There wouldn't be many Australians who haven't picked up a Bryce Courtenay novel.
He was 56 when he published The Power of One, a huge international success as a book and a film starring Morgan Freeman and John Gielgud, and spent the rest of his career achieving extraordinary things as a prolific, best-selling writer.
With his wife Christine, his son Adam, and his pets by his side, Courtenay passed away at 11.30pm on Thursday at his Canberra home. He was 79.
The writer of The Potato Factory, Jessica, and Tommo & Hawk did not let his fight with stomach cancer slow him down. His final book, Jack of Diamonds, was released only 11 days ago by Penguin.
With sales of more than 20 million books worldwide, Courtenay was Australia's biggest-selling author of the past 20 years. Internationally, his work was translated into 17 languages, including Japanese and Chinese.
He published 21 tomes - many of which are now staples on the reading lists at Australian schools.
Fellow Australian author Fiona McIntosh describes Courtenay admiringly, as "a man of the people."
"Bryce, whatever he is, whatever you think of his writing, whatever you think about anything about him, he would stop in the street and talk to anyone," she said.
"He will give 100 per cent of himself to the beggar on the street, or little old lady who stops him in the supermarket - he's not too busy, he's not too big, he's not too arrogant to talk to - whether you're a reader, not a reader, he is a man of the people who consistently offered escapism."
For his last book, Courtenay wrote a moving epilogue: "It's been a privilege to write for you and to have you accept me as a storyteller in your lives. Now, as my story draws to an end, may I say only, Thank you. You have been simply wonderful."
In a post on his Facebook page on September 7, he previewed Jack of Diamonds as "the usual big, bulky Bryce Courtenay saga, and I do hope you enjoy reading it".
He was "keeping busy gardening" while writing a collection of short stories, he said.
Earlier this month, he appeared in a video on his Facebook page thanking his loyal readers for their support throughout his career.
Wry as ever, Courtenay said Jack of Diamonds would be his last book "because my use-by date has finally come up".
"I don't mind that, I've had a wonderful life," he said.
The Facebook page was flooded with tributes by his loyal followers.
"We'd like to thank all of Bryce's family and friends and all of his fans around the world for their love and support for me and his family as he wrote the final chapter of his extraordinary life," his widow Christine said in a statement released by Penguin Australia on Friday.
"And may we make a request for privacy as we cherish his memory."
Penguin Australia chief executive officer Gabrielle Coyne paid tribute to Courtenay's energy and commitment.
"It has been our great privilege to be Bryce's publisher for the past 15 years. We, as well as his many fans will forever miss Bryce's indomitable spirit, his energy and his commitment to storytelling," Coyne said in the statement.
Courtenay's long-standing publisher at Penguin, Bob Sessions, noted that the novelist took up writing in his fifties, after a successful career in advertising.
"His output and his professionalism made him a pleasure to work with, and I'm happy to say he became a good friend, referring to me as Uncle Bob, even when we were robustly negotiating the next book contract," Sessions said.
"He was a born storyteller, and I would tell him he was a latter-day Charles Dickens, with his strong and complex plots, larger-than-life characters, and his ability to appeal to a large number of readers."
Federal Arts Minister Simon Crean said Courtenay had "left an indelible mark on writing in Australia and the world" and was a "dynamic member" of the writing community.
"Forever endearing, continually animated and always passionate about his craft, Bryce was a mentor, friend and a true advocate of storytelling, reading and the importance of literacy," Mr Crean said in a statement.
Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said Courtenay's work would live on.
"There would be few Australians unfamiliar with The Power of One. Of course, there were the legendary Louie the Fly ads which he created," Mr Abbott said, referring to his earlier career in advertising.
Author Di Morrissey said she would miss Courtenay's passion for everything he did.
"But his commitment to promoting popular fiction and puncturing the pretensions of the literary establishment stand out," she said. "He always said we were professional combatants in the war to have books that people actually read, accepted by the literati and critics."
But he said the success of their books spoke for them, she said.
Morrissey admitted Courtenay was "an unashamed marketer and promoter of his books coming from an advertising background".
But he was "deeply touched and pleased" when he learned he had turned a non-reader into a passionate reader through his books.
Fiona McIntosh, the author of 26 books including The Lavender Keeper, who was inspired to write 12 years ago after attending one of Courtenay's courses, said on Friday he "consistently delivered escapism and stories about Australia".
"He brought grand tales to Australian people," she said.
"Everybody wants to write a book - he just said, get on and do it.
"He's been the mentor ever since."
McIntosh, who describes Courtenay as her special friend, was at his Final Masterclass at Canberra's National Library, in September, and afterwards they walked together arm in arm as he talked about her future in writing.
"(He) said, 'You've got to keep promises to a dying man'," she said.
Courtenay is survived by Christine, his second wife, his sons Brett and Adam, and grandsons Ben, Jake and Marcus. Another son Damon died in 1991 at the age of 23 from AIDS-related complications arising from a blood transfusion.
Courtenay's memoir, April Fool's Day, was credited with helping to change public perceptions of AIDS and the treatment of its victims.
Timmy the dog and four rescue cats, Cardamon, Muschka, Ophelia and Pirate, were also important figures in Courtenay's home life.
He was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1995 and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Canberra in October this year.
Penguin Australia said funeral arrangements had not been finalised.