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Author Bryce Courtenay dies, aged  79
Author Bryce Courtenay dies, aged 79

One of Australia’s most beloved authors, Bryce Courtenay has died at the age of 79 after being diagnosed with stomach cancer last year.

The bestselling author of such books as The Power of One, The Potato Factory, The Story of Danny Dunn and Fortune Cookie, Courtenay died peacefully just before midnight last night with his wife Christine, his family and his pets around him.

Christine Courtenay said this morning: “We’d like to thank all of Bryce’s family and friends and all of his fans around the world for their love and support for me and his family as he wrote the final chapter of his extraordinary life. And may we make a request for privacy as we cherish his memory.”

Courtenay was born in South Africa in 1933 and studied journalism in London before moving to Australia in 1958, where he worked in advertising.

He became a fulltime writer at the age of 55 and went on to publish 20 novels and sell 20 million books. His final novel, Jack of Diamonds, was published this year.

In a statement, Penguin Group said Courtnay died with his wife, his family and his beloved pets Tim, the dog, and Cardamon, the Burmese cat by his side.

Penguin Group chief executive Gabrielle Coyne said: "It has been our great privilege to be Bryce’s publisher for the past 15 years. We, as well as his many fans will forever miss Bryce’s indomitable spirit, his energy and his commitment to storytelling."

Bob Sessions, Courtenay’s long standing Publisher at Penguin said Courtenay took up writing in his fifties, after a successful career in advertising.

"His output and his professionalism made him a pleasure to work with, and I’m happy to say he became a good friend, referring to me as ‘Uncle Bob’, even when we were robustly negotiating the next book contract. 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.

"Virtually each year for the last 15 years, I have worked with Bryce on a new novel. He would write a 600 page book in around six months, year in, year out.

"To achieve that feat he used what he called ‘bum glue’, sometimes writing for more than 12 hours a day. He brought to writing his books the same determination and dedication he showed in the more than 40 marathons he ran, most of them when he was well over 50. Not to have a new Bryce Courtenay novel to work on will leave a hole in my publishing life. Not to have Bryce Courtenay in my life, will be to miss the presence of a very special friend.”

In a moving epilogue in his final book, Courtenay said to readers: “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.’"