This month, Prudence was lucky enough to have the chance to chat with Peter Watt, author of a number of esteemed books, most of which are historical fiction, combining intriguing characters and at times, nail biting events that really took place in both Australia and abroad. Following the release of his latest novel, The Queen’s Tiger, set in 1857 in colonial India, Peter, one part author, one part firefighter, spoke of the inspiration behind this latest character-driven adventure tale.
Could you tell about your inspiration behind The Queen’s Tiger?
As a kid growing up in the 1950’s we recognised Empire Day. With time, I learned through history how a tiny island nation once ruled the world, not unlike the Romans in their time. Akin to the Romans, the basis of Britain’s dominance, until the outbreak of the Great War, lay in its’ military strength. The Royal Navy controlled the trade routes and in the 19th century, it was Britain’s small but very professional army that dominated the land. I also discovered Australian colonial born men also served in the British army and decided to throw in, what we would call an Aussie larrikin, amongst the British upper classes and see what happens.
Where do you write? (at home, on holidays etc) and do you have a schedule, or just sit and write when it comes to you?
I write from my office in the back yard. Writing requires a discipline to meet publishing deadlines. As research is vital to my work, a typical day spent in the office is usually ten hours a day, six days a week, for six months. The other six months are dedicated to working as a volunteer with the Rural Fire Service fighting bush fires.
Holidays…? What are holidays?
Who is your favourite character in The Queen’s Tiger and why?
I think I got to like Alice Campbell more than the blokes. She has been born into a London, gentile society of drawing rooms, tea parties and social balls. In India, she is faced with the horrors of a bloody rebellion and rises above what would have been her station in life at the time. My research uncovered so many remarkable women in the Indian Mutiny. It must be remembered that Victorian England was a very chauvinistic society and Alice is out there, leading the way before female emancipation as a loosely based factual character. It is Alice who is the true Queen’s Tiger, and not one of her male counterparts.
How do you go about researching for all your novels, as it seems that historical fiction is your specialty.
I am fortunate that the internet has given writers access to books written at the time of the events I describe. As an example, writing about the Anglo Persian war I was able to find accounts written by British army officers who fought in that small, virtually unknown campaign. So, every scene I write is through the eyes of those who were there. The same for the Indian Mutiny. All the events described occurred as they are written, all I do is impose my fictional characters in the scenes.
Do you have any other books in the making?
The Queen’s Captain is currently being edited for release next year- which will make this series a trilogy. It will be like closing a circle over a decade in Captain Ian Steele’s life.
Why should people read this novel?
I think the emails I get sent from readers in Australia and overseas would best provide the answer. I guess I prefer to concentrate on a historical story, over flowery descriptions, and the most common compliment is that I may have caused marriage break ups due to one partner finding it impossible to put the books down – hence neglecting normal duties in the home. Many even say they have learned things about Australia they had never heard before. We flog the known and rarely write about the unknown, which, when actually researched, is vastly more interesting.
Anything else you would like to add?
Only that I wish it would rain and give me an excuse not to go out with my brigade 24/7. We tend to work 14 hours a day as volunteers and my brigade has been under those conditions since August without any respite in sight. It is going to be a long, hot summer.