For Wilbur Smith, life's an adventure

When writer Wilbur Smith finds himself in Paris, where his wife "likes to do a little dress buying,'' he goes to his favorite cathedral and lights the biggest candle he can buy. "I'm not asking for anything,'' he says. "I'm here to say thanks.''

To judge from his cheerful conversation, Smith, 63, leads a charmed life. Hugely popular in Europe and England, his historical novels are reaching a growing U.S. audience. The paperback edition of The Seventh Scroll is No. 59 as of April 11, 1996. The sequel to River God, the tale involves a pharaoh's treasure, a beautiful Egyptologist and a dashing adventurer.

Smith describes himself as a "white African''; his parents were British, but he was born in South Africa. Known for his series such as The Courtneys of Africa, Smith considers "all of Africa to be my turf.'' In his current work, "I've moved farther north.'' Smith found himself "standing in the Great Temple at Luxor and a voice said, 'It's time to write my story.' ''

As a child, Smith read voraciously. He qualified as an accountant, but before starting a job, he headed to the mountains in a camper. The result: his first novel, When the Lion Feeds. "Since then, I've been unemployed,'' he jokes. He has written 25 novels, but at age 60 he made a decision to play one year between each book. Among his activities: salmon fishing in Oregon, skiing, quail hunting and scuba diving. By the end of the year, Smith is ready to approach his word processor once again and begin a new story.

By Deirdre Donahue, USA TODAY