TRADE SECRETS: Maclean author Peter Watts with his new novel While the Moon Burns.
TRADE SECRETS: Maclean author Peter Watts with his new novel While the Moon Burns. Adam Hourigan

Watt's faction: the truth behind author's new offering

WITH each novel acclaimed Maclean author Peter Watt writes, the lines between his life and stories become just a little bit more blurred.

This was no more evident than during the production of his latest release, While The Moon Burns.

A volunteer firefighter for the Gulmarrad brigade, Watt often uses the names of his colleagues and friends as characters when writing.

"The funny thing is when you're doing an ongoing saga, you often lose track of your own characters," Watt explained.

"I remember we were coming to the editing of this book with Pan McMillan and they said you've got a different name here for this lady. I wondered why I put Duboir instead of Du Pont and suddenly realised it was an old girlfriend of mine and I was accidentally, subconsciously putting her name in instead."

While The Moon Burns, released this week, is the eleventh instalment in Watt's popular Frontier series, which documents the lives of two Australian families over close to a century.

Watts said the saga took the reader from the end of the Second World War in Europe, which was celebrated in Australia but didn't mean a thing to those still fighting the Japanese in New Guinea.

He drew some of the material from his association with the army reserves and more from old news reels and records.

"I think that's a strength of these books. So many readers say they've learnt so much history through these books because it's putting fictional characters in real situations," he said. "They call it faction now - where fiction and faction meld."

Watt is currently working on the very final instalment, which will bring the story up to 1968 and bookend the Frontier series.

It has taken a little more time than anticipated - he has had to take a break from his usual six months as a volunteer firefighter to complete it.

"The series has roughly covered 100 years in the two families' history, and the last one will end with the battles of Balmoral and Coral, one of the lesser-known fights of the Vietnam war," Watt said.

"We all know about Long Tan but we suffered more casualties and fought a fiercer battle over three days in those battles."

In preparation for this last book, as with all his others, the author has spent a great deal of time researching historical documents to ensure his work is as factually accurate as possible.

Asked for an insight as to how to end such a long-running series, Watt's answer was simple, and perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek.

"You kill off all the characters so there's only one person left standing," he said.

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