Joanita Wibowo


5 minutes with author Natasha Lester

5 minutes with author Natasha Lester

In 5 minutes with authorOver60 asks book writers about their literary habits and preferences. Next in this series is Natasha Lester, a writer and public speaker based in Perth. Her 2008 debut novel What Is Left Over, After won the T.A.G. Hungerford Award for Fiction, and her books The Paris Orphan (also known as The French Photographer) made the New York Times Best Seller list. Her latest novel, The Paris Secret, is out now.

Over60 talked with Lester about historical fiction, Margaret Atwood’s humour, and writing while social distancing.

Over60: How have you been doing with social distancing?

Natasha Lester: As a writer, I’m used to working at home and not seeing too many people during the day so not much has changed! Although the house is much less calm and tranquil at the moment; my children’s schools have closed down because of the current situation we’re all facing, and my children are studying online. This means I’m constantly being pulled out of the 1940s and into the present whenever the kids need a hand. I don’t mind though – I’d rather they stay well and healthy.

What is your best writing tip? Alternatively, what is the worst writing advice youve ever received?

The best writing tip I received was when I returned to university to study creative writing and wrote my first book as part of a master’s degree. I had no idea how to write a book and I was convinced that I needed to have some kind of plan or outline, but I had neither, just a very vague idea of a character. My supervisor told me to just write whatever was in my head that day about the story, and to do that every day. To trust that the story would work itself out if I trusted myself enough to sit down and write. So I did and it worked!

The worst writing advice is to write what you know. I was not alive doing the 1940s, I’ve never worked as a war correspondent, and I can’t sew; yet I’ve managed to write about all of those things by doing the research and by emotionally connecting to my characters.

How did you start writing historical fiction?

A bit by accident! I wrote a contemporary novel, but it just wasn’t working and I didn’t know how to fix it. So I threw it in the bin, moped for a bit and then sat down to re-read all of my favourite novels. I realised that most of them were historical novels and I wondered why I hadn’t been writing what I loved all along. So I started that very day with [my novel] A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald.

What book(s) do you think is underrated?

Amor Towles is now very well-known for A Gentleman in Moscow, but I also adored his first book, Rules of Civility. It’s definitely worth reading.

What was the last book that made you laugh?

This might sound strange, but Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments made me laugh. Atwood is so very witty, and her clever humour runs wild through the book as a nice counterpoint to the grim situation the women in the story are facing. 

When it comes to writing, do you plan ahead or go with the flow?

I would love to be able to plan but I can’t! I’m so planned and organised in every area of my life except writing. I try to outline the plot of a book, but I have no ideas at all. Then I sit down to just write and the ideas come. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my creativity thrives in chaos!

How do you deal with writers block?

With three kids and a full-time job as a writer that I cram into school hours, writer’s block is a luxury I can’t afford. If I ever get stuck on a scene, I go for a walk. Fresh air and active meditation are the best creativity helpers.

Is there a cliché that you cant help but love?

The Paris Secret is the first time I’ve written a childhood friend romance. I loved exploring my characters’ friendship as kids, and how that changed as they became adults.