Morris West was born in 1916 in St Kilda, Melbourne, the eldest of six children. At thirteen he left home to study with the Christian Brothers Order in Sydney, but left before taking his final vows in 1939.
Fluent in Italian and French, he taught modern languages and mathematics in New South Wales and Tasmania in his twenties, and then spent four years as a cipher officer in the AIF, code-breaking, before a decade as an independent producer and writer of radio plays. He started writing novels in the 1950s, the first two paying for a trip to Italy. There he went undercover with Father Mario Borelli, who was working with street urchins, and wrote The Children of the Sun, published in 1957.