Saturday, 25 August 2012

Wilbur Smith at the Edinburgh Book Fest - "Don't tell anyone, but I've got a Kindle"

Me and Will (as I assume his buddies call him)
It was raining. There was a long queue. It was 10am on a Saturday morning. But the crowd was large and buzzed. I’d found myself somewhere I never expected to be – in the middle of a Wilbur Smith obsessed mob.

Wilbur Smith. You know the guy. His book sales could fill Wembley twice over. He's been called "the best historical novelist ever." He's been translated into 26 languages. He owns part of a small island in the Seychelles.

This guy has been around. But he (like me) is at the Edinburgh Book Festival for the first time. So at least we have that in common.

First time or not, he gave a good talk, hand held expertly and entertainingly by journalist Jackie McGlone (who will, apparently, never forget page number 289 of his new offering, Those in Peril).

Most impressive was the amount of surprises he sprung. I was shown up, made to feel silly for expecting a talk by a man stuck in the past, still a product of his colonial Africa upbringing, still pining for boys’ own adventures. I was wrong. 79 year-old Wilbur Smith is (stay with me here) a modern man.
For starts, there’s his energy and his interest and his clear enjoyment of life. He stuck around for over an hour after his talk to sign books, chatting to everyone up to the last man. He’s been writing for more decades than you can shake a stick at, but he’s still in his element. He talked of how he kept things fresh for himself; keeps himself interested. He has a hunger for creating new characters and trying out new writing styles. He’s been doing this forever, and he still loves it - that’s got to give the rest of us hope.
The Wilbur Smith mob
The “creating new characters” point seemed particularly pertinent. He’s been criticised in the past for being sexist. But if he ever was, it was because he lived in a sexist age. Today, he’s a different man entirely. I promise you. This is a man who has adapted and learned and continuously changed the way he sees the world. He spoke of how his female characters have moved from being mere window dressing to being central protagonists who drive the plots of his latest efforts. From pretty decoration to courageous personalities. He describes himself nowadays as a “ferocious feminist”.
He also spoke of his conversion to conservation. A big game hunter in his youth, Smith is now on the other side of the fence, heavily involved in wildlife charities.
And to top it off (and he said not to tell anyone, but what the hey,) he’s even got a Kindle. Honest to goodness a Kindle. I haven’t even got a Kindle. They scare me. But Wilbur Smith has. Modern man, I’m telling you.
He gave a few lovely details about his life as well. Like how his dad never read any of his books but always carried one around in case he got a chance to show them off to his friends. About how his mum was a talented artist whose works dominate the walls of Smith’s Swiss chalet. About how his boarding school days were made just about bearable by escaping into the world of Biggles whenever he could.
This was fun. It was a bunch of stuff I wasn’t expecting. Lively. Revealing. Interesting. I was already a luke-warm Wilbur Smith fan, but now I feel I understand him a little better as he is today, understand the adventure his writing life has taken him on.
Wilbur Smith, unwittingly endorsing GBR...
His new book, Those in Peril, is out now and due to come out as a film in 2014. There’s also a sequel planned to come out in Spring 2013.
But (most excitingly), it’ll get a review on GBR soon. Keep your eyes open for it!.
Now, back to the festival!


Anonymous said...

I loved wilbur smith books when I was a teenager! I may even buy his new book now I've read this.

Gav Collins said...

Excellent. Haven't read it myself yet, but it's firmly on the list!

Anonymous said...

Love Wilbur Smith! Havn't read one of his books for years, must get this one!

Anonymous said...

In my early 20's my husband took a job in Sierra Leone and I joined him with two young children (4 years old and 8 months). I had never traveled far before and was completely at a loss with life in Africa. My neighbour had been brought up in Rhodesia, as it was, and introduced me to Wilbur's books. Through these novels I began to fall in love with Africa and it's peoples and the few years I lived there were some of the happiest days of my life.

Gav Collins said...

Excellent. My mother (who grew up in Rhodesia) had a similar reaction to ole Wilbur.

Jeffrey Whittam said...

Couldn't make the festival myself, but thoroughly enjoyed reading your post - thank you.

Gav Collins said...

Thanks Jeffrey - feel free to come back to GBR for more! At least one book review every week (and a no spoiler guarantee...)

Garth H. Barstow said...

Can you help. I am trying to find out in which of Wilburs books Sean Courtenay was killed by his son.

Yours Faithfully

Garth H. Barstow

Gav Collins said...

Garth hi - I'm afraid I don't know, but a bit of Googling suggests it's in A Sparrow Falls. At least that's what Wikipedia tells me -

Hope that helps!