Who was Bryce Courtenay?
Bryce Courtenay was an Australian novelist, one of the country’s best-selling authors. Best known for his novel, ‘The Power of One’ which catapulted him to international fame and established him as one of the most popular authors in Australia, he was also famous for his touching and poignant novel, ‘April Fool's Day’ which was a tribute to his late son, a haemophiliac who contracted HIV/AIDS through an infected blood transfusion. Born as an illegitimate child in South Africa, Courtenay had a difficult childhood and spent several years in an orphanage and was a victim of bullying. He started telling stories in order to distract the bullies and developed great story-telling skills. He struggled throughout his young life and finally earned enough money to go to London to study. There he fell in love with an Australian girl and followed her to Australia. Eventually he married her and made Australia his home. He established himself in a highly successful career as an advertising executive and went on to serve as the Creative Director of companies like McCann Erickson and J. Walter Thompson. However, it was his cherished dream to write books, and he embarked into a writing career after his 50th birthday, and within a span of a few years became one of Australia’s most beloved authors
Childhood & Early Life
He was born as Arthur Bryce Courtenay on 14 August 1933 in Lembombo Mountains, South Africa to Maude Greer, a dressmaker, and Arthur Ryder, a clothing salesman. He was an illegitimate child as his parents were not married to each other. His father was already married to someone else but maintained a relationship with Maude which resulted in the birth of Bryce and his sister.
By his own accounts, he spent several years of his childhood in orphanages, though this claim has been questioned in recent years. He had stated that he was often bullied and thus took to story-telling in order to distract the bullies. He also learned to box during this time as a means of self-defense.
He received his early education from King Edward VII School. He took up a job in a copper mine to earn his livelihood and when he had enough savings, moved to London to study journalism. There he met and fell in love with an Australian woman whom he followed to Australia.
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After moving to Australia in 1958 he started looking for opportunities to establish himself as a journalist. In spite of all his efforts he could not become a journalist and thus started writing advertising copy.
A creative and intelligent man, he found considerable success in his advertising career. As an advertising executive he is credited to have created several award-winning campaigns including ‘Louie the Fly’, the original Milkybar Kid commercial and the Australian Labor Party's 1972 election campaign, ‘It's Time’.
He had always wanted to write and as a young man had planned to quit the advertising field at the age of 35 and focus on writing. But one of his sons had a serious medical condition and thus he continued working in advertising as he needed the financial security of a stable job.
By the late 1980s he had risen to the top in the advertising industry, and had served as the Creative Director of McCann Erickson, J. Walter Thompson and George Patterson Advertising.
But he was also highly stressed out due to which he began to drink heavily and smoked up to a hundred cigarettes a day. The realization hit him that he needed to change his habits and focus on rebuilding his life. Thus he decided to finally chase his long-cherished dream of writing.
Bryce Courtenay released the novel, ‘The Power of One’ in 1989. Set in South Africa during the 1930s and 1940s, the story revolves around the life of an English boy named Peekay. The book became very popular and laid the foundation for his literary career.
He suffered a personal tragedy when his son Damon died in 1991 and he published the novel ‘April Fool’s Day’ (1993) as a tribute to his son who on his death bed had asked his father to write his story. The title refers to the date of Damon's death, 1 April 1991 (April Fools' Day).
His historical novel, ‘Jessica’ was published in 1998. The book covers several years in the life of the main character, Jessica Bergman. It was well-received and later adapted into a mini-series starring Leeanna Walsman and Sam Neill.
In spite of embarking on a literary career quite late in life, he endeared himself to the readers with his works and became one of Australia’s bestselling authors. Some of his later works were ‘Matthew Flinders' Cat’ (2002), ‘The Persimmon Tree’ (2007), ‘The Story of Danny Dunn’ (2009), ‘Fortune Cookie’ (2010), and ‘Jack of Diamonds’ (2012).
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His novel, ‘The Power of One’—undoubtedly his most famous work—not only made him a popular literary figure in Australia, but also earned him International acclaim. It has been translated into 18 languages, has sold more than 8 million copies and was made into a Hollywood film in 1992.
Awards & Achievements
Bryce Courtenay won the British Book Award in 1990 for the novel, ‘The Power of One’.
He is the recipient of three APA Who Weekly Reader's Choice Awards: 1998 (‘Tommo & Hawk’), 1999 (‘Jessica’), and 2000 (‘Jessica’).
Personal Life & Legacy
He met Benita Solomon, an Australian woman, in 1955 while studying in London. They emigrated to Sydney in 1958 and got married the following year. The couple had three sons: Brett, Adam, and Damon.
His youngest son, Damon, was born with the blood condition haemophilia and contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion. He died in 1991 at the age of 24.
Bryce Courtenay and Benita divorced in 2000 after 42 years of marriage. He later married Christine Gee.
He suffered from terminal gastric cancer in his last days and died on 22 November 2012 at the age of 79.