It gives me great pleasure to welcome local literary heroine Natasha Lester as my first 'Roadtrip' guest for 2017. She is the author of last year's top selling novel A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, and riding on the back of its success, she is about to release her widely anticipated second novel, Her Mother's Secret.
Let's go cruising...and delve a little deeper into the TAG Hungerford award-winning author's life and what's coming up for her in the year ahead.
Welcome to the road Natasha, feel free to turn up the aircon, its been hot hot hot this week. A bit like the sales of your last book A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald!
So how’s 2017 shaping up for you so far?
At the moment I feel like I’m driving at 60 kilometres per hour in the fast lane of the freeway because there’s so much to do but with 3 adorable children on school holidays, not so much time to do it!
2017 is shaping up to be amazing - so long as everyone likes Her Mother’s Secret, that is! It’ll be a busy year, with a new format of A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald out on Feb 14, Her Mother’s Secret out on March 28, which will mean lots of publicity work (I hope!), a manuscript to write for 2019 and another one to edit for 2018.
The last time I interviewed you, your first historical romance novel, A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald had just been launched. Has life changed since the success of that book? And if so, how?
I love this question - has my life changed? Well, let’s see, I still get up at 6am every morning and make three school lunches and harangue three children into getting ready for school on time. I wash quantities of clothes, then I drop the little darlings at the bus or at school and return to the blissful quiet of my house and write as fast as I can until 2.30pm when the school pick-up run starts. So, no, not a lot has changed!
I’m doing a bit more travel over east for teaching and events, which requires a whole new level of organisation to make sure all the kids get everywhere they need to be in the right uniform and at the right time while I’m away.
I guess the main change is that people occasionally come up to me and ask me if I’m Natasha Lester and then they tell me how much they loved my book. I always wish I could record those moments because they’re pretty special and pretty unbelievable.
Your contract with Hachette Publishing was a two-book deal with second book, Her Mother’s Secret to be launched in March 2017. How does it feel to be delivering your next work of historical romance into the world?
It feels both fabulous and terrifying! I’m much more nervous this time around. With A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, there were no expectations. Whereas now that I can see on Goodreads and in reviews that people have really liked A Kiss, I’m so worried that they’ll find Her Mother’s Secret disappointing. Which is ridiculous, because when I was writing it, I knew it was a better book. But the writer’s voice of doubt is always there!
I’m also really excited because I loved writing this book so much. I really stretched and challenged myself as a writer to deliver two different timeframes, a much more complex villain, and a plot mystery that just about did my head in with working out how to unravel it to the reader. I feel like I became a much better writer in the writing of this book and that’s worth celebrating.
Give us your elevator pitch for Her Mother’s Secret?
The end of the war is meant to bring peace to Leonora’s life and, with it, the chance to make cosmetics openly, rather than in secret for the nurses at the army camp. Instead, influenza arrives and turns Leo’s life upside down. She decides to set sail for New York to start her life over again in a city where, surely, women might be allowed to wear the cosmetics Leo wants to make. On the way she meets department store owner Everett Forsyth. Their meeting has devastating repercussions for both of them, repercussions which flow on for the next twenty years.
What do you hope readers will love about the new novel?
It’s about the birth of the cosmetics industry, so if you like lipstick, there’s a lot to love in the book!
On a more serious side, one of the things readers loved about A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald was the story of a women fighting against the prejudices and social constraints of the time. I hope they’ll love reading about that again in this book because, while cosmetics might seem a frivolous topic on the surface, women used to be fired for wearing rouge to work, the cosmetics industry wasn’t considered a real industry and the women who ran it were openly declared to be not on the same level as their male counterparts in other businesses. I hope readers will love finding out how hard society fought against women doing something as trivial as wearing rouge, while turning a blind eye to the much more serious social issues of the time.
In A Kiss, women overcoming the odds, and sacrificing their morals and/or dignity to achieve their ultimate goal is the driving theme, is there a similar message or subtext to your new novel?
Yes. Because that was the only way for women to get ahead at that time. They mostly didn’t have access to money, nor were they equipped with the skills to do anything other than marry and have babies.
My heroine, Leo (short for Leonora) has to constantly consider how far she’s willing to go and just what she’s prepared to do in order to achieve her dream of making cosmetics freely available to all women, without the associated shame that society was very keen to pile upon them.
Can we look forward to another suave leading man (aka Thomas) for readers to fall in love with?
Oh yes! Two in fact! Because I have dual timelines, there’s one very gorgeous man, Everett Forsyth, in the first half of the story and he’s joined by another very gorgeous man, Jesse Valero, in the second half of the book.
What was the seed that lead you to write this story?
I saw a short piece on the news about an Australian soldier who’d been injured three times in the war and hospitalised in an English town called Sutton Veny to recuperate. He survived each injury, only to die on Armistice Day in Sutton Veny of influenza. He was a way into the book for me, but he’s no longer in the book. The town of Sutton Veny is though.
Another seed was planted back when I worked at L’Oreal Paris. There was a very funny apocryphal story about how the first mascara was invented which had stuck in my mind for years. I used Her Mother’s Secret to unpick the realities of that story.
I have no doubt you’ll be out and about on the publicity trail this year promoting Her Mother’s Secret. Where can your readers find you in 2017?
I’ll be at the Perth Writers Festival in February, plus I’m booking in quite a few other events. The best place to find the full list is on my website.
Will you still be doing any teaching this year? Where can readers find out more?
Yes, I’m still teaching How to Write a Bestseller for the Australian Writers Centre, plus teaching my own private courses, including a gorgeous writing retreat in April! You can find all the details on the Events Page of my website.
Without skipping a beat, you were in Paris last year (2016) in aid of researching your fifth novel (your third in the historical romance genre), The Seamstress from Paris (???). What is the theme of this book and why was it important to travel to Paris to do your research? Google not good enough? ;)
Well, it’s always important to travel to Paris! This book is about the birth of the fashion industry in New York after it was cut off from Paris at the beginning of World War II. Being on the ground to do research brings so many unexpected rewards, and you end up with a much richer story than if you just use Google.
Where did you go on that trip and what were the highlights?
I spent a lot of time in the Marais district, as it’s a key setting in the book. The Marais is Paris’s most beautiful area; there are so many Hotels Particulier, nobles’ homes from the seventeenth century that have been beautifully preserved, and one of those homes plays a big part in the book. I was also taken to the beautiful Theatre du Palais Royal, which I didn’t know anything about and which blew me away so much that it’s now in the book.
What advice do you have for anyone embarking on a research trip abroad?
Take private tours of the areas that are really important to you. You need a local historian’s eyes, and a private tour will give you this. Plus, a private tour guide will get you into places you didn’t even know you needed to see, as well as telling you stories about the places you visit, not just facts, all of which make your book so much better.
Has The Seamstress of Paris secured a publishing contract? Who with and when is the likely release date of that novel?
Not yet! Fingers crossed that will be soon. It’s only just gone to my agent so we’ll be waiting for a bit to hear on that. Ideally, it will be out in March 2018, so I’ll keep publishing a book each year.
Has there been any news on A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald gaining interest with a US or UK publisher?
My agent took it to Frankfurt Book Fair last year and there was quite a lot of interest in it, as well as Her Mother’s Secret, and The Seamstress form Paris. Hopefully something will come out of that. I’ll be shouting it from the rooftops when it does!
On a more general note, what are your top five book-picks from 2016?
(These are books I read in 2016; they didn’t necessarily come out that year)
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Who/what are you looking forward to reading in 2017?
I can’t wait to read South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion as she’s one of my favourite writers. I also believe Hilary Mantel is releasing the third book in her Wolf Hall trilogy and I’m so looking forward to that as well.
What literary events are you most looking forward to in the year ahead?
The Perth Writers Festival is always fabulous. Apart from that, I don’t really know what else I’m going to yet!
Now for Tab's quick-fire fun questions…
Who/what is your all time favourite author/book?
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
What was your favourite non-literary moment of 2016?
Seeing two of my kids start at new schools and take to them like a duck to water and have a wonderful year.
Drink - Champagne or Prosecco?
Champagne (the proper stuff though!)
Fashion - Designer or Bespoke?
I can’t afford bespoke! Remember, I’m a writer!
City - Paris or New York?
Holiday destination - Beach or mountains?
Season - Summer or winter?
Writing – morning or night?
Who would you most like as a best friend, JK Rowling or Enid Blyton?
I’m the only person in the world who hasn’t read Harry Potter so it’s definitely Enid Blyton!
If you were stranded on a desert island, what writing tools would you hope washed up on the beach with you (albeit a bit soggy)?
Just my laptop (with Scrivener) and my imagination!
Which Reality TV show (past or present) would you audition for because you are quietly confident you’d win it?
I don’t watch TV so I have no idea!
Out of everything you’ve committed to the page, what do you consider the best line or scene you’ve ever written so far? Or at least the one you had most fun writing?
The one I had the most fun writing is the opener of Part 2 in A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, which starts with Evie saying to a doctor who’s trying to bully her:
‘Given that I possess one, I think I have a more intimate knowledge of the vagina than any man could ever lay claim to. That should make me well qualified to be an obstetrician,’ Evie said.
Thank you. ☺
No, No THANK YOU! It's been quite a ride. I hope we do it again someday. x
To find out more about Natasha you can visit her website at www.natashalester.com
If you'd like to come on the road with me and share your story or latest literary news, please drop me an email at email@example.com Or leave a comment at the bottom of this article.
Thanks for sharing the road with us.