Colleen Margaretta McCullough was an Australian author known for her novels, her most well-known being The Thorn Birds and Tim.
Raised by her mother in Wellington and then Sydney, McCullough began writing stories at age 5. She flourished at Catholic schools and earned a physiology degree from the University of New South Wales in 1963. Planning become a doctor, she found that she had a violent allergy to hospital soap and turned instead to neurophysiology – the study of the nervous system's functions. She found jobs first in London and then at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
After her beloved younger brother Carl died in 1965 at age 25 while rescuing two drowning women in the waters off Crete, a shattered McCullough quit writing. She finally returned to her craft in 1974 with Tim, a critically acclaimed novel about the romance between a female executive and a younger, mentally disabled gardener. As always, the author proved her toughest critic: "Actually," she said, "it was an icky book, saccharine sweet."
A year later, while on a paltry $10,000 annual salary as a Yale researcher, McCullough – just "Col" to her friends – began work on the sprawling The Thorn Birds, about the lives and loves of three generations of an Australian family. Many of its details were drawn from her mother's family's experience as migrant workers, and one character, Dane, was based on brother Carl.
Though some reviews were scathing, millions of readers worldwide got caught up in her tales of doomed love and other natural calamities. The paperback rights sold for an astonishing $1.9 million.
In all, McCullough wrote 11 novels.