The write stuff is fre­quently just a mat­ter of tim­ing

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - CHRISTO­PHER FOWLER

LON­DON: When it comes to lit­er­ary suc­cess, tim­ing is ev­ery­thing.

Be­fore JK Rowl­ing’s boy wizard there had been a vir­tual in­dus­try of magic school­boy tales, but Harry Pot­ter was the one that clicked.

Winifred Wat­son’s lit­er­ary ca­reer was cur­tailed by three ma­jor events; the de­pres­sion, the at­tack on Pearl Har­bour and the Blitz.

Wat­son was born in 1906 in New­cas­tle upon Tyne, and wrote her first book, the Northum­brian his­tor­i­cal drama Fell Top, in dull days stuck as a sec­re­tary in the De­pres­sion years. She stuck it away in a drawer un­til she spot­ted an advert from Methuen looking for new writ­ers.

The novel was pop­u­lar and be­came a ra­dio play. The pub­lish­ers asked her for more. The re­sult was Odd Shoes, which ben­e­fited from proper re­search.

Her third book hor­ri­fied Methuen. In­stead of be­ing se­ri­ous, it was fun. The book was Miss Pet­ti­grew Lives for a Day, about a frumpy governess who is ac­ci­den­tally sent by her agency to work for a louche ac­tress and night­club singer run­ning a com­pli­cated love life.

Wat­son said: “I didn’t know any­one like Miss Pet­ti­grew. I just made it all up. I’ve never been to a night­club.”

The book was an im­me­di­ate hit, and a Hol­ly­wood mu­si­cal was planned but the bomb­ing of Pearl Har­bour put paid to that. “I wish the Ja­panese had waited six months,” she said later.

A rather charm­ing film ver­sion star­ring Frances McDor­mand and Amy Adams fi­nally ap­peared in 2008, six years af­ter Wat­son’s death. – The In­de­pen­dent on Sun­day

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