by JO ABI
“It is with great sadness that I am writing to let you know that Jack of Diamonds, my new book due out in November this year, shall be my last.” – Bryce Courtenay
Bryce Courtenay helped shape the writer I am today. As a teenager I devoured The Power of One, Tandia and The Potato Factory, reading each several times. I didn’t stop to admire the prose, to scrutinize the writing techniques used because the stories Bryce Courtney told are so powerful, so emotive, so beautiful and sad. He will be Australia’s greatest writer.
Learning that Bryce Courtenay has passed with as much dignity as he can muster, agreeing to farewell interviews and calling his last novel Jack of Diamonds his farewell to the world, really took my breath away. How does one die like this? He was at peace, feeling that he has contributed to the world and staying calm about an outcome he can’t control.
“I have been diagnosed with terminal gastric cancer and am expected to have only some months to share with my adorable wife, Christine (Gee).”
I’m so used to seeing the dying frantically chasing cures, as I’m sure I would be. I imagine that I would go down fighting, not with the calm acceptance Bryce Courtenay displayed. I’d like to think I could be just like him – accepting of my outcome and having found some sort of peace. No more invasive surgeries, experimental therapies abroad…just time in my garden and with my loved ones.
My friend Donna and I fancy ourselves future novelists. We haven’t managed to finish a first draft yet but always comfort each other with the reminder that Bryce Courtenay didn’t experience his first real success until he was in his fifties with The Power of One. He purchased his own advertising campaign on buses and his book became a best-seller and then a world wide hit. He had been scared it wouldn’t sell.
Then Donna moved to the Southern Highlands. She sent me a text…JUST SAW BRYCE COURTENAY SHOPPING and I rang her and we squealed with excitement. She didn’t approach him for an autograph or run up and hug him (as we both wanted to). We were happy to know that he was there, writing away, inspiring us, being a best-selling novelist and buying fruit like any other ordinary person.
We are beyond devastated…we are sitting in a kid’s cafe having heard the news. It’s not a coincidence that we are together in this moment.
I’ve found out about what I’m sure will be a brilliant ABC documentary airing on Monday 26 November at 8pm on ABC1 and I plan to have the kids in bed, a cup of tea (it seems fitting) and I plan to watch it carefully…I may even take notes…because while he isn’t perfect and has never claimed to be, Bryce Courtenay is perfect to me, in life, in death and in his books.
This is a ‘Thank You’ video made by Bryce in the final weeks of his life.
Were you a fan of Bryce Courtenay? Which was your favourite book and why?
Jo Abi is the author of the book How to Date a Dad: a dating guide released by Hachette Livre Australia. You can read more about her many and various exploits here.