I’ve always had an itch to write; most people who know me already know that. But there have been books in my long-ago past that served to assure I would never – must never – grow desensitized to that itch and every now and then I am reminded how grateful I am for those books. Charlotte’s Web was one, so was The Island of the Blue Dolphins, and The Grapes of Wrath. And so was Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds.
When I heard yesterday that Colleen McCullough had passed away, I felt like I’d lost a friend and mentor even though we’d never met. Plus, I had only ever read the one book by her. I know she wrote other novels but I never read them. She stands out as a pillar on my path to having become a novelist, so perhaps I subconsciously chose to read nothing else by her so that her mark on me couldn’t possibly be sullied by a book not on par (at least to me, anyway) with The Thorn Birds.
I am not alone in my admiration of this book. It has sold 30 million copies in paperback, 3 million in hard. It was made into a TV mini series that I still hunger to re-watch from time to time. including right now.
I was probably a senior in high school the first time I read The Thorn Birds, in my twenties the second. In my thirties, the third. I loved how she wove the story over the decades, how she parceled the story out to us by sections separated by names. And oh, the names.
I fell in love with the names Meghann (with the h and the two n’s), Padraic, Fiona, Justine, and Dane. And I’ve never forgotten the shade of the dress Meggie wore when everything was suddenly different: ashes of roses. Such a hauntingly, metaphorical, foreshadowing description of a hue that would’ve been pink if life was easy.
I am not altogether sure why some books stay with you, decades after you’ve read them, other than there is something special about those books that touches you in a place where you are most deeply you.
I was a novelist who hadn’t written anything yet when I first read The Thorn Birds. And then I was a wannabe when I read it again. Then I was a “will I ever be?” And now, I am going to read it again as dear Colleen’s much-lesser-known colleague in the trenches.
Thank you Colleen, for laying kindling on the little fire that would be my offering back to the world…I am forever grateful.