Australian author Bryce Courtenay, who took up writing relatively late in his life and had his first book acquired for $1 million, died Thursday of stomach cancer. He was 79.

Courtenay, a native of South Africa whose first novel, “The Power of One,” drew on his experiences growing up in that country, had a successful career in advertising before turning to writing novels.

Courtenay’s publisher, Penguin Group Australia, said in a statement that the best-selling author died late Thursday night at his home in Canberra. The publisher said Courtenay died surrounded by his wife, son and “beloved pets,” including "Tim the dog and Cardamon the Burmese cat."

“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. And may we make a request for privacy as we cherish his memory,” said Courtenay’s wife, Christine Gee.

The author’s death comes two weeks after his final novel, “Jack of Diamonds,” was published, Reuters reported.

Gabrielle Coyne, chief executive officer of Penguin Group Australia, said it was the company’s “great privilege” to have worked with Courtenay. The company worked with the author for 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.

Bob Sessions, Courtenay’s longtime publisher, said the author was a “born storyteller” despite becoming an author later in his life.

“Bryce 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. 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,” Sessions said.

“Virtually each year for the last 15 years, I have worked with Bryce on a new novel. He would write a 600-page book in around six months, year in, year out. To achieve that feat he used what he called ‘bum glue,’ sometimes writing for more than 12 hours a day,” Sessions continued. “He brought to writing his books the same determination and dedication he showed in the more than 40 marathons he ran, most of them when he was well over 50. Not to have a new Bryce Courtenay novel to work on will leave a hole in my publishing life. Not to have Bryce Courtenay in my life, will be to miss the presence of a very special friend.”

In an interview posted on the website for the Sydney Morning Herald, Courtenay said his proudest moment was when he became a writer.

“When the time came … I wasn’t arrogant enough to think I’d just sit down and go ‘tap tap tap tap’ and out would come this brilliant book,” the author recalled. “So when I wrote ‘The Power of One’ I used it as a doorstop. It was a doorstop for almost two years -- 18 months. Well, to cut a long story short, the doorstop sold in New York for a million dollars, and I think probably that was one of the proudest moments in my life.”

Bryce ended his latest book with an epilogue that read, “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.’”