This week, I’m so excited to welcome Natasha Lester to my Australian authors interview series! Natasha writes beautiful historical fiction that mesh together exotic locations (handy when you can’t leave the house!) trailblazing women far ahead of their time, and, more often than not, a good serving of fashion! She’s here to give us an up close and personal (online) look at her bookshelves, her writing and her latest novel The Paris Secret.
Hey Natasha! So lovely to have you on here. Firstly, What are you reading right now?
I’m making my way through Hilary Mantel’s doorstopper of a book, The Mirror and the Light. I adored the first two books in the Cromwell trilogy and, so far, this is more than living up to my high expectations.
What’s your latest #bookstagram made me do it purchase?
The Dictionary of Lost Words by fellow Australian Pip Williams. I kept seeing it everywhere and people were raving about it, so I knew I had to buy it. And it’s historical fiction – my favourite genre!
What’s your favourite underrated book?
Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun. She’s most well-known for her bio-fiction The Paris Wife but I think Circling the Sun is an even more wonderful book.
What’s your favourite childhood book?
Little Women, without a doubt. I wanted to be Amy March, with all her artistic aspirations, for my entire childhood. I may have also wanted to marry someone like Laurie!
How do you organise your bookshelves?
Alphabetically, otherwise I can’t find anything when I need it!
Who is your ultimate literary crush?
Rochester. I fell in love with him when I was 12 and it’s an unshakeable crush.
What attracts you to writing historical fiction? What is your favourite time period to write about?
I love writing about the interwar and war years because it was such a huge time of change for women. My mission as a writer is to unearth stories about amazing women who have been forgotten by history – that time period is bursting with inspiration.
Do you have any writing rituals that help you get in the zone?
A cup of tea, and silence.
What’s your favourite part of the publishing process?
The actual writing of the book. I love making things up and spending time with fabulous characters who have incredible wardrobes!
The Paris Secret
What inspired you to write this story? Which aspect of it came to you first?
I first heard of Catherine Dior when I was reading Anne Sebba’s wonderful book, Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazi Occupation. Sebba mentioned Catherine a few times, that she had worked with the French Resistance, and had been captured by the Nazis and deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp. Her work with the Resistance was so heroic and so important that, after the war, Catherine was awarded a Croix de guerre and the Légion d’honneur by the French, and the King’s Medal for Courage in the Cause of Freedom by the British.
The terrible injustice of what and who the world remembers struck me immediately: the man who once made dresses is so famous that most people, if asked to name a couturier, would mention Christian Dior. But his sister, who fought for freedom for her country and who nearly lost her life in that struggle, had been forgotten. I embarked on a quest to find out more, a quest that uncovered very little concrete information about Catherine, who rarely spoke about her wartime experiences after the end of the hostilities. Still, I wanted to find whatever I could and that quest led me to write The Paris Secret.
I couldn’t help but reflect on all the different themes and time periods The Paris Secret touches on. Throw in the duel narrators and it seems like a tough undertaking! How do you stay on track and bring it all together so seamlessly?
Well, sometimes I feel like I’m losing my mind and I also regularly feel as if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew! But, to keep it all together, I write each narrative separately. So I wrote the historical storyline of The Paris Secret first, focussing on Skye, Margaux and Catherine Dior. When I was happy with that, I wrote the contemporary storyline – I think it’s too hard to weave a mystery from the past into the present if you don’t yet know what the past storyline is. It’s a bit of a strange way to go about things but it works for me!
What sort of research did you have to do to bring this book to life authentically?
Well, it sounds like terribly hard work, but I had to go to Paris! But, before that, I went to an exhibition about the House of Dior in Melbourne, where I revelled in the beauty of Dior gowns.
Then, in Paris, I visited another exhibition of gorgeous Dior gowns and, amidst the glamour, one small piece of paper caught my eye: a letter from Christian Dior to his father, advising the latter that Catherine had been liberated from Ravensbrück concentration camp. It was quite astonishing to see this handwritten letter from seventy five years ago about Catherine.
After that, I went to Granville in Normandy, France. Villa Les Rhumbs, the ex-Dior family home, sits perched atop a cliff there and is now a museum dedicated to the Diors. Here I saw several photographs of Catherine, read a little about her life in the house as a child, and saw what was once her bedroom.
Finally, I caught the Eurostar to England and traipsed around stunning little Cornish villages, wanting to find just the right hometown for Skye, my main character. My last stop was at several war museums, where I saw the different kinds of planes Skye would have flown as a pilot in the wartime organisation, the Air Transport Auxiliary.
What do you want readers to take away from this book?
That there are so many courageous women in the past who have been forgotten by history and that it’s up to all of us to ensure that it doesn’t happen any more: that the female heroes of today are celebrated and remembered by everyone, as they deserve to be.
How can readers help their favourite authors on social media?
Post pictures of books, leave reviews – anything that helps to spread that vital word of mouth. This is especially important in the current environment when people aren’t leaving their houses so much and can’t browse in bookstores. And readers are usually so great with this – and we really appreciate all of their support.
Any new projects coming up you can tell us about?
Look out for a book in 2021! At the moment it’s called The Riviera House, although that title could change. If you like the idea of spending some time in the gorgeous town of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera, then this is the book for you!
Thank you so much for joining us Natasha! Natasha’s latest book The Paris Secret is available where you buy all good books, and out in September in the USA!