So-called bust of Sulla, Augustan copy of an original of the late 2nd century B.C., Glyptothek, Munich

So-called bust of Sulla, Augustan copy of an original of the late 2nd century B.C., Glyptothek, Munich

I first discovered Colleen McCullough in late 1982 when I pulled The Thorn Birds off my sister’s book shelf one day when I was looking for something to read. From her bio on

Colleen McCullough AO (born 1 June 1937) is an internationally acclaimed Australian author. Colleen was born in Wellington in central west New South Wales to James and Laurie McCullough.

She grew up during World War II. In her first year of medical studies at the University of Sydney she suffered dermatitis from surgical soap and was told to abandon her dreams of becoming a medical doctor. Instead, she switched to neuroscience and worked in Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney. In 1963 she moved to the United Kingdom where she met the chairman of the neurology department at Yale University at the Great Ormond Street hospital in London, who offered her a research associate job at Yale. McCullough spent ten years researching and teaching in the Department of Neurology at the Yale Medical School in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. In the late 1970s she settled on Norfolk Island in the Pacific, where she met her husband, Ric Robinson, to whom she has been married since 1983. She now lives in Sydney.

Once again I’m a bit surprised at the background of a writer. McCullough’s bio on wiki does not at first glance seem to match a stereotypical bestselling writer profile. There just seems to be a chasm from a life as a teacher and researcher in neurology to a best selling author yet that is the path McCullough traveled.

I know that after reading The Thorn Birds (then seeing the TV mini-series), I looked at a couple of her other books, specifically An Indecent Obsession and A Creed for the Third Millennium but was never able to get to involved in them. Then in the early ’90s, I discovered the first of her Masters of Rome series, The First Man in Rome and I was hooked.

I admit I was quite surprised when I first came across First Man in Rome. While The Thorn Birds offers a “…epic saga of a family rooted in the Australian sheep country” it is far more of a historical romance than The Masters of Rome series which is a well researched series of historical fiction of Ancient Roman times covering most of the time when Rome was transitioning from a republic to a dictatorship and empire. I was not at all aware of the names and times of the major characters of the first two books – although the second book, The Grass Crown made the end of this scene from Spartacus make sense. The third book of the series, Fortune’s Favorites introduced Julius Caesar, a name we are most all familiar with.

Unfortunately, life intruded and I have not yet read the last two of the Master’s of Rome series – The October Horse: A Novel of Caesar and Cleopatra and Antony and Cleopatra.

Looking through McCullough’s list of books, there look to be a couple of other books outside of the Masters of Rome that I think I want to read – The Song of Troy and Morgan’s Run, in addition to the remaining two books of The Masters… series.

While McCullough has written twenty-four books (counting the bibliography from wiki), only three of the books have been used for TV or movies with The Thorn Birds being the best known. While The Thorn Birds was at one time the second highest rated TV mini-series of all time (listed at ninth as of 2010), it looks like The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years was not very well received. McCullough’s first book, Tim was made into a movie starring Mel Gibson as the title character and Piper Laurie. This first book was also adapted a second time to movies with Thomas McCarthy and Candice Bergin in the lead roles. An Indecent Obsession has also been adapted to the movies.

According to this article from October 2007, McCullough is still writing even as she is almost blind and has difficulty walking.

Picture from Carole Raddato licensed under Creative Commons