Best-selling Australian author Courtenay dies

Associated Press Modified: November 23, 2012 at 1:30 am •  Published: November 23, 2012

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Best-selling Australian author Bryce Courtenay, whose first and final books drew on his tough early-life experiences in Africa, has died of stomach cancer. He was 79.

He started writing in midlife and called his first novels "practice books," but his debut was a success. "The Power of One" was published in 1989, translated into 12 languages and became a hit movie.

His publisher Penguin Group said Friday that Courtenay died at his family home in the Australian capital Canberra late Thursday, surrounded by his family and pets.

His 21st novel, "Jack of Diamonds," was published Nov. 12 and included a moving epilogue to his readers.

"It's been a privilege to write for you and to have you accept me as a storyteller in your lives," he wrote. "Now, as my story draws to an end, may I say only, 'Thank you. You have been simply wonderful.'"

Courtenay was born the illegitimate son of a dressmaker on Aug. 14, 1933, in the mountain town of Barberton in what is now the Limpopo province of South Africa.

By the age of 17, he was working in the dangerous mines of what is now Zimbabwe. The work paid his way to Britain, where he studied at the London School of Journalism. He met an Australian, Benita Solomon, whom he followed to her hometown of Sydney in 1958 and married.

He fell into a career in advertising with U.S. agency McCann Erikson at the age of 26 and rose to creative director. He had an epiphany at the age of 50 when he decided to fulfill a lifelong ambition to be a novelist.

"The Power of One" was to be the first of three "practice books" Courtenay planned to write over three years before taking two years to write a fourth book which he hoped would find a publisher.