Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Natasha Lester is the award-winning author of two novels, What is Left Over, After (2010) and If I Should Lose You (2012). Her third book, A Beautiful Catastrophe, will be published in early 2016. The Age newspaper has described her as “a remarkable Australian talent.”
When she’s not writing her books, Natasha teaches creative writing for the Australian Writers’ Centre and plays dress-ups with her three children.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS A WRITER?
After working for 10 years in cosmetics marketing, I went back to uni and did a Masters in Creative Writing. I wrote a few poems and short stories that were published while I was studying and that gave me hope – it made me think that just maybe there was something in my writing that people wanted to read.
I wrote my first book as part of my Masters thesis and I submitted it to the T.A.G. Hungerford Award, which is a West Australian prize for an unpublished manuscript. I was never more surprised than when I won, and winning the award landed me my first publishing contract. One of the best days of my life was walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on the shelves!
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
My next book to be published is called A Beautiful Catastrophe. It is set in New York in the Jazz Age of the 1920s. It’s the story of Evie, who wants to forge a career in an area where few women have dared to tread. But will she have to sacrifice the love of her life in order to pursue her ambitious dreams? A Beautiful Catastrophe is a stunning love story, and the story of a woman struggling to become something that everyone believes is impossible
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
Very neat! I have to have a clean desk at the start of the day otherwise I can’t work. By the end of the day, it might be covered in books about New York if I’m doing research for example, but it usually just has my laptop, my notebook and my water jug on it.
I am very lucky to have my own writing space in my home. We built our house 3 years ago and my room was almost the first thing I put on the plan! I sit in front of a colourful wall of Florence Broadhurst wallpaper, which never fails to make me feel happy when I walk into my office in the morning. I also have two big doors that open out onto the garden so there is lots of light and lots of fresh air keeping my creative mind ticking over.
WHEN DO YOU WORK?
This year, for the first time, all of my kids are at school. I miss them, but it is bliss! So now I write during the day.
I am VERY disciplined – in fact some of my friends call me a control freak, but I have to be disciplined because I have had to write three books during my children’s nap times. I got used to sitting down at my desk at 12.30 every day and writing non-stop until they woke up at 2.30pm. To now have 5 days of around 5 hours or so to write is a gorgeous luxury!
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
Chaotic! For someone who is so tidy and orderly in every other part of their life, my writing process is very messy. I usually begin writing with a very small idea, something that a particular character might do for instance. I never know what the story really is when I start writing and I discover it as I write, much like a reader discovers a story by turning each page. At around the 20,000-word mark, I start to see where the story might go and I begin to put down more of a concrete plan that I can write to.
I like to bash out the first draft, just get it down, so I know what the story is. I much prefer redrafting because by then I’ve figured out the story and then my job is to make it better. This means I write my first drafts quite quickly, over just a couple of months, and then I take many more months to redraft.
I also like to have lots of thinking time – when I’m walking or swimming or washing dishes – as most of my idea-generation happens away from my desk. This means that I can use my writing time for writing, not for nutting out plot issues.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
Because there is nothing else I would rather do. Mostly, writing for me is joyful and fun and wonderful. I never dread sitting down to write. In what other job can you spend all day lost in your imagination?
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Other books inspire me. Whenever I read a book that is riveting and amazing, I want to be able to do the same thing for my readers – create a lovely world into which they can escape and live for the duration of the book. I also find inspiration in other art forms; every time I go to the ballet or theatre or a photography exhibition, I come away with an idea of some kind.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
Self-belief. I wrote A Beautiful Catastrophe without a publishing contract because I wanted to change to a larger publisher. Of course, while I was doing that, the publishing industry went through a very rough time. So I was constantly thinking to myself as I wrote the book, what if it never gets published, what will I do if I can’t be a writer, what if it’s not good enough etc. I had to write on regardless of that inner voice of doom and motivate myself to push past it, which can sometimes be very difficult.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION AS A WORD ARTIST OR BOOK INDUSTRY PROFESSIONAL?
That everyone in Australia buys lots of books written by Australian authors every year so we have a vibrant and thriving publishing and books industry.
WHOSE VOICE WOULD YOU LIKE TO HEAR MORE OF?
Thank you, Natasha Lester!
— Nicole Melanson
* Author photo by Stef King
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