Australian author Bryce Courtenay dies

Bryce Courtenay, speaking shortly before his death: "I've had a wonderful life"

Australian author Bryce Courtenay has died at the age of 79, his family say.

The South African-born writer, who shot to fame with his first novel, The Power of One, had been suffering from stomach cancer.

Courtenay, who only began writing in his 50s, went on to pen 21 books, selling more than 20 million copies globally.

He died at his home in Canberra on Thursday. His publisher described him as a "born story-teller".

Born in Limpopo province, South Africa, Courtenay studied journalism in London and then moved to Australia in the 1950s.

Turning to writing after three decades in advertising, his first novel told of a boy growing up under apartheid in South Africa. It sold more than eight million copies and was subsequently turned into a film.

April Fool's Day was a non-fiction account of the death of his son, Damon, from Aids, contracted from a blood transfusion to treat haemophilia.

In an interview with Australian media, Courtenay said writing that account was the hardest thing he had ever had to do.

His latest book, Jack of Diamonds, was released two weeks ago.

"We'd like to thank all of Bryce's family and friends and all of his fans around the world for their love and support for me and his family as he wrote the final chapter of his extraordinary life," his wife Christine said in a statement.

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