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Her mother was a New Zealander of Maori ancestry, her father an Irish immigrant who worked as a cane cutter.She recalled how she started writing, buying a typewriter with money her mother had given to her to buy an overcoat."We looked forward to her visits from Norfolk Island and the arrival of each new manuscript delivered in hard copy in custom-made maroon manuscript boxes inscribed with her name." Mc Cullough, who had been confined to a wheelchair, died in hospital on Norfolk Island following a series of minor strokes.Colleen Mc Cullough, the Australian writer, who has died aged 77, shot to fame when her second novel The Thorn Birds (1977), an epic story of a doomed romance between a Catholic priest and a woman in the Australian outback, became a global bestseller and was turned into an award-winning television miniseries in 1983, starring Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward.An overweight, bookish child (she was later diagnosed with hypothyroidism, which causes weight gain), Colleen began writing almost as soon as she could wield a pen, to escape from her parents’ violent rows and in particular from her mother, “a dogmatic, volcanic woman”, who took her to the doctors and put her on endless diets.“She tried to make me into the child she wanted by dressing me up in ruffles,” Colleen Mc Cullough recalled.She once expanded on her displeasure: "I didn't think that the director had any idea of what he was doing.The um, screenwriter was a Baptist female from the midwest, and I didn't like Chamberlain in the role." The role was that of a priest in the Australian outback whose forbidden love affair with a member of a sheep-rearing family is part of a 50-year saga that takes in murder, church politics and the priest's struggle between faith and the flesh.
She did not pick up a copy of her most famous book for 25 years.
From 1963-67 she worked at Great Ormond Street in London, where she met the chairman of the neurology department at Yale, who offered her a job across the Atlantic.