his schooling in South Africa, where he took part in numerous stage
productions, Duncan went to England to study acting - and he appeared in
repertory in the Channel Islands in the hit Sandy Wilson musical, The Boy Friend.
However, a combination of feeling that he ‘wouldn't ever really make it’
in the theatre and the 1962/1963 winter persuaded him to return to Africa
where he joined the Teachers’ College in Bulawayo. This was followed by
three and a half years teaching at a large boys’ school in Mongu, in Barotseland in Zambia.
recalls many trips round Barotseland by boat on the Zambezi and Land Rover
trips across the Barotse Plain. All this has
been absorbed into his stories, with Muyunda,
one of Duncan’s main characters, actually attending the school Duncan
taught at and taking part in the colourful Kuomboka
Ceremony, which Duncan witnessed several times.
publicity photos for the theatre
the Barotse Plain
Nalikwanda setting off
this ceremony, the people move in their canoes and barges from their
flooded homes to the dry land in a yearly ritual, led by the Litunga, the Paramout
Chief, dressed in the full regalia of a Victorian British ambassador's
uniform, in his own state barge, Nalikwanda.
teaching at Kambule Secondary School, Duncan
started his writing by producing two books published by Oxford
University Press; books in easy English for school students - these
books have now been expanded into Kidnapped in the Kafue and Crash
in the Caprivi in the present Wallace Boys series.)
An urge to continue travelling (Duncan
had by this time already been to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji as a
child by ship, and then round much of Africa, and an exciting journey
through France’s canal system on a motor yacht called the St Valery,
which appears in two of his books), and, after leaving Zambia, he
travelled for nearly two years. He studied sailing and navigation, but he
never achieved his ambition of sailing round the world! He instead
travelled from the UK to Australia on the overland trail, by bus, by
train and by hitchhiking through all the countries of North Africa,
Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan into Pakistan,
India and Ceylon.
Duncan’s father was by this time living
in Australia and so, after a visit to him, Duncan settled in Papua New
Guinea for three years, teaching at an island school near Madang.
Duncan’s travels had also taken him to places like Vietnam (during the
American war) and Cambodia (before the fighting). Following his time in
PNG, Duncan island-hopped across the Pacific, ending up in the United
States and then the UK again, where he taught at a little prep school in
Surrey for a year.
But the travel bug still bit, and
Duncan began teaching English in Tokyo, before coming to live and work in
Singapore which he had first visited in 1969 as a back-packer, promising
himself then that this was where he wanted to settle. Since 1976, Duncan
has lived in Singapore, now as a Permanent Resident. He started by
teaching at a primary school here. He subsequently joined the British
Council; at about the same time, he began reading the news with the
Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, later the Television Corporation of
Singapore, now MediaCorp. He appeared regularly ‘on the box’ until 1998 and is still
recognized in the street.
only recognized in Singapore; he was amazed when, on one of his visits to
the Island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean, where his mother
lived, someone came up to him in the capital, Jamestown: “Aren’t you
Duncan Watt, the newsreader in Singapore?” It wasn’t quite as surprising
as one might suppose. This occurred during the Falklands War when the
ship, the RMS St Helena, had been requisitioned for carrying war
supplies. A crew of St Helenians had come to Singapore to pick up her
replacement the cruise ship, the Centaur, and had stayed in
Singapore for several weeks. Even so, it was still quite amazing to be
recognized nearly half the world away!
famous Jacob’s Ladder. There are 699 steps and each step is 27 cm, used
on the book cover of Skulduggery in the South Atlantic.
Duncan’s visits to St Helena have found their way into a couple of his
books (notably Skulduggery in the South Atlantic), and his books
have also been set in South-East Asia, having ‘got the African books out
of his system’! He has
written three books set in the Middle East, Rebels Across the Sea I,
II and III. He went hiking in Austria to research a story called Assignment
in the Alps and its sequels Traitors
in the Tyrol and The Monks of Montafon. He then researched the next, set
in the South Indian Ocean - South from the Seychelles.
Apart from writing and doing some programmes
on radio in the past, Duncan frequently visited schools in Singapore
giving talks on animal conservation, a subject that is very close to his
heart; some of his royalties go to the Kafue National Park, Survival
International and the Nature Societies of both Singapore and Malaysia.
Where possible, he tries to visit the
locations of these informational-adventure children’s books.
writing The Treasure of the Tiger, for example, he took up
scuba-diving; and he visited Taman Negara, Malaysia’s wonderful rain forest
reserve, before starting The Pagodas of Pahang, where one thing he
says he had to do was experience leeches crawling all over him. This has
translated into a rather gruesome scene with Bruce Wallace lying face
down in a stinking rafflesia plant, covered in
leeches and an AK-47 pointing at the back of his head!
of Duncan’s hobbies and interests include: travelling (of course!),
scuba-diving, swimming, hiking, jogging, the theatre, music (the
classics, musicals and operettas - Ivor Novello,
Sigmund Romberg and Gilbert & Sullivan) and reading.
Duncan particularly likes reading history
(both fact and fiction), detective stories and, as one would expect,
Some of those who have influenced his own
books are writers like Alistair MacLean, Geoffrey Jenkins, Victor
Canning, Mary Stewart, John Buchan, Gavin Lyall,
Desmond Bagley, Eric Ambler, Geoffrey Household, Hammond Innes and Jack Higgins.
The works of Capt. W.E. Johns (of Biggles fame), Enid Blyton, Willard Price, Franklin W. Dixon (The Hardy Boys), H. Rider Haggard and Percy F. Westerman also have all played their part in shaping
Duncan’s books in varying degrees.