Since Bryce Courtenay AM started writing novels aged 52, it has been widely reported that approximately one in three Australian households own one of his 21 books. The author started writing novels aged 52 and continued doing so for 23 years.
Most of them became number-one bestsellers, and his debut novel The Power of One went on to sell millions of copies.
But he never wrote an autobiography, choosing to tell his story though his novels. To commemorate the tenth anniversary of Bryce’s passing, his wife Christine Courtenay decided to pen his biography: Bryce Courtenay:Storyteller.
This is the first biographical account of Bryce’s life includes previously unpublished extracts from letters Christine discovered in 2020, written by Bryce throughout his life to his mother ‘Paddy’.
“These letters are in many ways at the heart of my book,” says Christine. “They provided a cache of pure gold for the memoir. Uncovering them drew me to accept that I was the one destined to write the first book about Bryce’s life.”
Here Christine’s friend Liz Courtney, who was a bridesmaid at Bryce and Christine’s wedding, reviews the book recently published by Penguin Books.
As someone who has been inside this story for many years, as a bridesmaid at their amazing wedding to putting up posters at the recent book launch, I am so proud of the memoir Christine Courtenay has written about her darling late husband ‘s life. Bryce’s own story reads like the tales in one of his epic novels, and prior to passing away on November 22nd, 2012, Bryce said “there are still five books I wish I could write”.
I remember first meeting Bryce in 2006 at the home he shared with Christine in the beautiful Yarramalong Valley located two hours North of Sydney. After being ushered into the sitting room, a pot of tea landed on the table but then Bryce said to me in a cheery voice; “forgive me Liz but I will leave you with Christine as I must go upstairs to make sure I don’t miss my writing deadline!!”
How the tables were reversed when I dropped over to visit Christine in the Eastern suburbs earlier this year . Over the same pot of tea, she exclaimed, “It’s so good to see you Liz, but I must get back to my writing.”
It is intriguing that Bryce chose to never write an autobiography, choosing instead to weave aspects of his life story into his books-21 books in 23 years. Having heard so many snippets of his extraordinary life over the years, and from his network of friends, it really came as no surprise that there were enough stories to fill a book or two! In June 2020, Christine discovered a box of letters Bryce had written to his mother since childhood and she told me “These letters have made me realise it is perhaps my destiny to write this book, and they are going to be at the heart of the story.”
Having worked in the advertising game for many years before trading my stilettos for snow boots to become a film director, I was ever conscious of Bryce Courtenay’s game changing advertising jingles including “Stop Revive Survive” and larger than life command of the boardroom table along with his favourite word “Maty”! When you heard Maty you instantly worried about what was coming up next!
I was reminded of this at the recent book launch hosted by Christine for family and friends. Alex Hamill, was one of Bryce’s closest friends from their ‘Mad Men’ days in advertising and he shared some wonderful stories. Stories about their walking safari in Kenya in 2010, and how they ran marathons all over the world. Alex also recalled the day when Bryce said, “Maty I have decided to write a book loosely based on my experiences growing up in Africa, and it’s called The Tadpole Angel. This debut novel was later titled The Power of One, and the rest as they say is history.
Bryce Courtenay: Storyteller is the first memoir of Bryce’s life and it reads like one of his epic novels: a tough childhood, in South Africa, then risking his life down the mines in Zambia before heading to London to study journalism, and finding love there before docking in Australia carrying only a suitcase. It’s a story of resilience, and coping with unimaginable loss, of unfailing positivity and holding tight to a dream. A story told with love, humour and compassion which I believe we can all take inspiration from whatever life is throwing at us.
I am so proud of the extraordinary book which Christine has written. I recall the tough days she endured processing her unresolved grief while huddled over the computer determined to complete the manuscript on time. A remarkable achievement from a remarkable woman – her tenacity shining through from the days when she organized trekking trips to Nepal, and having been a founding director of the Australian Himalayan Foundation, which funds health, education and environmental projects in Nepal, Bhutan and India. Readers are already saying the memoir is compelling and is ‘a must read’. I promise you the story delivers ‘a bucketful of tears and a bellyful of laughs’ while paying tribute to her late husband’s astonishing life and literary legacy.
In Bryce Courtenay: Storyteller, Christine draws on reflections from Bryce’s close friends, and family members, as well as insights from media coverage over decades., and from Bryce’s published works. Known for his determination, creativity and application of ‘bum glue’, he was a man who made a huge impact on the cultural life of his adopted country, first as a legendary advertising creative and later as a bestselling author.
I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of the memoir and with only a few chapters left to go, I can highly recommend this amazing book. It’s a reminder for all of us to hold tight to our dreams, just as Bryce did to one day become a writer. ‘Storyteller’ provides an intimate and fascinating insight into a man who had an insatiable zest for life and whose generosity to others and causes close to his heart deserves to be celebrated.
Bryce Courtenay saying;
‘In the end, if someone says, “Here lies Bryce Courtenay, a storyteller”, my life will have been worthwhile.’ The Age 1997
You can buy the book here.
Christine Courtenay AM (nee Gee) was born in north-eastern Victoria in 1954 before studying at ANU. She was Bryce Courtenay’s partner from 2005, and they married in 2011. She was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2013.