A grand-master of Twentieth-Century fiction, South African novelist Wilbur Smith has sold enough novels to fill Wembley Stadium twice over in a career spanning more than half a decade and is best known for his Courtney series beginning with The Lion Feeds and his Egyptian novels.
Set in the 1750s with Britain on the cusp of conquest in India, Ghost Fire is a pulse-pounding adventure spread across two continents. From the Indian battlefields to the salons of Paris, Wilbur Smith weaves a sweeping story of loss, ambition and the bonds of family.
Set in a land in thrall to the power of the ancient Pharaohs, a kingdom built on gold, a legend shattered by greed all seen through the eyes of slave Taita.
The bitter racial struggles and drive for colonial wealth in Rhodesia’s history are the backdrop for this epic dynastical saga.
The Courtney Famliy
The fortunes, and misfortunes of a sprawling, ambitious family are played out across two centuries in this, Smith’s first and best-known series, arranged in order of publication.
Major Hector Cross, an ex-SAS operative and the owner of a security company Cross Bow Security and a man not to be trifled with.
From lost civilisations to supersonic aerial combat, the Second World War to contemporary espionage and much more.
Wilbur Smith declares that ‘you have to be at least slightly crazy to write fiction for a living’ but there’s nothing crazy about the way the author has approached what has been a dizzyingly successful literary career.
Having taken to heart the advice of his publisher early on to “write what you know” Wilbur Smith’s novels are routed in the places and people he not only knows but loves and feels passionately about. He is avowedly not just a South African writer, but a novelist whose work is dominated by the history, landscape and people of Africa.
Thankfully for his writing career, Smith’s life has been anything but ordinary. Married four times, near-bankrupt at twenty-four with a CV that could list cattle ranch worker, police officer and accountant amongst his experience (His first career choice after graduating had in fact been as a journalist but his father declared “Don’t be a bloody fool… you’ll starve to death. Go and find yourself a real job.”), when Smith finally turned to fiction it wasn’t hard to find topics to inspire him.
What Smith calls his ‘good days’ came with his second novel (his first having been roundly rejected). He took his cues from close to home, thinking of his storytelling grandfather (a man who had "a magnificent pair of moustaches and could hit a spittoon at five paces without spilling a drop of tobacco juice.") and gave his name, Courtney, to his protagonist in the monumentally successful When the Lion Feeds. The novel is still regarded as one of his finest; with one critic saying it is "one of the handful that ought to endure among the true classics of adventure writing".
Book after book followed with Smith developing his first novel into a successful series, following the Courtney family dynasty from the 1860’s through to the 1980’s, as well as writing his Ballantyne novels, following a parallel family during the same time-period in Zimbabwe and many stand-alone novels to boot.
From Hunter to Desert God
In the last twenty years, Smith has mainly focused his attention on writing his Taita series set in ancient Egypt (originating with the novel River God) and his ‘Hector Cross’ books following an ex-SAS operative turned private security officer.
A man who never sits still, an inveterate hunter of big game and wild fisherman, one interviewer called Smith a ‘Byronic author-as-action-man’ and the label is appropriate for the heroes of his fiction too. His novels are unashamedly grand, sprawling, adventure stories packed full of daring-do and eye-opening sexual encounters. They are also frequently cited as Waterstones’ reader’s favourites.
At 83 Smith shows little signs of slowing down and has recently agreed to work with various collaborators in a new publishing deal to allow more of his ideas to see the light of day. He says: "I have plenty more books in my head, clamouring to be written, and I have a creative ecosystem around me that will make this a reality. These are the very best of days."