HAVING JUST PUBLISHED his 30th doorstopper novel, The Triumph of the Sun, Wilbur Smith thinks writer's block ('as they call it') is for wimps. 'All my books have been well accepted, so I have my confidence up,' he says. 'I'm a dasher, not a dripper. I don't leak blood onto the page. I gush like an oil well.' He scorns writers who play games with their readers. 'I don't live in an ivory tower of my own creating, like I'm superior to all other human beings.' His readers 'know that they'll get a story that moves forward, rather than going around in circles'. Smith's he-man romps might have sold more than 100 million copies in all, but critics dismiss him as a purveyor of gung-ho fantasies for the lunar right. Smith's men are virile and his women obliging, but he denies peddling gender stereotypes. 'That's nonsense,' he says. 'I'm writing about the way that men and women have reacted to each other over the centuries.' Yet he takes delight in taunting the ideologically thin-skinned. 'Political correctness is stupid,' he says in the cafe of Melbourne's Grand Hyatt Hotel. 'You're not allowed to call a Chinaman a Chinaman. You've got to call him a Chinese gentleman. Yet you're allowed to call a Frenchman a Frenchman.' Looking dapper and young for his 72 years, with his sports jacket, close-cropped hair and rimless spectacles, Smith seems more the quintessential accountant - his former profession - than one of the barrel-chested heroes who swashbuckle and bonk their way through his books. Smith attributes his rakish appearance to his fourth wife, Niso, a Tajik lawyer 38 years his junior who he hit on five years ago in a London bookstore. The wasp-waisted beauty was perusing the John Grisham novels. Smith 'saved her from that terrible fate', steering her towards the 'S' shelves. 'She was a student, short of cash, so she didn't eat a lot and was hungry. I took her to lunch and it was all over,' he says. At first, Niso's family in Tajikistan was horrified at her marrying an infidel. 'Her brothers wanted to come and rescue her,' he says. It's small wonder that Smith became accepted as one of the family. 'The children spend holidays with us skiing in Switzerland, or in London, or going to Disneyland,' he says. Smith bought his in-laws an apartment in Moscow, where they meet him during school holidays. Niso refuses to let Smith travel to her troubled Central Asian homeland because 'the kidnapping of round-eyes is quite a growth industry'. Smith says Niso has an equal voice in their financial decisions, 'which gives the lie to women who say I make my female characters into victims of male dominance'. At Niso's suggestion, Smith divested himself of his island in the Seychelles and his South African ranch, while reducing his global team of servants from 50 to 'more manageable proportions'. Smith was born in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, in 1933, and reared on a diet of Rudyard Kipling stories. He came of age at 13 when his father put him in charge of the cattle ranch while he was away. It was then that Smith shot his first lion. 'The lions came on to the station and they killed nine of his prize beasts,' Smith says. 'So I took his rifle - a very beautiful, English-made rifle - and I dealt with the lions. He was first of all horrified that I had gone out against marauding lions. Then he was delighted, and rewarded me by giving me that rifle.' Smith moonlighted on his first novel, When the Lion Feeds, while working as a tax accountant (his father having barred him from becoming a journalist). 'From his background, any kind of work was tilling the soil, clearing the land, or building large buildings. When I said I wanted to write, he said: 'That isn't a real job. Who will pay you? You'll starve to death.'' Smith's childhood hero-worship of his father hasn't dimmed with the years. 'He was a true Victorian son - hard-working, tough, strong. He had fantastic muscular development of his arm. He was a terrific boxer. He was a tremendous character.' With the success of his debut novel, Smith abandoned accountancy to write fulltime. But Smith, who brags that he can just scrape by on #5 million (HK$71 million) a year, never entirely ditched the numbers business for the words racket. His accountancy background allows him to manage his assets without being 'ripped off by so-called advisers'. Before she died of a brain tumour in 1999, Smith credited his second wife (of three decades), novelist Danielle Thomas, with researching his books. Rumour had it that she also toned down the sex, but Smith dismisses this as urban myth. 'She wasn't involved in my writing,' he says. 'But I wanted to make her feel important, so I told people she'd done it.' Thomas' personality changed after an operation eight years before her death. Despite having written a series of hot- selling novels in the 1990s, she envied Smith's success. 'She wanted to have the success that I had overnight,' he says. 'She resented the fact that she was really, really sick, and I was robust and healthy.' When he discovered she was intercepting his adult children's mail, Smith turned a blind eye. 'I knew that she wasn't the person I'd known. I humoured her in every possible way, because her time on this earth was limited.' Thomas deliberately drove a wedge between Smith and his two children, Shaun and Christian, from his previous marriage. 'She wanted her son to be my heir,' he says flatly. Smith turfed Christian out of home at the age of 13, after she was expelled from school, and she languished in foster homes throughout her teenage years. When Christian hitchhiked 110km to reason with him, he told her to 'have a nice life' and slammed the door in her face. Smith freely admits he was a neglectful father, but is unapologetic about refusing to be hamstrung by 'problem children'. 'I've been quite selfish with my single-minded desire to become and remain a writer,' he says. 'A lot of baggage goes with divorces. A lot of distraction goes with having to repair damage that one does, and I'm not one who looks back.' Smith recently patched up his differences with Shaun, after Niso badgered him into resuming contact. Far from the dud his father envisaged when, 27 years earlier, he sent him packing saying, 'You'll never amount to anything', Shaun turned out to be a multi-millionaire, ex-SAS officer. 'He's a great guy,' Smith says. 'I couldn't have wished for a better son. We share the same sense of humour.' Does Smith regret the 27 years of lost contact with his model son? 'I had to pay the price to do the things I have done.' Is he inspired to attempt a similar reconciliation with Christian? 'Christian is her own person,' he says, with a bitter voice. 'I'll pass on that question.' After Thomas died, Smith threw himself into encounters with elite hookers. One #300-an-hour call girl threatened to go public if Smith refused to pay an ungodly sum. But Smith wasn't the least bit rattled when the tart took the story to the tabloids. 'She didn't give me a bad press at all,' he says. 'She said I was pretty good. I'm not going to contradict her.' Marrying Niso set his life juices flowing again. 'I feel 20 years younger. She's so full of vim and vigour and fire. She protects me, cares for me, mothers me and bosses me.' The critical heads might not have noticed, but Smith insists that his female characters have grown more independent as he has become 'at peace' with women. 'Although no man can say that he fully understands women, I know a bit about women,' he says. 'When I wrote my first novel, I was terrified of women - a mixture of fear and tremendous reverence. I put woman on an ivory throne, with the untouchables. It came as a revelation when I discovered they like hanky-panky as much as I do.' Margaret Thatcher is one lady who has never fallen off Smith's throne. 'She has the qualities I admire - a hard, strong personality,' she says. 'She knows exactly what she wants, she goes out and gets it and she doesn't suffer fools lightly.' Smith is about to travel to Botswana for a US$65,000 two-week safari, which will culminate in shooting an elephant. 'The lethally dangerous animals are what I like hunting now - the leopard, the lion, the elephant,' he says. If the idea of elephant hunting sticks in the craw, Smith makes a passionate case for its conservationist value. 'If you give African animals a place to live they will proliferate, but that range is also needed by the indigenous peoples. 'I will be feeling respect and admiration for that beast. Protein-starved people will come in the hundreds and thousands from all around to share the feast.' Suggest that his turbulent life could be lifted from one of his novels, and Smith chortles: 'I wish it was.' Yet while he would clearly prefer to be blazing his way through the Dark Continent with heavy firearms like one of his characters, he's happy to be a touring writer. 'You can't hate it when 600 people come to you to hear you talk and tell you how much they enjoy your books,' he says. 'We all like having our back stroked.'