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Winifred Watson


Winifred Watson (1906-2002) resided in her native Newcastle for her entire life. Educated at St. Ronan's boarding school in Berwick-on-Tweed, it was expected that she would follow her older sisters to university. But shortly after World War I, her father's shoe stores business collapsed, and she was taken out of school at 16. After attending Commercial College, she started work as a secretary.

Challenged by her brother-in-law to write a better novel than the "awful nonsense" one she was reading, she wrote her first novel, Fell Top, during uneventful mornings at work and then stuck the manuscript in her attic and forgot about it.

Several years later, her eldest sister saw an agent's notice asking for new novelists to submit work and she and Winifred dug out Fell Top and sent it off - to an interested response. Winifred was advised to tell the agent she had a second novel in preparation, and as a result she was put under contract for her next four books at Methuen Publishing. The non-existent second novel then had to be written, and her wedding to Leslie Pickering was moved up by five months so that she could leave work and concentrate on writing the historical novel Odd Shoes.

Fell Top, a rustic tale of sexual jealousy and murder, was published in 1935 and made an instant name for the novelist. A radio adaptation of the novel followed, and Odd Shoes was published in 1936.

Winifred changed course with her next effort, and when presented with the draft of the progressive Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Methuen representatives were taken aback; they wanted "women's fiction." The author said to them in direct response, "You are wrong, Miss Pettigrew… is a winner," but she obliged with Upyonder - on the condition that Methuen also publish Miss Pettigrew… When both were published in 1938, the reception accorded Miss Pettigrew… proved its author right. There followed an American edition and a translation into French. In 1939, Winifred received a request for a German translation, while remarking, as she posted the letter agreeing to the deal, that she knew England would be at war with Germany by the time the letter was received.

By the time WWII broke out, she had written her fifth novel, Hop, Step and Jump (published in 1939) as well as her sixth and last novel, Leave and Bequeath (published in 1943).

Her son Keith Pickering was born during WWII. At the age of four months, he and his mother were alone in their house when it was demolished by a bomb. Obliged to move in with relatives, Winifred believed, "You can't write if you are never alone." In time, she and her husband and son again had a home of her own. By then she had reluctantly abandoned writing, as something which belonged to a different era.

She lived the next several decades as a homemaker, spending all of the earnings from her writing on Keith's education. In 2000, Persephone Books republished Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, which had remained her favorite of the works she had created so long ago.