Good Reading : August 2006
8 goodreading ı AUGUST 2006 Ar ranging an interview with Bryce Courtenay is a bit like trying to use your frequent flyer miles for an overseas trip.You have to book eleven months in advance and then you still get waitlisted. Eventually your patience is rewarded with a trip to Italy where wonderful culinary delights and remarkable historic sites await you. Speaking to Bryce Courtenay is nearly as rewarding and certainly worth the wait. The man works incredibly hard. For twelve hours a day, six days a week, he writes. ‘I don’t have the time to spend three years on a book,’ he says. ‘It’s not easy, but if I am to write the books I need to write, that’s the only program I can think of adopting.’ He has written fifteen bestsellers in as many years, since starting his career as a novelist at the age of 55. Born in South Africa in 1933, he has lived in Australia for over fifty years. ‘Australia has been everything to me,’ he says. ‘My mar riage, my children, my family, my career.’ All his writing has been done in Australia. His first two novels, the bestselling Power of One and Tandia, were set in apartheid South Africa, and apart from Brother Fish (which takes place in Hong Kong, China, Australia and America), his other novels have all been set in Australia. His latest, Whitethorn, reverts to his African roots and is set in South Africa and East Africa. Although he became a novelist quite late in life, he sees himself as a ‘postponed writer’ rather than someone who started writing late. ‘I never thought I would be anything but a writer,’ he says. From the age of eleven he would write every day, and when he wrote his final English paper in Year 12 he scored the highest marks in South Africa. This achievement landed him a scholarship in London. After obtaining a degree in journalism in his early twenties, he came to Australia in 1956 and was hired as a copywriter at an advertising agency. He explains why he relocated to Australia: ‘I came to Australia because I was banned from retur ning to my own country. This was due to the fact that I had started a weekend school for Africans in the school hall of the prestigious boys’ school I attended. One day the school was raided by the police who then branded me a Communist as they considered educating Africans a subversive act.’ On arrival here, Courtenay immediately set out to read all the Australian novels, history books and autobiographies in the library over the period of a year. As a copywriter and later creative director he didn’t have time to write novels himself for many years. When his youngest son, Damon, born when Courtenay was in his thirties, was diagnosed with haemophilia, he devoted the next twenty years to his son’s illness, while continuing his career in advertising. In his novel April Fool’s Day he writes hauntingly about his son’s illness and his death at the age of 24 of AIDS, contracted via a blood transfusion. After his son’s death, Courtenay left advertising and started writing full time. He explains that when outside looking in For many years BRYCE COURTENAY set his hugely popular novels firmly in Australia, his adopted country. His latest book, Whitethorn, is set in Africa again. He talked to FRANCI CANTATORE about his writing and his sense of place.