Bryce Courtenay was one of the most successful and loved authors of a generation. He began his writing career later in life following a rewarding career in advertising. He was born in South Africa and then studied in London where he met his first wife Benita. They emigrated to Australia in the late 1950s and had three sons.
His youngest son Damon was born with hemophilia; a disease that prevents blood from clotting. He died at the age of 24 on 1st April 1991, from AIDS related complications after contracting HIV, transmitted to him through a blood transfusion. Bryce and his wife divorced in 2000 and Benita died in 2007. Bryce lived in Canberra with his second wife Christine Gee until he died in November 2012 from gastric cancer.
He is most well known for his book The Power of One, which was also made into a film. It started out as a ‘practice’ book. Bryce researched what made a popular author and discovered that most writers achieved success with their fourth book. He planned to write three practice books and publish his fourth. The Power of One was his first manuscript and he used the bulk of paper to prop up a door. A friend asked to read it and sold it to a publisher at a writers’ convention for six figures! He didn’t envisage that his first book would be the first of 21 number one best sellers written in 23 years; selling all up around 25 million books translated into 28 different languages.
He also wrote a book called April Fool’s Day about his son Damon. It was one of his only non fiction books and told us so much about his early life, his career, but mostly his family and their experience dealing with Damon’s illness and his subsequent death. Bryce calls it a love story, but it was so much more.
He has written many books set in his birth country South Africa and his home country Australia. His vivid historical narrative, his rich and dynamic characters and the humanity in his writing has made him a national treasure in Australia and a popular and successful author world wide. As well as many epic sagas, Bryce Courtenay also wrote short stories and his historical novel Jessica was made into an Australian mini series.
One of the last books published in his name is called The Silver Moon. It is a compilation of reflections and short stories about his life, his writing and his death. Bryce Courtenay was diagnosed with cancer in September 2012 and was told he had only two months to live. He died the following November. He was grateful to have been given the time to reflect deeply upon his life, something he did as habit anyway and ponder the prospect of his looming demise. He was given the opportunity to farewell his family and friends; his beloved pets and his cherished garden.
Bryce Courtenay wrote his grand novels over the course of a year and his books were usually released in November in time for the holiday season, making them the perfect gift. On a number of occasions, I personally received more than one at a time as presents; friends and family knowing I was anticipating his latest release. His advice to writers is outlined in detail in The Silver Moon. He professed to write from the early morning to the evening every single day until the book was finished and said that writing was hard work. He tells writers that if you put in the time, do the research and choose your cherished words carefully, it can be done.
In many ways, for someone who wrote so many profound words and spoke as many, Bryce Courtenay was a simple man. Of himself he said to The Age newspaper in July 1997, as quoted in The Silver Moon:
‘In the end, if someone says, “Here lies Bryce Courtenay, a storyteller”, my life will have been worthwhile.’
Here are 10 quotes by author Bryce Courtenay that will inspire you: