Colleen McCullough is perhaps Australia’s most well-known author, having made millions and achieved notoriety around the world for her epic affair novel ‘The Thornbirds’. But the chain smoking writer hated the mini-series of her book, which became the most watched television show of all time, labelling it ’instant vomit’.
In a recent interview with the UK’s Mail, McCullough said the stars of the series, Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward, were both wrong for their parts, going on to say that Ward couldn’t ‘act her way out of a paper bag’.
According to the author, who is in the UK putting the finishing touches to a musical version of her story which is expected to set the West End stage alight, the series was filmed in Hawaii with only one Kangaroo and all the actors bar Brian Brown sounded American.
McCullough was so incensed by the TV series that she set out to create a musical version to trump it which has been more than fifteen years in the making – and this time she thoroughly approves of the casting.
The Thornbirds tells the story of an affair between Catholic priest Ralph and Meggie, the woman he falls in love with and takes place in part on an Australian sheep station in the outback. In the stage version, Meggie will be played by Helen Anker and Ralph by Matthew Goodgame.
Both actors went through a stringent series of auditions and McCullough played a large part in finalising who would get the much coveted roles. And with her inimitably brash style, she claims it’s ‘a brilliant show’.
McCullough has written 20 novels but The Thornbirds remains her biggest success. However, she was recently criticised by world-renowned Australian feminist Germaine Greer for failing to include Aboriginal people in her writing.
But McCullough retorted by saying that Greer is ‘just currying favour with the politically correct’, going on to attest that The Thornbirds is an exploration of life for white Australians during the first half of the 20th century and as far as they were concerned, aboriginal people would have been invisible.
The novel, which spans fifty years, borrows heavily from McCullough’s own unhappy childhood. She describes her family as ‘poor white trash’, explaining that her father was a sugar cane cutter, an Ulsterman and a ‘terrible miser’ who according to the author, married her mother because he wanted a slave.
McCullough says that Meggie is her mother, whom she detested. She spoke of the difficulty of writing a book focussing on a hated main character and claimed her mother ‘enjoyed suffering’. The author grew up knowing three things – that she did not want children, that she adored words and that she would teach herself the sciences. She went on to do exactly what she set out to, qualifying as a neuroscientist in the 1960s and working in the UK and America.
The Thornbirds, which was published in the late 70s, netted her a record breaking advance of nearly $2 million and she appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. Since then, the novel has made the legendary write a multi-millionaire.