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Colleen McCullough

1937 – 2015

The novelist Colleen McCullough (1937–2015) was born in Wellington, New South Wales. As a young woman she trained as a neurophysiologist and spent more than a decade working successfully in that field, helping to establish the Department of Neurophysiology at Sydney's Royal North Shore hospital and researching and teaching for ten years at Yale Medical School. But in her thirties, uncertain about her future earning capacity in such a male-dominated field, she turned to writing, publishing her first novel, 'Tim', in 1974. The phenomenal success of her second novel, 'The Thorn Birds' (1977), enabled her to abandon neuroscience and pursue writing full-time. The novel was first published in the US, where the manuscript sold for a then world-record 1.9 million dollars. It went on to sell over 35 million copies worldwide and to spawn a mini-series starring Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward - an adaptation that McCullough considered "absolute vomit." In the wake of the novel's success she settled on Norfolk Island, where she wrote a string of further best-sellers, including 'An Indecent Obsession' (1981) and the 'Masters of Rome' series (1990-1997). In 1998 she was named one of Australia's 100 Living Treasures.

Updated 2018