Dear Wilbur

I know you’re no longer with us but I thought, just in case there is a whisp of you clinging to the rain I’d like to say thank you for writing your books. In my 67 years on this earth I have read a shed-load of books and though I discard the boring ones within the first chapters, the ones I continue to read are almost always worthwhile. Sometimes it’s because of what they say, sometimes it’s the way they say it and occasionally it’s because they are so awful. (These are the ones I read to make sure my own writing is better!) But you, Mr Smith have never let me down. I was given a copy of ‘A Sparrow Falls’ in 1977. At the time I was newly married, working as a nurse at a small local hospital and living in a holiday home belonging to my husband’s aunt. It was the middle of winter and the frost was thick on the ground. I had no expectations of the book but from the first pages I was in the trenches of the First World War. I remember getting ready for work then walking out the door, still reading the book as I tried to pack in as many words as I could. It was life changing to know a story could hold me as an adult when I thought I’d given all that away.

As my life changed, I felt yours change and we drifted apart. Recently, in the midst of news I can only describe as shattering, I found you again. Instead of spending my days in clouds of anxiety and panic I was immersed in the world of Leon Courtney and lions and elephants and things I have never experienced as a boring white woman in New Zealand. It was quite simply a word-induced coma that for several hours at a time gave me something else to think about.

So thank you Wilbur for your wonderful storytelling and the skill and discipline that made you write. I read the last few pages of ‘Assegai’ this morning. Ours has been a reunion I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and in case you’re wondering, the result of my shattering news is less catastrophic than anticipated.

Love R


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