I was asked recently, by Francis de Aguilar, a writer friend, what first caused me to “Become interested in African wildlife.“
A simple question.
I told him it was after visiting South Africa, particularly the time I spent in the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve.
However, Francis’s question stayed in my mind; although I answered him, it left a nagging doubt in my mind I was wrong.
I was wrong.
After pondering for a few days, the truth unravelled itself. I now knew the correct answer.
My interest in Africa and its diverse multitude of wildlife was first stoked by reading the novels of Wilbur Smith.
Back in the early seventies, I picked up a rather dog-eared and worn copy of ‘When the Lion Feeds’, which I devoured within two days. I followed that book by purchasing ‘The Dark of the Sun’, again read within a few days.
I was about sixteen years old and, for the first time, ‘hooked’ on a particular author.
I read all of Wilbur Smith’s books up to the 1991 publication of ‘Elephant Song’. My favourite book, (excluding any of the ‘Courtney or Ballantyne Novels’) must be ‘Eagle in the Sky’…or ‘Cry Wolf’…or ‘A Sparrow Falls’….or…
But I digress.
The real answer to the question posed to me by Francis is; it was reading these books when I was a young man that stimulated my imagination, made me think about the heat, the vastness, the veld, the bush and, of course, the animals of Africa.
For years, I carried my imaginings of the world Wilbur Smith planted in my head with his words, until one day I had the opportunity to visit Africa myself.
I was not disappointed.
The continent is mind-bogglingly vast. The scenery, the smell, the sun, the animals, the people, everything exceeded my expectations, bettered those imaginings I held onto for so long.
This I find is something rare; very few places ever exceed our own imaginative conceptions.
I have returned to Africa many times, to different areas, different countries within this vast dark continent.
You may have heard it said, “Africa captures, not only your heart but soul and once you have been, you can never really leave.”
These are some of the most honest words ever spoken.
I am here now, but part of me will forever remain in Africa.
Now, being a writer, I cannot leave an article like this with just one conclusion when I know there are always several stories to be told about everything.
Therefore, I would like you to also consider this, from Wilbur Smith’s point of view, or maybe, it is just my own interpretation of what I think his view may, or could, be.
Who knows? But I’ll write my thoughts out anyway.
I wonder if dear old Wilbur thought of me when he wrote his first novel?
I don’t mean me as an individual, as a single person but as a conceptual being. I wonder if Wilbur thought he may influence some young man, somewhere in the world, to fall in love with Africa as he typed out his very first paragraph of ‘When the Lion Feeds’ way back in the early 1960’s. (The book was first published in 1964).
Then, my thoughts ask the very same question of myself.
Do I have an image, a conceptual ‘personage’ in my mind who may, one day, be influenced by my own work, by my writings, by the tiny little black shapes, these strange runes of ink I scattered across countless pages?
The answer is yes, I do have such a notion, albeit a rather intangible abstract.
Which leaves you to ask yourself the same, do you?
Think about it carefully, do you?
If you would like to take part in making my rather intangible abstract notion a reality, then please start by reading ‘Within the Invisible Pentacle’ a collection of thought-provoking stories which are not quite as you may think they may be…
Just click the cover image.
Thank you, Paul.