Colleen McCullough dies

Colleen McCullough dies

Colleen McCullough, the Australian author of The Thorn Birds, has died at the age of 77.

The author died in hospital on Norfolk Island on Thursday afternoon, her publisher HarperCollins Australia confirmed.

Shona Martyn of HarperCollins Australia paid tribute to McCullough, calling her "one of the first Australian writers to succeed on the world stage".

She added: "Ever quick-witted and direct, we looked forward to her visits from Norfolk Island and the arrival of each new manuscript, delivered in hard copy, in custom-made maroon manuscript boxes inscribed with her name. The world is a less colourful place without Colleen McCullough's contribution to Australian writing - and to readers around the world - has been immense. We will miss her dearly."

Rosie de Courcy, who published The Thorn Birds at Futura in the 1970s and was also McCullough's editor at Head of Zeus, publishing the author's last book Bittersweet in 2014, commented: "Almost every editor can identify books which proved to be turning points in their publishing life. One of the biggest - arguably THE biggest - in mine was The Thorn Birds.  It was 1976 and Harper and Row were auctioning the UK rights.  As a newish paperback company, Futura was very low in the pecking order, but Nat Sobel, our US scout, had managed to wangle us an advance reading proof and I was detailed to read it as fast as I possibly could. I remember starting it after a dinner party, sitting cross-legged on the floor. I don't think I got to bed that night.

"The bidding for The Thorn Birds during the ensuing week was absolutely ferocious. How Anthony (Cheetham) had the courage to press on, over our chairman's authorised limit for advances - and then our chairman's chairman's limit - I shall never know.  But we prevailed and the rest is history.  Colleen McCullough changed our lives, both as a writer and as a friend. It is the end of a very special era and we are all extremely sad this morning."

McCullough wrote 25 novels in total, recording UK sales of 259,321 books during the Nielsen BookScan era. Head of Zeus publish 10 of her many titles.

She was born in Wellington, New South Wales in 1937 and spent most of her early life in Sydney. She studied medicine and established the neurophysiology department at the Royal North Shore hospital in Sydney, before going on to spend 10 years as a researcher at Yale medical school. She wrote her first novel, Tim, in 1974, which was adapted into a film starring Mel Gibson in 1979.

Her most famous book, The Thorn Birds, a story of forbidden love between a priest and a young woman in the Australian outback, was her second novel. The novel’s paperback rights sold for a then-record $1.9 million (£1.25m), the BBC reports, and it was adapted into a television mini-series starring Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward in 1983.

McCullough leaves behind husband Ric Robinson.