My favourite author is dead. As I’m writing this, I am crying for a man that was not part of my life but he has been woven into my life for decades. I met him once. I have his autograph. He was coming to my favourite bookstore for a signing and the owners knew how much I cared about him, about his books. So, they made arrangements for me to meet him first. He looked tired. But he also looked me straight in the eye when I told him how much his books had meant to me and said that we were friends already. I never forgot that. I also didn’t wash my hand for a while. Silly girl.
Thirty some odd years ago I was bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have anything new to read. My mother handed me a Readers Digest collection of stories. They were abridged books. I read one by an author I had never heard of and was hooked. I promptly went out and bought the full version. That was the beginning of a relationship with an individual on the other side of the world. I have spent more time in his presence than any other man (except my father).
I am a reader. Sometimes voraciously so. At my peak I was averaging two and three books a week. I did that for years. So, when I find an author that I like that has many books to his name I will splurge, I will binge and I will be in seventh Heaven. That began my romance with Wilbur Smith. He did not know my name or anything about me but my relationship with him was, in many ways, incredibly intimate. I would take his books to bed and read for hours. I would park myself on a chair on my balcony and immerse myself in the fields of Africa listening to Lions cough and elephants roar. It was breathtaking. And I can visit anytime I want by simply opening the pages of one of his books.
His stories have taken me to Diamond fields and Gold mines, he showed me cattle grazing on the open pastures and the animals that stalk them. I met people who were larger than life and as flawed as I am. He wove his stories into the fabric of the country and it all sounded so incredibly real. It was real for as long as I was reading it and probably for a short time afterwards. I feel that I have been to South Africa and have met the people that live there, of all walks of life. He did that. And he did that for millions of people all over the world. Our relationship was not exclusive, nor should it have been. Rest in peace my friend. You will live forever between the covers of your books.
Wilbur Smith, 9 January 1933 – 13 November 2021