Sally Watson, Santa Rosa resident, prolific author and World War II veteran, dies at 98

Many of Sonoma County author Sally Watson’s books feature heroines much like her – strong, fiery, independent – and set in ancient times and distant places that Watson studied diligently and then humanized with characters. of his own creation.

The historical novelist, who grew up in Seattle and has lived the past 35 years in a Santa Rosa cottage adorned with cats, books and gardens, also drew inspiration from her remarkable life experiences. She served with the Navy WAVES in WWII, excelled in Scottish Highland dancing, traveled widely, lived for over 20 years in England, earned a black belt in judo, became a master gardener and engaged in the memory of vast treasures of literature and research.

Watson died at her home on March 11. She was 98 years old.

“My mum said I wrote my first book when I was 4,” she told The Press Democrat in 2009. She was 29 when she learned a friend had published a story in a children’s magazine, and she decided on the spot that she too could be a writer.

She sat down at a typewriter and three weeks later finished the first draft of a book she called “Highland Rebel”. Set in Scotland in 1745, the story featured a fearless child, Lauren Cameron, who only wanted to fight the British. Watson submitted the manuscript to Henry Holt and Company of New York, who published it in early 1954 without revision.

The author will reflect later: “I was such a novice that I did not even know that it was a remarkable chance.

In writing books, the graduate of Reed College in Oregon has found her happiness.

“She loved the words,” said a niece, Karin Glinden of Trinidad, Humboldt County. “Until the end, she loved them. She loved their sound, their story. Their nuances.

Watson’s first book did well. Suddenly a woman who knew deep down that she didn’t want to be a housewife or an office worker found out what she wanted to do.

She went to work on her second historical fiction play, “Maîtresse Malapert”, about a girl who pretends to be a boy in order to get a job with William Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre. With these first two books, Watson launched the 10-book Family Tree series, which spanned three centuries and from Britain to Northern California.

Writing allowed Watson to blend her love of history, particularly that of England, with her fertile imagination and her desire for girls and women to resist the limits of society and be bold and bold. autonomous.

She told The Press Democrat in 2009 that she took great care to ensure the historical accuracy of the era in which she placed her fictional characters. “I’ve always been interested in the kind of history you weren’t taught in school,” she says. “I want to know what people thought, what they wore and what they ate for breakfast.”

Sales of his books in the Family Tree series allowed Watson to venture out.

“After three books,” she wrote in an autobiography, “I had enough money to go to Europe for five months. Three more books, and I went back to England for a year and studied Highland dancing and wrote other books.

Watson’s curiosity and sense of adventure drew her in 1957 to the young nation of Israel. Her experiences and observations there led her to write three books, beginning with “To Build a Land”. He was talking about children orphaned or refugees by the Second World War and who have rebuilt their lives together in a kibbutz.

Wrote one reviewer, “Watson tells a hair-raising story of survival while developing interesting characters and managing to preach tolerance between Jews and Arabs, Jews and Brits, without being preachy.”

Watson also traveled to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, meeting people in each location, conducting disciplined research and storing material for future work.

For a time, Watson lived in Oakland and wrote while working with her mother, schoolteacher Dorothy Taft Watson, on a groundbreaking audio-visual program that taught children and adults to read through phonics.

In 1964, at the age of 40, the author discovered that although her income did not allow her to live independently in the United States, she could do so in England. She bought and settled in a cottage in Hampshire.

There, she recalled in her memoir, she “joined MENSA (the International Society of High IQ People based in England) and continued to write books, and took up judo at 45”.

Watson’s life changed dramatically in the early 1970s.

“Until then,” she writes, “my books were selling slowly but steadily… whenever stocks ran low, they (the publishers) just printed a new edition. Now the tax laws, it seems, have been changed so that it was no longer profitable for publishers to keep books in stock throughout the year. So my 12 pounds were used up almost simultaneously.

Lola R. McClure