Canberra, Australia – Bryce Courtenay, the Australian writer whose books focused on his harsh early-life experiences in Africa, has died at home in the Australian capital of Canberra. He was 79.
Courtenay began his writing career at the ripe age of 50 but quickly acquired a large audience with his first novels, which he modestly dubbed “practice books.”
His 1989 debut, The Power of One, was a significant success. It was eventually translated into 12 languages and received a movie adaptation.
On Friday, Bryce Courtenay’s publisher Penguin Group announced that Courtenay had died at his family home surrounded by relatives and pets. Bryce had endured a long battle against stomach cancer.
Luckily for his many fans, the illness didn’t stop the likeable Aussie author from releasing his 21st novel. Jack of Diamonds was published on November 12, and Courtenay’s moving epilogue in the book revealed the writer knew the end of his life was near. He wrote:
“It’s been a privilege to write for you and to have you accept me as a storyteller in your lives. Now, as my story draws to an end, may I say only, ‘Thank you. You have been simply wonderful.’ “
Before he took up writing, Courtenay had worked in the dangerous mines of what is now Zimbabwe, paid his own way to Britain to study at the London School of Journalism, and became creative director at US advertising agency McCann Erikson at the age of 26. Bryce Courtenay’s career in advertising came to a prompt halt when, at the age of 50, he decided to fulfill a lifelong ambition to be a novelist.
He proved to be hugely prolific, writing 21 books in the final 29 years of his life. Courtenay’s longstanding publisher at Penguin, Bob Sessions, said Courtenay would write a 600-page book in only six months, sometimes writing for more than 12 hours a day. Sessions reflected:
“He was a born storyteller and I would tell him he was a latter-day Charles Dickens with his strong and complex plots, larger-than-life characters and his ability to appeal to a large number of readers.”