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An Interview with Author Alexandra Watts

Watts 1

‘Remember, children, that verbs are doing words.’ I shall never forget that expression, one of many from my strict primary school teacher, Mrs. Turner. I’ve loved reading books all my life, so having a go at writing seems like an extension of that love and I will be forever grateful for the education I had at that tiny village school in Kent.

Like many first-timers, I tried writing during lockdown in Perth, Australia, in 2020 when my clients decided that I wasn’t needed in their offices to do the accounts anymore. My focus moved from numbers to words, and I shifted from Excel to Word, before discovering Scrivener.

During 2021 and 2022, ideas for short stories came along from dreams, overheard conversations, and television reporters. Minor success followed and I was shortlisted in two competitions in the UK publication, Writing Magazine. Articles for a local history magazine were accepted, and I was promoted from Committee Member to Convenor of the FamilyHistoryWA Writers Group, where the eighty members share stories of their ancestors, the settlers or convicts who have helped make Western Australia the fabulous place it is today.

I started working on The Convict’s Legacy, my project in progress, back in 2021, but put it aside to concentrate on learning my craft through writing short stories and articles. It helped, but it didn’t feel satisfying like I knew writing a novel would be. My New Year’s resolution for 2023 was to finish writing the first draft by the end of the year; I’m now 60,000 words in, so it’s looking hopeful.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

I was visiting an exhibition in Fremantle Maritime Museum about immigrants and picked up a book, High Seas and High Teas by Roslyn Russell. It made me think about my own journey from the UK to Perth, Western Australia, back in 1999 when I first came here to live. We got on a plane, and then, twenty-four hours later, we simply arrived. But what about when it took months to get here and the crossing was dangerous? The characters came first, some of them inspired by the pictures in the book, and then the plot started to develop.

Tell us the story of your book’s current title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

I was about 50,000 words into my first draft when I had an idea for a better title. Prior to that, it went through several different ones – A Grand Adventure, Emily Cavendish, and The Cavendish Family Saga, to name a few.

Describe your dream book cover.

It would have a majestic sailing ship in the middle, with pictures of the two main characters, one in the top left-hand corner, and the other in the bottom right-hand corner.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Theme from The Onedin Line; theme from Poldark; sea shanties of some description; “Waltzing Matilda.”

What books are you reading (for research or comfort) as you continue the writing process?

I’ve spent many hours searching in the second-hand book shops in Perth and have picked up some real gems, mostly diaries written by people that have emigrated here during the 1800s: No Privacy for Writing by Andrew Hassam; Caroline’s Diary by Anne Philp; Great Expectations – Emigrant Governesses in Colonial Australia by Patricia Clarke; The Last Convict by Anthony Hill. For writing about London, my go-to book is Victorian London; the Life of a city 1840 – 1870 by Liza Picard.

For the comfort side, I enjoy reading anything by Alexander McCall Smith or Rosamunde Pilcher, and Australian authors Tim Winton, Luke Slattery (Mrs. M is one of the best books I have ever read), and Natasha Lester. Deborah Challinor (from New Zealand) is excellent and the way she builds her characters means that you are drawn in from the very first page.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

For the past forty-odd years I have been an accountant, so moving from dealing with numbers to words has been a huge challenge. I used to play bass guitar in a band and rode a motorbike. In 1996 I backpacked to Australia and met my husband here in Perth.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

It was the 44 Scotland Street Series by Alexander McCall Smith. I loved the idea of the story about a house divided into flats and what the residents got up to. I was always waiting for the next book to come out so decided to write my own, but with houses in a street in London, and different residents whose cats reflected their personalities. I only got up to 15,000 words; I learnt the hard way that I’m definitely NOT a ‘Pantser’—or ‘Discovery Writer,’ as I was told the correct term is now.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Our house is in a cul-de-sac that backs onto an old quarry. Majestic trees now grow there and my office looks out over these trees. I have two screens set up on an enormous corner desk, and I have the option of sitting or standing. I have a wall lined with bookcases, so everything is to hand. My IT and editing departments are in the office next door: i.e., my husband, who works from home. I have the window open so I can hear the birds and the wind rustling the leaves in the trees. When it’s cold outside (anything less than 15 degrees by Perth standards), the cat likes to sit just out of reach on a chair nearby or perches on the printer, waiting for the pages to spew out. In summer, he sleeps on a chair outside and my writing is interrupted by opening and closing the door for him, as he wanders in and out for food, or just to check that we are both still around.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I like to check my emails and get all the mundane stuff out of the way first. After lunch, I usually write for an hour and a half, then have a short break and walk around the house to think and stretch, or I might sit in the garden and read. Then it’s back again before the evening meal. When I’ve finished writing for the day, I make a note in my diary of the word count and any problems I am experiencing, plus notes about what I’m currently reading.

This year I have been attending a year-long course—The Secrets of Storytelling—at the Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre, with creative writing tutor Andrew Levett, a Perth-based writer, mentor, editor, and teacher.* Every Sunday afternoon during term time, I meet with him and five other dedicated writers for a three-and-a-half-hour Tim Tam-fueled session.** We start off critiquing each other’s work before we move onto learning something new. I think it’s important to study your craft if you want to improve, and to find a group that supports your writing.


** Tim Tams are an iconic Aussie chocolate biscuit.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader? I hope readers appreciate how easy their lives are now compared to the past, and I also want them to contemplate what the future may bring. From the clothes we wear to new technology, there have been so many recent changes and it makes you wonder what the next 200 years will be like. It’s hard to picture my perfect reader so I would be grateful to anyone that parted with their money to buy The Convict’s Legacy.

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