Wilbur Smith is this week’s Shelf Lifer. He tells us which books make him cry, describes the party he wishes he could have attended and lets us in on a ‘highly rewarding but rather sticky
Apparently, his agent Charles Pick once told him "Write for yourself, and write about what you know best." He seems to have taken this piece of advice to heart.
"http://www.amazon.co.uk/Those-Peril-Wilbur-Smith/dp/0330452509/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1330512409&sr=1-1">Those in Peril by Wilbur Smith is out now. Visit his
Facebook to find out more.
1) As a child, what did you read under the covers?
The first book I ever read under the covers at boarding school was
"http://www.amazon.co.uk/Forever-Amber-Kathleen-Winsor/dp/0141009829/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330512111&sr=8-1">Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor. It was a highly rewarding but
rather sticky experience.
2) Has a book ever made you cry, and if so which one?
My first unpublished novel was so awful I wept with shame.
3) You are about to be put into solitary confinement for a year and allowed to take three books. What would you choose?
4) Which literary character would you most like to sleep with?
I have already slept with her. Her name was She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed and her original creator was Henry Rider Haggard in the Victorian novel "http://www.amazon.co.uk/Oxford-Worlds-Classics-Rider-Haggard/dp/0192835505/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1330512186&sr=1-3">She. She was my chief object of lust as a
schoolboy. I re-created her in my own novel The
Quest. She is beautiful beyond human belief, she is wise with all the knowledge of the ages and evil beyond the telling of it. In fact she is the perfect courtesan. In the guise of my
alter-ego, Taita the Warlock, I had my way with her. Not only that but Taita and I beat her at her own game. Aren’t you jealous? If not, you damn well should be!
5) If you could write a self-help book, what would you call it?
‘How To Push your luck Beyond All Reasonable Limits, and Survive.’ No that’s a lousy title; too long and too smug. ‘Boredom is the Killer.’ That’s more like it. I have never been bored a single day
of my life since I gave up tugging my forelock to any other man and calling him "Boss".
6) Michael Gove has asked you to rewrite the GCSE English Literature syllabus. Which book, which play, and which poem would you make compulsory reading?
Everything ever written by the Almighty Bard, the father of the most glorious language ever to pass over the tongue of man. With those illustrious initials to his name how could he not be the
greatest literary genius of all time?
7) Which party from literature would you most like to have attended?
In May 1812 Commodore Horatio Hornblower is commanding a squadron of His Brittanic Majesty’s Royal Navy in the Baltic Sea, ordered there to frustrate the aspirations of nefarious
Napoleon Bonaparte in that area of Europe. When Hornblower sails into the Port of Peterhof he receives an invitation from The Emperor of All The Russias, Czar Alexander the First, to attend a court
dinner at the Imperial Palace. Hornblower and his staff go ashore to enjoy this extraorinary entertainment. I only wish I could have been with them as C.S Forester, who is my favourite historical
author, describes the occasion in his novel "http://www.amazon.co.uk/Commodore-Hornblower-Saga-Paperback/dp/0316289388/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1330519448&sr=1-1">Commodore Hornblower.
‘Footmen opened two huge doors and they entered a vast room, the ceiling soaring to a dome far above their heads. The walls were a mass of gold and marble.’ Hornblower is introduced to a glittering
throng of nobility. The woman are all beautiful, some of them bold-eyed and some of them languid. Hornblower is introduced to Countess Canerine who is to be his partner for the evening. she is the
boldest-eyed and most beautiful of them all. Her liquid eyes are filled with a consuming fire. Her magnificent bosom is white as snow above the low decollete of her court dress.
We know at once that this is going to be one hell of a party, and we are not mistaken. Hornblower makes all the right moves. With his gold-hilted sword he slashes the pistol from the hand of the
would-be assassin who is about to shoot the Czar. He does this so skillfully that nobody in the vast assembly notices. His officers spirit the wounded villain from the scene. Hornblower turns his
attention the the food, the wine and the bold eyes of the Contessa.
‘This is caviare and this is vodka, the drink of the people. I think you will find that the two of them are admirably suited to each other.’ She tells him in a husky and significant tone. She leads
him down the long buffet and heaps his plate with scrumptious morsels. Hornblower has never tasted such delicious food and wine. His spirits rise and the Countess grows more beautiful by the
moment. At last Hornblower is replete and tells the Countess so. She looks at him in dismay but before she can speak the doors at the end of the room are thrown open to a fanfare of trumpets and
she leads Hornblower in the procession into the main banquet hall lit by hundreds of cut-glass chandliers, where a vast table awaits them covered with gold plate and crystal. Hornblower realizes
that the feast is only now about to begin. A uniformed footman stands behind each chair and all the two hundred guests are seated and served with lobster soup in gold plates at the same moment. The
description of the meal that follows would turn an anorexic into a glutton. At the end of the meal the Countess suggests they can either join the play at the gaming tables, or she can conduct him
on a tour of the art galleries,
‘As madame wishes.’ Says Hornblower with a bow, the perfect British officer and gentleman. Madame wishes to conduct him on a tour of her private quarters where the real fun commences.
Hornblower spends the rest of the night exploring the contents of the Countess’s silken knickers.
Now that is definitely my kind of party. Beats the Hell out of even Anton Mosimann’s legendary New Year Eve Bash at his West Halkin Street Club.
8) What would you title your memoirs?
‘You Should Have Been There!’
9) Which literary character do you dream of playing?
Myself in the film adaptation of ‘You Should Have Been There!’
10) Which book would you give to a lover?
A thick cheque book.
11) Spying Mein Kampf or Dan Brown on someone’s bookshelf can spell havoc for a friendship. What’s your literary deal breaker?
If I saw a copy of The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels or even a few copies of The New Statesman on a bookshelf I would know I was a thousand miles left of my comfort zone and
I would run for the door. Just a friendly warning, its dangerous to knock Dan Brown. Half the readers in the world have The Da Vinci Whats-it on their bedside tables alongside The Holy Bible.
Photo credit, Alexander James.
Fleur Macdonald is editor of The Omnivore.