Good Reading : April 2009
me my shelf i wilbur smith Born to British parents in Zambia (then known as Northern Rhodesia), southern Africa, in 1933, WILBUR SMITH now divides his time between Switzerland, England and South Africa. His first novel, When the Lion Feeds, published in 1964, was an instant worldwide success. He has since published over 30 novels, all set in Africa. He tells gr what’s on his bookshelf. What are you reading now, and why? I am reading ‘The Emperor’ series of novels by Conn Iggulden. They are historical fiction on the life and times of Julius Caesar, from his childhood to his assassination. I have only recently discovered Conn Iggulden’s works. I picked up his book Lords of the Bow in a bookshop on Fulham Road and it seemed interesting, especially as I knew almost nothing about Genghis Khan. From the first page I found myself enchanted, to the extent that when I had read the last page I actually wrote to Conn to congratulate him. He wrote back to remind me that some years ago he had written to me in similar terms. I promised him and myself that I was going to read everything he has written. I am loving the project. He is possibly the best historical fiction writer I have read. It’s a toss up between him, Bernard Cornwell and Robert Graves. Who are your favourite authors? My list is like a carousel; it goes round and round. I have sudden favourites, but then the old familiars come round full circle to replace them. Right up at the top is C S Forester. The African Queen is probably one of the most beautiful African novels ever written, and Horatio Hornblower is my all-time favourite fictional character. After that come all the usual suspects: John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Lawrence Durrell, Robert Graves, et al with especial honours for T E Lawrence and his Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Which books have had the most influence on your lifestyle or philosophy? The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, and John Maynard Keynes’s books. You will guess that my degree was in economics, which is why these two figure so largely. After 8 goodreading i APRIL 2009 that, Charles Darwin awoke my interest in zoology and evolution. My love of Africa springs in a great part from the writings of William Cornwallis Harris and Frederick Courtenay Selous. I have rare and beautiful first editions of their books. Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples is on my list also. What books have had an influence on your writing? Alexandre Dumas said, ‘I have milked a hundred cows to make my cheese, but the recipe for the cheese is my very own.’ I cannot put it better than that. Every book I have ever read, good or bad, illustrious or abysmal, has taught me something about writing. It is not possible to become a writer unless you are first a reader. What books have made you laugh out loud? Books have the ability to make me laugh and weep readily. I often laugh and cry at my own work as I execute it. However, when it comes to good old-fashioned unrestrained belly laughter, my choice is the ‘Just William’ books by Richmal Crompton, and after that P G Wodehouse’s characters Bertie Wooster and Jeeves.