Christopher Koch once described writing as an absurd occupation.
''All writers are obviously neurotic … For various reasons, writers retreat into an imaginary world because they find ordinary life rather difficult or boring or both,'' he said.
But it was an occupation he loved and to which he eventually devoted his life, one that came to an end early on Monday morning in Hobart. He was 81 and had been diagnosed with cancer a few months before his last novel, Lost Voices, was published to critical acclaim a year ago. He lived for many years in Sydney and Asia but, in 2004, returned permanently to Tasmania.
His poetry was first published in The Bulletin when he was still a teenager. But he swiftly realised he wanted to write fiction: ''From the age of 18, there was nothing else I wanted to do.''
His first novel, The Boys in the Island, was published in Britain in 1958 and enthusiastic reviews encouraged him to carry on with his writing while he worked for the ABC. He won the Miles Franklin Award in 1985 for The Doubleman, about which Graham Greene wrote: ''Koch has an extraordinary power of evoking place and I feel now that Tasmania is part of my memory.''
He won again in 1996 for Highways to a War.
Koch published eight novels and was probably best known for The Year of Living Dangerously (1978), which was filmed by Peter Weir with Mel Gibson as the Australian journalist embroiled in Indonesian political turmoil.
The book has recently been adapted as a stage musical and is due to have its first reading next week in New York. His agent, Margaret Connolly, said the production team had been exchanging long emails with Koch.
In 1972, Koch left the ABC, where he worked as a producer, to write full-time.
''Everyone thought I was crazy,'' he said. ''I left a really very good job and went back to Launceston and wrote The Year of Living Dangerously, which fortunately pulled me out of the mire and I haven't done an honest job since.''
Peter Pierce, editor of The Cambridge History of Australian Literature, said Koch had reconfigured historical fiction in Australia ''because of his profound sense that the past was always present and immanent''.
Shona Martyn published Out of Ireland at Random House and ''tried to lure him straight away'' when she became publishing director at HarperCollins.
''Even last week, he was still talking to editors about punctuation and design,'' she said. ''He had such great commitment.''