A while ago, when I was working for a small start up company with a funny name, we found a book that we thought might put us on the map, a big-hearted saga with an indomitable heroine, an exotic location and a doomed love affair. The auction dragged on over two weeks, as the advance rose inexorably towards a sum that began to resemble the UK's annual budget deficit. Then it was sudden death between ourselves and the only other bidder still standing: we made our best bid -- US$266,000 -- at midnight on a Friday night in October, and shortly after midnight we heard that we'd beaten out Transworld to win the book.

That was a big advance back in 1977, but God was kind, my chairman overlooked the indiscretion of spending five times the amount of money I was authorised to pay, and THE THORN BIRDS went on to sell more than 2 million copies for us at Futura (now known as Little, Brown UK), and more than 30 million copies in various editions around the world.

In the years that followed I have made at least dozen visits to Col's home on Norfolk Island, planted a Norfolk pine that bears my name, suffered innumerable defeats at Scrabble, and utterly failed to convince her that she should write another big hearted saga with an indomitable heroine, exotic location etc. Norfolk Island, by the way, is a dot in the South Pacific halfway between Oz and NZ, where the temperature is always 82F, birds lay their eggs on the naked branches of the trees, the picturesque Georgian ruins are the remains of the most sadistic goal in Britain's colonial heritage, and the native inhabitants are descended from the Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian consorts. 

So imagine my joy when Col's latest manuscript turned up a few weeks ago under the digital file name of THORN BIRDS 2. This novel features four indomitable heroines, two pairs of twins, who join the nursing staff of a provincial New South Wales hospital in the aftermath of the First World War. Their different fortunes are implied in the title of the new saga: BITTER SWEET. HoZ will publish with a fanfare of trumpets in March 2014. In the meantime we've just issued, in March 2013, the ebook version of THE THORN BIRDS.

Given that most HoZ authors are, as befits a new outfit, newcomers and debutants, it is a pleasure to note that Col is but the latest recruit in our magnificent seven of word-wielding veterans. Here's the complete list, in order of joining:

1. Fay Weldon   Goddess, Genius and She Devil
2. Robert K Massie Biographer to the Tsars
3. Thomas H Cook The Grandmaster of Psychological Suspense
4. Joseph Wambaugh The Founding Father of the Police Procedural
5. Graham Masterton   Number One Crime Bestseller on Kindle
6. Charles McCarry  The World's Leading Spy Master
7. Colleen McCullough Aussie Superstar and National Treasure


Bestsellers all. No ageists at HoZ.

A contemporary photo of Colleen McCullough signing and exchanging contracts for the British edition of THE THORN BIRDS with the MD of Futura Publications.

Anthony Cheetham and Colleen McCullough celebrate signing the contract for THE THORN BIRDS