He speaks of how he did a promotional tour of London in 1964, and arrived at Heathrow, hoping for an audience with the Queen. He ended up sneaking out copies of his books from the backs of bookshelves to the window display, and had irate bookshop proprietors call up his publishers.
He has the audience in splits recounting how he saw a woman reading his first book, and said to her, “Madam, that book is mine”, only to have her say, “Oh, I’m so sorry! I just found it lying here!” before returning it to him.
He grins about how he went to a book signing, and found no one there, and then decided to sign all his books, so that the bookstore couldn’t return them to his publishers, and he would get a royalty.
Then, he spotted Frederick Forsyth’s books, and decided to do his friend Freddy a good turn by signing those as well.
On the Landmark Wilbur Smith India Tour to promote his latest offering, Those in Peril, the bestselling author speaks about his masala style, allegations of racism and sexism, terror, death, Islam, women and his ‘competition’ with Margaret Thatcher in an exclusive chat with Nandini Krishnan.
A writer of your calibre makes a conscious choice – literary or popular fiction. Was spicing up your books always your preference, or did you ever think you might lean towards high literature?
High literature...no, thank you! When I came first to India, one of the journalists said to me, “You write masala!” So my name is Wilbur Masala Smith.
But within this masala, you engage with such serious issues - racial discrimination, religious friction. When did these ideas begin to preoccupy you?
Well, you know, I write about people in extreme situations, people in peril, like the title of this book says. So I know all about these things. I was brought up in Africa, and I know all about racial discrimination.
My ancestors practised it avidly. The slave trade came out of Africa. And all these things – cruelty to man, cruelty to animals – were such a part of mankind’s existence, of mankind’s experience. And so, I’m involved in all of that – the cruelty and kindness of all mankind, the glory and the infamy of all mankind, that’s my stock-in-trade.
Image: Wilbur Smith speaks at the Landmark Wilbur Smith India Tour in Chennai
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