Wilbur Smith, the South African novelist was born on January 9, 1933, in Ndola, Northern Rhodesia with his younger sister Adrienne. The writer was named after an aviator, Wilbur Wright. He died at the age of 88, on 13 November 2021 in Cape Town. With death of Wilbur Smith we lost a legendary novelist.
When Smith was a kid, he was suffering from cerebral malaria for ten days but managed to make a proper recovery. Along with his younger sister, Smith was worn out the first few years of his time on his parent’s cattle farm surrounded by hills, savannah, and forests. He made friends with sons of the ranch workers and with his accompanying persons, he roamed through places enjoying activities like hunting, hiking, and entrapping animals and small birds.
The one who ignited the fire of thinking is his mother. She was a book-lover, and she used to read to him daily. She later gifted him novels focusing on themes of adventure and escape, which commenced the writer’s interest in fiction. However, Smith’s father discouraged him from pursuing writing as a profession or passion.
The one who took place of his father and made sure to motivate him so that he gets more inclined towards books is his English teacher. While he was in a boarding school at Cordwalles Preparatory School he had the fortune of meeting someone like his English teacher who made it certain to let the young Smith know that being a bookworm is something he should be proud of not ashamed of. He even praised his passion for writing and went on helping him with the effects that make a story more interesting. He graduated with B.Com, in the year 1954 from Rhodes University, South Africa.
Wilbur Smith always wanted to write about social issues in South Africa, but her father’s command and advice to ‘get a real job’ encouraged him to get a job as a tax accountant. During his university holidays, Smith worked in goldmines. He worked as an employee in several other companies. He accompanied his father in establishing a sheet metal manufacturing company named H.J. Smith and Son Ltd., in Salisbury. But due to financial difficulties the company failed to keep up, and now Smith was 25 and divorced to take a job as a tax assessor in 1963 at the Inland Revenue Service, Salisbury.
It is in Inland Revenue where he rediscovered his love of writing in his spare time, having abundant access to paper and ink. Although after publishing his first novel, ‘The Gods First Make Mad’, and facing several rejections he went back to his accounting profession.
When he was 27, he received a telegram from his agent Ursula Williams asking him to go for another novel, and he could not help but fulfill the urge of writing. Then he wrote ‘When the Lion Feeds. His agent Ursula Winant convinced Charles Pick, the deputy MD of William Heinemann and later the book went on to be unbeaten. Then Smith decided to be a full-time writer.
Smith’s second novel ‘The Dark of the Sun’ got the film rights and was filmed in the year 1968 starring Rod Taylor. His other notable works are The Sound of Thunder, River God, The Seventh Scroll, Birds of Prey, The Sunbird, Shout at the Devil, and many more. Most of his works were adapted into movies. In 2018, Smith published his autobiography On Leopard Rock. By 2021, the year of his demise he had published about 49 books and had sold more than 140 million copies and among that 24 million in Italy, by the year 2014.
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