Good Reading : August 2007
AUGUST 2007 ı goodreading 15 author profile out in October this year. All my books are in print, but here I am mostly unknown. I’m not a young whiz kid, and my back- ground doesn’t have much appeal to the media. Better that I’m a recovering drug addict or have a criminal record to make me interesting.’ Ironically,Watt’s rich adventurous background is a perfect pedigree for an adventure writer, but perhaps today the sheer blokeyness of his life is considered passé by the essentially urbane arbiters of literature. Watt, in his late fifties, has been a soldier, an articled clerk, a prawn trawler deckhand, a builder’s labourer, a real estate salesman, a private investigator, a police sergeant and has worked in field operations with the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary; he has lived among Aboriginal communities and in the Vietnamese community in Sydney; he reads and writes Vietnamese and pidgin English and packs a couple of university degrees. And now add international author to the list. When I asked him if he could tell me the exact number of editions of the seven books he’s had published and reprinted here and overseas, he was thrown. ‘Mate, I don’t have all the recent copies of all the books, so I don’t know the exact number. But to give you an idea: Cry of the Curlew was first pub- lished in Australia in 1999. Since then it’s been reprinted seven times. Shadow of the Osprey was published in 2000 and has been reprinted five times. Flight of the Eagle was published in 2001 and has been reprinted four times. To Chase the Storm was published in 2003, reprinted in 2004 and again this year. I have also had Papua reprinted (no copy on hand to give you dates), and Eden was also reprinted. My last book, The Silent Frontier , published in 2006, was reprinted the same year as well as again this year. ‘In Ger many my books have all also gone to book clubs, with Cry of the Curlew going to two book clubs. It’s hard to keep track of what happens overseas. Other countries my books have been published in include the UK, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and the Netherlands.There are more overseas editions to come this year as the publishers work through the list. I do like to get all the copies, but it’s difficult to keep up with them all. I particularly like getting overseas editions because they tend to do nicer covers than here.The Dutch always do nice covers, but in Australia I get these flowery covers.’ It’s refreshing to talk to Watt because, while he doesn’t ven- ture into a discussion of literary values, he is a sort of tradesman or technician of his genre and has mastered the tricks of the trade. He’s quick to give tips such as that, in the airport genre, size does matter and it’s important not to write a book that’s too thin or too thick. ‘Canadian readers have told me that they first bought one of my books at Heathrow or Paris airports, and one said the reason he bought my book was because it was the right thickness to cross the Atlantic.’ While he’s been criticised by some Australian reviewers for the simplicity of his writing, he says he keeps his wording simple but evocative to attract his style of readers, and also because simple English increases his chances of being translated. Like all self-taught professional writers, Peter Watt does the obvious: he writes. A lot. He’s a bum-on-seat professional writer and his daily regimen begins at 8 am, when he checks emails until 9.Then he researches or writes until 2 pm, then back to the computer, writing from 3 pm to 5 pm. ‘I aim for 3000 words a day, and then I knock off and have a beer.’ Watt wrote his first story, Anthony the Ant, when he was seven. He read voraciously and was more attracted to mass market books than to high literature. In 1979, after completing a degree at the University of Tasmania, he wrote his first book, The Good Guys and the Bad Guys , set against his background as a Queensland policeman. It was never published. ‘I really got interested in writing again after a two-year stint in the police academy in New Guinea ’ he says ‘I was in my forties, I had a bit of money left over and I was living in Cairns. I thought it might take me a year to write one of these big blockbusters, and in the second year I’d be inter- nationally recognised and a multi-millionaire. Seven years later I was still working on buil sites, heading into my fifties, and I just about despaired about writing. But I kept going. ‘I had an agent, a wonderful man named Tony Williams, who kept saying to me, “You’re not ready yet to be published, keep working.” And it was very wise advice.’ Watt’s breakthrough came when he submitted Cry of the Curlew to Pan Macmillan in 1997. ‘It was actually rejected. The publisher, Cate Paterson, told me that I had an interesting story but that I had downloaded too much history. So I looked at that manuscript again and I thought my God, this is a case of one paragraph of story and five of history. But I was so impressed that the publisher had at least read it and made a comment that I sent a thank you letter.Then I forgot all about that but I did rewrite the book, dropping most of the history, and realised that what was left was a story.When Cate read it a second time she said now we had something like Wilbur Smith, It’s refreshing to talk to Watt because, while he doesn’t venture into a discussion of literary values, he is a sort of tradesman or technician of his genre and has mastered the tricks of the trade. He’s quick to give tips.