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Wilbur Smith has published 34 novels over five decades, selling more than 122m copies. Born in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) in 1933, he published his first novel, When the Lion Feeds, in 1964, and soon after left his job as an accountant. Smith and his fourth wife divide their time between Cape Town, London, Switzerland and Ireland.

Which books changed your life?

Those I read in my preteens, books like Frederick Selous’ Travel & Adventure in South-East Africa.

What is your daily writing routine?

I work five days a week. I start at 9.30am and write until 4-5pm or until I feel I’ve done enough for the day.

What music helps you write?

I have jazz radio playing on a very low volume. It doesn’t distract me but it puts me in a good mood.

What do you snack on?

I don’t. I used to and I saw myself swell up like a balloon, so now I’m very strict. I have a high-protein diet and I only have water between meals.

Who are your literary influences?

I’m greatly influenced by my peers – if another author shoots to the top of the bestseller lists, I want to know why and I read their books. I read Dan Brown.

What are you scared of?

Not really anything, not even death. I’ve done some crazy, hair-raising things. Fear is a pleasant sensation in moderation.

When were you happiest?

When I woke up this morning and saw my wife in the bed next to me.

When do you feel most free?

I’ve been totally free for the past 50 years. I’m probably the freest man I know, restrained only by my wife and her good sense.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

My dad was full of good advice. He was a great believer in work – that nothing comes without effort. And he said that whatever you decide to do you have to do it with all your heart.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

I love Steinbeck, Hemingway, Homer. But I wouldn’t want to have written someone else’s books, I’ll write my own.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

London and Cape Town. We have a house in both of those places and you can’t beat summer in either.

What does it mean to be a writer?

It means my life. It means everything. It’s my world, created by me, and I live within it on my own terms.

Wilbur Smith’s latest novel is ‘Vicious Circle’ (Macmillan)

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