another, and I'm not quite sure how to do it, I go to bed, sleep on it, and I wake up in the morning, look in the mirror when I'm shaving, and there it is. It was there the whole time. That can only mean that when I'm asleep my mind is still running over the problem and coming to a solution.

How many hours at a time do you work on your novels and where do you write them? I imagine a study with a great view.
Kate Horsley, Alcester

Everyone imagines a great view! That would be a little distracting. I work on my novels wherever I have a PC, and I have four or five places around the world where I do have a PC. These days you can just slip a little flash drive into your top pocket, fly for 12 hours, come to another place, plug it into a computer and you are away again.

I write my books in my head, and not in a specific study with a view. The view is from my inner eyes.

Your early books had a lot of action violence and not much sex. Lately they have a lot more sex and less action - why the change?
Joy Allen, Woking

I suppose when I wrote my earlier books I did not know women very well. I was frightened by women - I was intimidated by them - I went to an all-boys school and I only really met a grown up girl with boobies and everything when I was 16. They were frightening creatures. All I knew is that they were warm and soft and smelled very good. But in the meantime I have been married four times, I have been around the block and up the apple tree a few times, so now I feel I know enough about women to write about them. The road to Damascus was a book called The Burning Shore, and there for the first time I took a female character and made her the major character in the book, and it worked well - a lot of ladies came on board after they read that book! I am in awe of women, I love women, I have always loved women - I admire them for their strengths, their determination, for their dedication and the sacrifices they are capable of making. I have been fortunate to have at least two very, very good women in my life - my present wife who is just wonderful, and my previous wife who died of cancer back in 1999. She was a very strong and interesting woman.

Who's your favourite writer and what's your favourite book?
Amaniel Mengistu Ghile, Northampton

There are so many writers I enjoy but modern writers have, for me, unfortunately not written enough books. You don't have a body of work to explore so they can't be your favourite writer. My favourite writers are those who have written a lot and have probably gone to the great writing desk in the big blue yonder, but up there would be CS Forster, John Steinbeck - he had so much humour and pathos and understanding of people in distress - Brian Patrick O'Brien and Robert Graves. I also love to discover someone I didn't know about before.

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific