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!
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.
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.
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?
A. 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: