Thursday, April 20, 2017

Interview with Natasha Lester

Our guest today is Natasha Lester. Natasha worked as a marketing manager for cosmetic company L'Oreal, managing the Maybelline brand, before returning to university to study creative writing. She completed a Master of Creative Arts as well as her first novel, What Is Left Over, After, which won the T.A.G. Hungerford Award for Fiction. Her second novel, If I Should Lose You, was published in 2012, followed by A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald in 2016. Her Mother’s Secret was published by Hachette Australia in March 2017. When she’s not writing, she can be found teaching writing, doing headstands at yoga, or playing with her three children. You can connect with Natasha via her website,

In the lead up to the 2017 HNSA Conference in Melbourne, we thought readers would like to know a few of Natasha's favourite things. Please tell us about your....

Favourite book as a child and as a teenager?

My favourite book as a child was definitely Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. I wanted to be Amy March, with her artistic temperament and blonde curls. When I was a teenager, I feel in love with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and it’s still one of my absolute favourite books. It also probably explains my preference for dark haired heroes a la Rochester!

Favourite author or authors?

Hilary Mantel is a wonderful writer of historical fiction and I am waiting desperately for the third instalment of her Thomas Cromwell series, the follow on to Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. I also love Margaret Atwood, especially her historicals: Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin.

Favourite period of history?

From World War 1 to World War 2. The wars are like catastrophic brackets around a huge time of social change for women and it’s that change that I like to read and write about.

You can see that in A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, where I write about one of the first women to become an obstetrician in New York in the early 1920s, and again in Her Mother’s Secret where I write about the fledgling cosmetics industry and my heroine’s attempts to be a part of both the industry and the reshaping of society’s views towards cosmetics.

The first world war affected everything that happened in the ensuing years, and then the fear of the second world war affected everything that led up to it, so it’s an era ripe for drama, which is why Her Mother’s Secret spans that entire period.

Favourite character in one of your own books? 

Oooh, that’s so hard! It’s usually the heroine I’m currently writing about but, I have to say, seeing all the reviewers writing about how much they love Leo, the heroine in Her Mother’s Secret, reminds me of how much I loved writing her. She’s tenacious and brave and I wouldn’t mind being a little more like her!

Favourite place to write?

At my desk, in my office. I don’t like to go out and about to write; I have everything I need in my office and it’s such a lovely space, with a gorgeous outlook, that it’s hard to find anywhere else that suits me quite as well. As long as I have my cup of tea and peace and quiet, I’m all set to write!

Favourite scene you enjoyed writing?

The scenes I most enjoyed writing in Her Mother’s Secret are the scenes between Leo and Faye. Faye is, I suppose, the villain of the book but she gets all the best lines. She was a gift from the writing muse in that she just appeared on the page one day, and her voice was perfect right from the outset. I began to look forward to her arrival in scenes and I hope readers can see how much I loved writing her character. There’s one scene in particular towards the end of the book where the reader sees another side to Faye, and will I hope, understand her a little more and loathe her a little less in her role as the villain.

Favourite step in the process of writing? 

I love the research—dusty archives are full of unexpected wonders—and I also love redrafting. I find first drafts terrifying as, not being much of a planner, I usually have very little idea what I’m doing or of what the story is. For the second draft, I’m incorporating a lot of the research, plus I now know what the story is and I’m simply trying to make it better, so it’s a much more enjoyable part of the writing process.

Favourite method of writing i.e. longhand or typing?

Definitely typing! My handwriting is so messy that I would never be able to understand a thing if I had to rely on that. It’s hard enough trying to decipher the scribbled ideas that I jot into notebooks, let alone trying to unscramble 110,000 words of manuscript!

Favourite TV program /movie?

I don’t watch a lot of television, and tend to watch series in chunks over the summer holidays when everything is a little more relaxed and I don’t work so much at night. Series I’ve really enjoyed recently have been Mad Men, Poldark, Victoria, and Suits, so a bit of historical and a bit of contemporary.

Favourite comfort food?

Fresh baked bread and butter is so simple but so good. There is a bakery in WA called Yallingup Woodfired Bread and their bread is divine. Every time we go down to our holiday house nearby, we stock up and it’s always very sad when it runs out!

Many thanks Natasha - best of luck with Her Mother's Secret!

1918, England. Armistice Day should bring peace into Leonora’s life. Rather than secretly making cosmetics in her father’s chemist shop to sell to army nurses such as Joan, her adventurous Australian friend, Leo hopes to now display her wares openly. Instead, Spanish flu arrives in the village, claiming her father’s life.

Determined to start over, she boards a ship to New York City. On the way she meets debonair department store heir Everett Forsyth . . . In Manhattan, Leo works hard to make her cosmetics dream come true, but she’s a woman alone with a small salary and a society that deems make-up scandalous.

1939, New York City. Everett’s daughter, Alice, a promising ballerina, receives a mysterious letter inviting her to star in a series of advertisements for a cosmetics line. If she accepts she will be immortalized like dancers such as Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and Ginger Rogers. Why, then, are her parents so quick to forbid it?

HER MOTHER’S SECRET is the story of a brave young woman chasing a dream in the face of society’s disapproval.

You can purchase A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald here.

HNSA 2017 Conference

The HNSA 2017 Conference in Melbourne is being held on 8-10 September 2017 at Swinburne University, Hawthorn. 

Nastasha Lester will  be appearing on Saturday 9 September in Session 5 from 2.15-3.15 pm:

Venturing Forth: Exploring Stories beyond National Boundaries and Australasian History
Kelly Gardiner discusses with Robyn Cadwallader, Natasha Lester, Prue Batten and Elisabeth Storrs why some authors prefer to discover worlds beyond their native shores and ancestral history.

Early bird registration is open for the HNSA 2017 Conference. You will receive 15% off the full price for our weekend programme.  The same discount also applies for tickets to our opening reception


This celebration of the historical fiction genre will showcase over 60 speakers discussing our theme, inspiration, writing craft, research, publishing pathways and personal histories. Among the many acclaimed historical novelists participating are Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Lucy Treloar, Sophie Masson, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott and Arnold Zable. The HNSA’s speakers’ list is available on the HNSA website.

In addition to the two stream weekend programme, there will be ten craft based super sessions and two research masterclasses. You won’t want to miss our interactive sessions on armour and historical costumes either! Manuscript assessments will be conducted by industry experts, Alison Arnold and Irina Dunn. And our free extended academic programme includes discussions on Bio Fiction and the Lie of History which are open to all.

Our First Pages Pitch Contest offers an opportunity for submissions to be read aloud to a panel of publishers. And we are delighted to announce the introduction of our inaugural HNSA Short Story Contest with a $500 prize!

Let’s make a noise about historical fiction!

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