December 16, 2009 / 6:50 AM / 9 years ago

Book Talk: Bryce Courtenay looks back to fathom present

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Bestselling author Bryce Courtenay says he’s an old man, but he still has lots of stories to tell and his latest tale is particularly relevant during the economic turmoil of our times.

FOR RELEASE WITH STORY BC-AUSTRALIA-COURTENAY - Author Bryce Courtenay (L) holds the hand of a lady after he signed a copy of his book titled 'The Night Country' for her at a Sydney bookstore in this undated file photo. REUTERS/David Gray/Files

“The Story of Danny Dunn”, published last month, is 76-year-old Courtenay’s 19th book since he left advertising and began full-time writing in 1989.

It is a poignant saga that centres around eponymous character, a poor boy from the inner suburbs of Sydney, and starts in the aftermath of the Great Depression, runs through World War Two and spans three generations of an Australian family during a time of great change in the country’s history.

Courtenay told Reuters the book provided insights into what it means to be Australian, and although it is set in the past, has resonance for what is happening in the world today.

“We, as in the world, are going through a hard time,” he said during a recent interview.

“We’re beginning to see something that my generation never imagined would happen: the demise of the Western, Caucasian world. The idea that General Motors would go broke would have been an absurd joke when I was a child.

“All the things we considered right are now being challenged, making us take a hard look at ourselves.”

Courtenay said he deliberately set “Danny Dunn” during some of the most difficult periods of human history — the global economic recession of the 1930s and 1940s and the ensuing war — to put into perspective today’s economic woes, and leave readers with a hopeful message.

“It’s going backwards to look forward,” he said. “I wanted to show that there have been times like this before, there have been uncertainties like this before, that the world is always going through turmoil, but that ultimately, we cope, we survive.”

“There are patterns that repeat themselves, in life, in families, in the universe and these are the patterns the storyteller looks at and regurgitates.”

A story teller is something Courtenay is very proud to have achieved after aspiring for it for so long.

Courtenay was raised in an orphanage in South Africa, and says that as the smallest child there, he was always picked on until he discovered, aged 7, that words were stronger than fists.

“The only way I could save myself was by telling the other kids stories, then they wouldn’t beat me up,” he said.

“I’ve been telling stories every since, doing what story tellers have done since the dawn of time — looking at who we are, where we’ve come from and possibly where we’re going.”

Courtenay’s own life has inspired some of his books, with his first novel, the bestselling “The Power of One” written after one of his three sons, who had hemophilia, died aged 24 of AIDS contracted through a blood transfusion.

Despite his age, Courtenay has no plans to stop telling stories, saying he’s got at least another six books in him, “which could make up for the 29 years when I couldn’t write.”

“It’s who I am, it’s what I always will be and maybe I’ll hang up my boots at 82, just maybe,” he said.

“I don’t expect posterity. I’m just an old man with something to say, so hear me out.”

Editing by David Fox

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