Shelf Aware — Natasha Lester


Natasha Lester — Author.

I’m thrilled and delighted to reveal that my first guest blogger in the Shelf Aware series is Natasha Lester. I met Natasha when I signed up for one of her creative writing courses at UWA Extension, and in the ensuing years I’ve come to respect and admire her for her professionalism and writing talent, and adore her for her warmth, generosity and kindness.

She is an extremely talented writer, but she’s also someone who gives so much back to the writing community, through workshops, courses and a brilliant blog, with lots of tips, advice and interesting insights into a writer’s life — allowing us to learn from her experience. If you were at the Perth Writers Festival on the weekend, you may have been among the lucky people to attend one or more of her sessions — and you probably saw the banners bearing her smiling face at strategic points around the grounds of UWA.

A new edition of Natasha’s third novel, A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, has just been released, and her next novel, Her Mother’s Secret, is due for release on March 28 (I’ve reviewed it here).

I know you’ll enjoy reading her responses to my Shelf Aware questions, and I hope you’ll visit her website and social media sites to learn a little more about her, and her work (I’ve included the links at the bottom).

Q. Natasha, how would you describe yourself, as a writer?

A. I’m a writer of historical fiction. I love writing stories about women fighting against society to do or to become something that wasn’t deemed suitable for women at the time. I want to, in my fiction, celebrate those women who were brave enough to change the world, the women who’ve allowed me to enjoy the many opportunities that I have today. A strong sense of place and time is really important to me in my fiction; I want my readers to feel as if they are transported back to the era and location of the story, whether it be a speakeasy in Greenwich Village or a chemist’s shop in a small English village. And I love writing about love; having a strong love story is a key part of my books.

I’m a very chaotic writer; I never have any real idea of what my stories are about, other than the central idea of the women and their particular fight. So I find writing first drafts to be very hard work as I’m discovering the story page by page. After that, the process is much more relaxed; I know what the story is and I rewrite it as many times as I need to in order to make it the best story I possibly can. My writing chaos is completely at odds with the rest of my life where I’m a very organised person!

Q. What projects are you currently working on or do you have in the pipeline?

A. I’m usually juggling three books, and this year is no exception. The new format and gorgeous new cover of A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald came out on 14 Feb, and my new book, Her Mother’s Secret, is out on 28 March so I have publicity work to do for both books. This involves author talks, which I love doing, interviews, book signings, and lots more.

I’m also writing a new book, tentatively called The French Photographer, which I hope will be my 2019 book. Plus, I’ve recently submitted a manuscript with the working title of The Seamstress from Paris to my agent. From there, she will send it to my publisher, I will pray that I get a contract, and then, with any luck, I’ll have the editing of that book to do this year, ready for publication in March 2018.

Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?

A. I have a whole wall of bookshelves in my office. When we designed our house, I was VERY particular about asking the builders to make sure that one entire wall was devoted to books. They thought I was crazy, but I wasn’t – it’s already starting to fill up much too fast!

My 3 kids also have a massive bookshelf in their playroom for all their books. 2 of them are avid readers so they need lots of space too!


A whole wall of Natasha’s home office features customised book shelves.

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?

A. I used to just put the books on the shelves wherever they seemed to best fit as I didn’t want the books to feel like they had to be forced into alphabetical order (yes, perhaps I am a little crazy!) But then I could never find anything! So I’ve resorted to alphabetical order and now I can locate any book I need quickly.


Current research books have a separate shelf.

I have separate shelves for the research books for each novel I’m working on; that’s always a shelf right by my desk as I often need to reach out for those books while I’m writing. Books about writing also get their own shelf, just because!

Q. What sorts of books predominate?

A. It’s probably not a surprise to know that I have a lot of historical fiction on the shelves; it’s what I write so it’s a genre I love. I also have a couple of shelves of classics, which I can read at any time and know I’ll be reading a book that I adore. And now there’s quite a bit of non-fiction on the shelves, with all the research books I need to write my own historical novels.


Historical fiction, classics and contemporary novels, plus non-fiction for research.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. I usually read in bed for half an hour before I go to sleep. I rarely read fiction during the day as I’m working, but I will read my research books. I do that in a very comfy chair that I bought especially for that purpose; it lives in my office, has a beautiful outlook over the garden and sits next to a coffee table so I can drink lots of tea while I read, which is very important!

Q. What book/s are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?

commonwealthA. Right now I’m reading Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth. It was on so many “Best Books” lists last year that I was worried I was missing out by not having read it! The only other Ann Patchett I’ve read is Bel Canto, which I really liked, but didn’t love in the evangelical way that many people do. So far, I’m enjoying Commonwealth; I’m only about a third of the way in and unless it has a big surprise in the remainder of the book, it probably won’t make my best books list.

Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?

A. I’m more of a favourite books person than a favourite authors person. I rarely find an author whose every book I love in the same way. So my favourite books are Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Persuasion by Jane Austen, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, Atonement by Ian McEwan, Possession by AS Byatt, A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them?

A. Oh my God, that question is like torture—only three! Definitely my Complete Novels of Jane Austen, which is cheating a bit because it’s several books in one! This was the only book I took with me when I moved to London for a couple of years and I took it because I knew that no matter what happened, I could always sit down with Jane Austen and feel better. I still have my childhood copy of Little Women and I would save that because it’s sentimentally very special to me. Probably also Jane Eyre as this is one of my most favourite books.

Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?

A. I would choose Jude from A Little Life and I would serve him kindness in a tea cup. I probably wouldn’t talk to him unless he wanted to talk because he’s been forced to do too many things in his life already. I’d also choose Philippa Somerville from Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series because she’s my favourite heroine ever. I’d serve her Turkish Delight—anyone who’s read the series will know why—and I’d talk to her about all her adventures in sixteenth century Europe, adventures which stretch from the Scottish court, to the English and French courts and all the way across to the Ottoman Empire. Lastly, I’d choose Amy March from Little Women because she was the first heroine I adored as a child. I’d serve her afternoon tea because she likes sweet things and we’d talk about her wonderful family.

For more about Natasha:


Shelf Aware — Maureen Eppen



A comfortable place to read. Photo: Elinor Eppen.


Today I’m starting a new blog series called Shelf Aware, and in the coming weeks and months I’ll feature guest posts from a number of Australian and international authors, poets, illustrators, editors and publishers whose work I admire. As you’ve probably guessed, it has a bookish theme. I’ll be asking my guest bloggers ten questions about the work they do, and the books and authors they love. I’m also inviting them to share a photo or two of their book shelves — so we can all zoom in to check out some of the titles they treasure.  I thought it was only fair to start with my own responses to the ten questions (below)… It would be great if you could follow my blog, or look out for shares on Facebook and Twitter. Tune it to read guest posts in the coming weeks from Natasha Lester, Amanda Curtin, Annabel Smith, Jennifer Ryan, Tracy Farr, Alan Carter and others.  Let me know in the comments if there are authors, poets, illustrators, editors or publishers you’d like to see featured in future.

Q. Maureen, how would you describe the work that you do, and how you do it?

A: I am a freelance journalist and editor, writing primarily for The West Australian and Good Reading magazine. My essay about anxiety was published in the Rockingham Writers Centre’s Let’s Face It anthology (Serenity Press) in 2016, promoting positive mental health, and my first children’s picture book — with the working title Every Family is Different – will be published under the Serenity Kids imprint later this year.

I used to work full-time from various newspaper offices in and around Perth and regional WA, and I started freelancing from home twenty-one years ago, a year or so after the birth of my oldest daughter. It’s sometimes challenging to stay focused in the face of invitations to lunches and other events, and I miss perks such as paid holidays, sick leave and employer superannuation contributions. But I’ve welcomed opportunities to be actively involved in both of my daughters’ school and extra-curricular activities, and I relish the flexibility and freedom that come with working from home. For example, I just might be typing this at my desk while still wearing my running gear…

Q. What projects are you currently working on or do you have in the pipeline?

A. The process of writing my first novel is proving to be significantly more complicated and challenging than I could ever have imagined. It’s a nostalgic coming-of-age story about a freckle-faced, eleven-year-old bookworm in a blue-collar suburb of Perth (ummm… wonder who inspired that protagonist?), and the eighty-year-old Gallipoli veteran who helps her to overcome a neighbourhood bully. It’s tentatively called Saving Maisie O’Day, and I’ve written almost 20,000 words, so far. You can read more about the challenges of my writing process in earlier posts on this website.

Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places?


These are just some of the book shelves in our home.

A. Most of our bookcases are in the room of our home that was originally intended as a formal dining area, but you’ll also find them in the lounge room, both of our daughters’ bedrooms, and the guest room (aka Nana’s room). My husband and I don’t have a bookcase in our bedroom (that’s up for negotiation right now), but we both have small stacks of books on our bedside tables. We’ve also got quite a collection of cookbooks on shelves above the fridge and freezer, in the kitchen, and dozens of children’s picture books stored in plastic crates, to be shared with the next generation of our family in future years.


Some bookmarks from my extensive collection.

I also have an extensive collection of bookmarks from many different parts of the world, given to me by family and friends who have long recognised my passion for reading (I’ve added a photo of a small selection above).

Q. How are your books organised/arranged?


Fiction shelves from Richard Adams to Aldous Huxley.

A. Anybody who knows me well will probably correctly guess the answer to this question – alphabetically, of course! At least, the fiction, memoir, poetry and drama sections are arranged alphabetically. I’ve also got a whole bunch of writing guides, reference books and inspirational books by and about writers, all of which are arranged haphazardly (and I’m not really sure why). Perhaps that explains why my fiction writing is also somewhat haphazard…


Fiction shelves from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Helen Simonson.

Q. What sorts of books predominate?


More fiction, from Jane Smiley and Annabel Smith to Markus Zuzak.

A. Most of my books are fiction, including literary fiction, some commercial fiction and some short story collections. I have two complete sets of the Harry Potter series, by JK Rowling (one hardback; one paperback), and two complete sets of the Anne of Green Gables series, by LM Montgomery. I’ve also got a full set of other fiction titles by Montgomery, but none quite matches the magic of “Anne” for me.


These shelves are dedicated to gift books, at the top, and writing references and guides.

There are multiple titles by Larry McMurtry, who wrote the Pulitizer Prize-winning western Lonesome Dove, and there are a fair few by John Irving (including The World According to Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany), Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men and The Road, among others), and British historical thriller writer Robert Goddard, whose Past Caring is a near-perfect example of the genre. Subconsciously, I’ve also accumulated a significant quantity of novels with the Holocaust as a major or minor theme – it’s a subject of great importance to me. I’ve also got a bunch of writing references, and a collection of exquisite cloth-bound poetry anthologies, plus Shakespearean sonnets, purchased on a romantic whim.

Q. Describe your favourite reading place.

A. I can and will read almost anywhere – apart from in a car or on a bus, where I end up feeling nauseous – but most of my reading is done on the sofa in the family room, during the ad breaks (and sometimes during the programs) while the TV is on; or in bed, where I read for at least half an hour every single night – regardless of what time I head to my bedroom. Luckily, my patient, understanding husband is also a keen reader — and  he has mastered the art of falling asleep when my bedside light is on. Incidentally, my two daughters love it when I tuck a book under my arm and inform them, in my best Bridget Jones tones, that “I’m going to Bed…fordshire”. Cracks them up (not!).

Q. What book/s are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?

A. I’m reading two books at the moment – Magda Szubanski’s 2015 memoir Reckoning, and Liam Pieper’s compelling The Toymaker. They were chosen for me, respectively, by friends from the First Edition Book Club, in Secret Harbour, of which I’m a founding member (since 2004), and the Writerly Book Club, of which I’m an honorary member for its foundation stage. I already had copies of both books, and had been keen to read them, so I was delighted that the book clubs brought them to the top of my “to read” list. So far, both are totally engrossing – and it’s an interesting coincidence that the Holocaust is a theme in each.

Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?


My favourite novels of all time.

A. Oh dear! Once I got started with this I found it very hard to stop…  Deep breath — here goes: My long-time favourite books, which I first read many years ago, are To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry; Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen; Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte; Watership Down, by Richard Adams; and Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I re-read each of these novels almost every year, and still find them fresh and engaging. I should probably add The Lord of the Rings trilogy,  by JRR Tolkein, which has captivated me since I first read it, when I was 12 (and absolutely terrified of the Black Riders), and John Irving’s incomparable A Prayer for Owen Meany, whose eponymous hero’s squeaky voice is represented by the use of all capitals.

More recently, Amanda Curtin’s hauntingly beautiful Elemental captivated me from the first sentence, and I feel a deep, abiding love for the red-headed herring girl at its heart. I adore everything about WA author Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones (the stage play is fabulous, and there’s a film version due for release on March 2). I’ve singled out Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, the third in her Iowa novels, but could just as easily have listed Gilead or Home, both of which are also sublime character studies to be read slowly and savoured. Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev was a revelation when I first read it many years ago, and I’ve recommended it to lots of friends in the intervening years; likewise The Shipping News, by E. Annie Proulx, which I still love for its quirky syntax and flawed, lovable hero, Quoyle.

Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, which I read and reviewed ahead of its release a couple of years ago, deserves a paragraph of its own. It had a massive emotional impact on me: I sobbed so many times while reading it, including non-stop for the final thirty pages or so, yet I am certain it will long remain a favourite. I don’t know whether I’m quite ready to re-read it yet, as it is a devastating, heart-breaking tale, but I know that I will, and I’m confident it will continue to teach me lessons about love and friendship for many years to come.

Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them?


These are the books I’d save, in the event of an emergency.

A. I love so many of my books, but this was a relatively easy question to answer: Enid Blyton’s Tales of Toyland and Other Stories, which my magnificent Mum gave to me for the Christmas just after I turned six (the first chapter book I read); my first copy of Anne of Green Gables, given to me by my Great-Uncle John (the man who inspired the Gallipoli hero in the novel I’m writing), and inscribed by him in perfect copperplate with the first few lines of Wordsworth’s “Ode to Immortality…”; and a first edition biography of Jane Austen, by Mrs. Charles Malden (sic), from the Eminent Women Series published by WH Allen & Co, in 1889, given to me by my niece, Veronica, who discovered it in a London bookstore while she and her husband, Michael, were living there.

Q. Finally, if you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters, authors, poets or illustrators, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would you like to talk to them about?

A. This one was a bit more difficult to answer, but I’ve gone with Anne Shirley, from the Anne of Green Gables series; Jane Eyre, from the novel of the same name; and (Jean-Louise) Scout Finch, from To Kill a Mockingbird (you can see them above portrayed on film by Megan Follows, Ruth Wilson and Mary Badham respectively). I would serve them a traditional high tea, including cucumber sandwiches (on ever-so-thinly-sliced crust-less white bread, of course), smoked salmon with sour cream and chives on tiny toast squares, mini quiches, sausage scrolls, scones with jam and cream, lemon friands dusted with icing sugar, and tiny squares of chocolate and walnut brownie (you can tell I’ve really thought this through). We’d drink copious quantities of English Breakfast or Irish Afternoon tea while discussing the historical importance of feisty females, the joys of discovering new worlds in books, and our hopes for a future where equality is reality. After several languorous hours, we might be convinced to sip a small glass (or two) of dry sherry or Champagne from paper-thin coupes.

I know they are no longer alive, but I also toyed with the idea of destroying the space-time continuum to host a separate afternoon tea with Lucy Maud Montgomery, Charlotte Bronte and Harper Lee, so I could tell them how much I adore the characters and stories they created, and ask them about their inspirations and writing habits. If I felt brave enough, I’d also ask Harper Lee what on Earth prompted her to publish Go Set a Watchman…! We’d probably sip iced lemon tea or mint juleps, and eat strawberry shortcake and pecan pie under a shady tree, and I’d ask Harper to read my favourite passages from To Kill a Mockingbird in her Alabama drawl — if my pert question hadn’t completely offended her.


#books #reading #writers #writing #goodreadingmagazine #natashalester #tracyfarr #annabelsmith #amandacurtin #hanyayanigahara #alittlelife #johnirving #owenmeany #alancarter #jenniferryan #magdaszubanski #liampieper #jasperjones #craigsilvey #marilynnerobinson #chaimpotok

Her Mother’s Secret — Review


Her Mother’s Secret, the soon-to-be-released historical novel by Perth author Natasha Lester, is literally and figuratively a thing of beauty – and a joy to read.

Beginning in Sutton Veny, England, at the end of World War I, and moving to the bustling streets of Manhattan for a period spanning 20 years, Her Mother’s Secret chronicles the life of Leonora “Leo” East, the daughter of a village chemist, whose ambition is to create mascara, lipstick and other cosmetics to help women look and feel confident and beautiful.

At a time when many sections of society associate the wearing of makeup with prostitutes, actresses and “fast, loose” women, Leo dares to follow her dreams, even when her initial efforts to establish herself in the cosmetics business are stymied at every turn.

Leo’s passion for cosmetics is born while she works behind the counter of her father’s village chemist and apothecary during the Great War. Between helping customers with their medicinal needs, she begins experimenting with different ingredients to try to create mascara that will blacken lashes without running, and lipstick that will provide rich, lasting colour. She finds a clandestine market for her beauty products with the young army nurses stationed at training barracks in the village.

As the Armistice is called, Spanish Flu devastates the village, bringing with it personal tragedy for Leo. She makes the bold decision to join her friend Joan, an Australian nurse, and the flood of migrants seeking a better life and a chance for success in New York.

Leo agrees to travel to America as the companion of young socialite Mattie Monckton, but before embarking on the trans-Atlantic voyage she has a chance encounter with a compelling and handsome stranger, department store tycoon Everett Forsyth, to whom she is irresistibly drawn.

Twenty years later, Leo encounters Everett’s daughter Alice, whose ambitions are directed toward securing a place in a leading ballet company. The two women share a powerful connection that defies the limitations and boundaries set by Alice’s domineering, scheming mother.

Between those times, Leo devotes every ounce of her physical and creative energy toward fulfilling her goal of manufacturing and selling cosmetics, initially holding down two jobs to make ends meet and spending her limited leisure time improving her formulas, with the help of Jia, a young Chinese woman she befriends.

Leo finds another kindred spirit in artist and window dresser Lottie, and becomes embroiled in the life of wealthy businessman Benjamin Richier and his sister Faye, both of whom will have a significant influence on her success, and her future.

Like Natasha Lester’s best-selling 2016 historical novel A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald – reissued for Valentine’s Day with a new cover – Her Mother’s Secret is meticulously researched and utterly compelling, drawing on the author’s experience working for cosmetics giant L’Oreal as the marketing manager for Maybelline in Australia.

While there’s a love story at its heart, this is fundamentally the story of one young woman’s determined and unremitting efforts to make her mark on the world and succeed within a society that initially shuns her.

Lester’s precise, detailed descriptions of the glorious fashions of the period, and all the sights, sounds and scents of the New York streets between the wars, lend authenticity to Leo’s experiences and transport the reader to a bygone era when hopes were high and opportunities limitless.

As Leo examines the exclusive Fifth Avenue shop fronts, gazes to the tops of the towering skyscrapers, and walks through the doors of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel or Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door Salon, the reader stands beside her, sharing her sense of wonder, expectation and joy.

With Her Mother’s Secret, Lester has again written a novel that combines the rapid pace, captivating characters and hopeful ending that epitomise commercial fiction, with the scrupulous attention to detail, lyrical language and critical social commentary that typify literary works.

Her Mother’s Secret, by Natasha Lester, is published by Hachette Australia, and will be released on March 28. RRP Paperback $29.99; eBook $12.99. I received an advanced copy for review.

Watch out for a guest post from Natasha on my new blog, Shelf Awareness, to be launched later this week.