Last week saw the passing of a well-known Australian author, Colleen McCullough. Colleen was a neuroscientist, a researcher, and was responsible for one of the most popular Australian novels – The Thorn Birds.
The Thorn Birds was published in 1977. I can’t say for sure when I first read the book, but I know it was decades ago. It feels like the book has been in my life, one way or another, for a very long time.
The gap on my shelf is where that book should be.
I don’t know where it went. I have a lot of books and most of my books are double-stacked in the shelves. I’ve moved house a few times. I’m always willing to loan out my books, especially the old favourites.
I know how it looked. It was old, worn and tattered. As an author trying to earn a living from the sales of her books, I’m sure she would have preferred me to buy a new one. As a book-lover, that’s too bad. The old and tattered darlings always have a special place in your heart.
The book had been loved by my half of my family. It’s possible it’s with one of them now.
I can remember it and its story. I remember its shape and how it felt. I can also remember the moment I realised that authors could come from here.
I grew up reading all sorts of things and most of it was from the UK, the US and Europe.
I’d previously read Colin Thiele – you can see one of his books on my shelf. It isn’t Storm Boy. I long ago loaned that to someone who was passionate to read it. I think they still have it. That’s okay. So long as it’s loved.
But as much as I loved Storm Boy, I didn’t ever think about Colin Thiele the author. Not until much later.
Colleen McCullough – the author, the mind behind the fiction, the woman that wrote the words – was in my thoughts from the very last word in the book.
I doubt I can ever fully describe how I felt at that moment.
It took me years to realise I could write. I’ve always told stories. Always written them for myself. I know, without a doubt, that she was a solid step on my stony pathway to writing. It’s a pathway that never ends. Not while you’re still breathing.
And now that the world has lost such a fine mind, a novelist, a scientist, a local, and a woman with a way with words, I can only stare numbly at the gap in my bookshelf.
It wasn’t until she was gone, that I noticed what I was missing.
It is a void that can’t be filled.
Vale, Collen McCullough. And, thank you.