I flew to London to meet my publisher, Charles Pick.
Charles invited me to spend the weekend at his home in Lindfield under the South Downs, near Brighton. We talked from breakfast to bedtime. He was the doyen of British publishers. Nobody living knew more about books and authors than he did. Unstintingly, he shared his knowledge and wisdom with me.
While we walked on the Downs he said: “You have written one book. A good first step on the ladder. You still have a long way to go. It takes ten years for an author to establish himself. We will review your progress each year.”
Five years and five books later, at the same spot on the Downs, he told me: “It’s five years earlier than I promised you, but you now have my permission to call yourself a writer.”
He said: “Write only about those things you know well.” Since then I have written only about Africa.
He said: “Do not write for your publishers or for your imagined readers. Write only for yourself.” This was something that I had learned for myself. Charles merely confirmed it for me. Now, when I sit down to write the first page of a novel, I never give a thought to who will eventually read it.
He said: “Don’t talk about your books with anybody, even me, until they are written.” Until it is written a book is merely smoke on the wind. It can be blown away by a careless word. I write my books while other aspiring authors are talking theirs away.
He said: “Dedicate yourself to your calling, but read widely and look at the world around you, travel and live your life to the full, so that you will always have something fresh to write about.” It was advice I have taken very much to heart. I have made it part of my personal philosophy. I try to follow the advice of Rudyard Kipling: “Fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run.”
By the time Charles retired from William Heinemann, Ursula Winant had died. I persuaded him to take over the role of my literary agent. I do not believe that I could have made a better choice. The years brought us ever closer together. Our friendship is one of the great landmarks in my life. When he died in 1999 he left an enormous gap, which seemed impossible to fill. Once again “Wilbur’s Luck” held, and Charles’ son Martin came forward to fill his father’s place.
After my two previous matrimonial catastrophes I had vowed never to marry again. My father had told me: “You should never buy a bean farm, if you can get beans free.” I enjoyed plenty of free beans. In fact, I got sick of the taste of free beans. I got bored of sleeping in different beds, and the prospect of waking up with a strange head on the pillow beside mine. I began to pine for a companion with whom I could share all my happiness and success. It was the only thing I needed to make it complete.
At this stage “Wilbur’s Luck” kicked in again. I met a young divorcee named Danielle Thomas. She had been born in my home town, and in the very same nursing home. She was beautiful and clever. She had read all my books, and thought that they were wonderful. Me being me, what happened next was inevitable. We were married in 1971, and stayed that way for twenty-eight years. It was a good marriage. We made a fine team. “Wilbur’s Luck” never wavered. I wrote book after book and loved the entire process. Each book was more successful than the previous one.
This biography, with a bibliography, is available for download as a PDFTweet