Desert island books: Wilbur Smith
The best-selling author’s choices are peopled with deeply conflicted characters taking on epic adventures, from the high seas to herding cattle across America
With his books averaging sales of three million copies each, Wilbur Smith is one of the best-selling authors ever. Born in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) in 1933, he grew up on the family ranch. It was as a child that he first developed an interest in the written word, inspired by his mother. “Before I could read myself she taught me to revere books and the written word. Every night she read bed-time stories to me,” he says. After a short career as a chartered accountant and a couple of attempts at writing, he hit the jackpot with the best-seller When the Lion Feeds, a book about “all the things I knew well and loved better” such as “hunting and gold mining and carousing and women”. He describes writing as utterly vital to him. “Writing for me is life,” he says. “I have two existences, one on the page and the rest of the time in this wicked world.” He divides his time between London and Cape Town and shares his Desert Island Books with Helena Frith Powell.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway was a trailblazer in the modern style of writing, which makes him extremely important. I love all his work but this is about people in a hugely stressful war situation. I love his sparse writing and the fact that he saw people clearly. His characters are so well defined, without him saying too much about them. And he was a tragic figure himself, an unhappy man who hid uncertainty behind a macho image.
The 11 Hornblower Books
by CS Forester
Horatio Hornblower is a character rather like Hemingway, terribly uncertain of himself and always self-doubting, even though he has incredible courage. And he never shows his real face to the world. I first read these books as a youngster and they have remained with me. Hornblower is very much alive to me, and not just a paper figure.
by John Steinbeck
I love this book for its humour, pathos and understanding of people who are lower down in the social order. It is a wonderful look back into Depression-era America; touching, moving and funny. Steinbeck’s humanity is like a shining light.
Master and Commander
by Patrick O’Brian
I love these books for their characterisation; it is so tense and spot-on. And I love the friendship between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin as well as all the writing about tall ships and the sea. Very fitting for a desert island.
by Robert Graves
I have always enjoyed Graves’s work but for me the masterpieces are the two Claudius books. The central figure of Emperor Claudius is a damaged character; he stutters, he has a club foot, and yet he is a brilliant man and a man who engages my sympathy. Added to which, of course, Graves’s prose is wonderful. It is a period of history that excites me and my imagination; this is a book I can reread at any time.
by Larry McMurtry
This is one of the books that I really love to read. It is a western story about a group of Texas Rangers who become trail-herders, taking cattle from Chicago to Montana. The characters are so funny; one of the minor characters eats only the yolks of his breakfast eggs, as he believes the whites make you go blind. My wife eats only yolks, too, so I always eat her whites. Well, I don’t want a wife in dark glasses.
Justine (from the Alexandria Quartet)
by Lawrence Durrell
Justine is many things and one of the most fascinating women in literature. The prose in this quartet is extraordinary and the characters are all exquisite. It is the same story told by different narrators and you never get a really clear picture of what is going on because it changes according to whichever storyteller is speaking.
Wilbur Smith’s latest novel, Those in Peril, is out now
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. Helena is also working on a thriller called Thin Ice that will be published in spring 2021 as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and in paperback in April 2018.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019