After four years of durance and misery I moved on to Rhodes University, in Grahamstown, South Africa.

Paradise opened before me, for here there were girls who did not wear gym slips and walk to church in crocodile formation.

From then on even books were forgotten in the feverish excitement of this new discovery. In the long varsity holidays I worked on the gold mines, trawler fleets and whalers. In this way I made enough money to buy a Model T Ford and finance my amorous experimentations. Taking into account all this extra curricula activity, it still astounds me that I ever received a bachelor’s degree

Equipped thus I was turned out from my ivory tower into the real world, where I found that I could not sponge on my father indefinitely, and I was expected to find some form of employment. I decided that it might be wise to do the only thing for which I had shown the least aptitude. So I went to my father and announced that I was going to become a journalist.

My father was utterly appalled. “Don’t be a bloody fool,” he told me. “You’ll starve to death. Go and find yourself a real job.”

I ended up as chartered accountant, and very shortly thereafter as a husband and father of two. I was twenty-four years of age when this ill-conceived marriage crashed in flames. The alimony and child support payments left me penniless. My job in the tax department was soul destroying, and the evenings were long and lonely. I turned once again to my first love: fiction. But this time I determined to write it, rather than merely read it. And I had a ready source of free writing paper at hand, headed “Her Majesty’s Inland Revenue Service”.

To my astonishment I very soon found somebody who would pay hard cash for my creative efforts. I sold my first story to “Argosy” magazine for seventy pounds, which was twice my monthly salary. After a number of further acceptances, I was encouraged to take a dive off the high board. I wrote a novel called “The Gods First Make Mad”, an atrocious title for a worse book. With a pin I selected a firm of literary agents from the “Writer’s Yearbook”. I sent my masterpiece to them, and in due course they collected on my behalf an impressive array of rejection letters from leading publishers around the world. Like my marriage my career as a best-selling author crashed during take-off. I went back to sending out tax assessments. But soon the itch that can only be scratched with a pen attacked me again.

This biography, with a bibliography, is available for download as a PDF

Wilbur Smith

This good cheer did not come with my first novel.