Thorn Birds author one of first famous Aussie writers

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Australian author Colleen McCullough, whose 1977 best-selling romance The Thorn Birds became a smash hit television miniseries, died on Norfolk Island on Thursday. She was 77.

She died in hospital after a string of health problems, publisher HarperCollins Australia said in a statement.

She had turned to writing after working for more than a decade as a neuroscientist in Australia, Britain and the United States. She scored almost immediate success with The Thorn Birds, a family drama set on a sheep station in the Australian outback.

The paperback rights for The Thorn Birds sold for a then record US$1.9 million and was made into one of the most watched miniseries, starring Richard Chamberlain as parish priest Ralph de Bricassart and Rachel Ward as Meggie Cleary, a farmer's daughter who the priest loves passionately. The book sold 30 million copies worldwide.

McCullough had lived on the island, a territory of Australia in the South Pacific, for most of the past 40 years after marrying local resident Ric Robinson.

The most recent of her 25 works, Bittersweet, was published in 2013.

"Her contribution to Australian writing has been immense. She was one of the first Australian writers to succeed on the world stage," HarperCollins Australia publishing director Shona Martyn said.

"Ever quick-witted and direct, we looked forward to her visits from Norfolk Island and to the arrival of each new manuscript delivered in hard copy in custom-made maroon manuscript boxes inscribed with her name. We will miss her dearly."

 
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