Memorial held for 'storyteller' Bryce Courtenay

Author Bryce Courtenay died on November 22.Photo / File
Author Bryce Courtenay died on November 22.Photo / File

It may have been his words that lured millions of adoring fans, but it was Bryce Courtenay's warm hugs and kisses that touched the hearts of his closest friends.

"You couldn't help yourself when he came towards you with his arms out wide, and his blue eyes shining and twinkling in welcome," publisher Robert Sessions told hundreds of mourners at a private memorial for the late Australian author in Sydney yesterday.

"Bryce embraced people as he embraced life.

"This physicality was a part of everything he did - he loved people and let them know it, hugging and shaking hands wherever he went.

"He had a great generosity of spirit."

The 79-year-old died at his Canberra home surrounded by family on November 22 after a battle with stomach cancer.

But the writer of 21 bestselling novels - including The Power of One, The Potato Factory, Jessica, and Tommo & Hawk - didn't let his illness get in the way of his final book Jack of Diamonds.

It was released by publisher Penguin just 11 days before his death.

Delivering the eulogy to mourners, who included Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, at St Marks Church in Darling Point, Mr Sessions of Penguin said Courtenay was quite simply Australia's most popular novelist and a storyteller without peer.

He noted that his time as a "hard-drinking, heavy-smoking" advertising executive had put him in good stead when he decided to write The Power of One in 1986.

Mr Sessions said Courtenay's talent for storytelling stemmed from his days as a school student in South Africa, where he used stories to fend off bullies.

After discovering a beautifully bound book under a house at about the age of six, Bryce wanted to become a writer.

He wrote his first story about a year later with the help of his teacher who taught him to read and write English.

Despite decades of success in advertising and publishing, Mr Sessions said Courtenay always maintained fatherhood was his proudest achievement. He had three sons, Brett, Adam and Damon, the latter of whom died in 1991.

Be it through teaching would-be writers or supporting various charities, helping other people was always a part of Courtenay's life, Mr Sessions said.

His gratitude was described as "legendary" and particularly notable after each new book, when the much-loved writer would arrange for a pallet of beer and wine to be delivered to the printer and warehouse staff.

Mr Sessions said Courtenay had written his own epitaph before his death when he said: "If in the end, someone says: 'Here lies Bryce Courtenay, a storyteller', my life will have been worthwhile".

AAP

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