Ep 106 Write bestselling books on your daily commute, and meet Natasha Lester, author of A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald.

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podcast-artwork In Episode 106 of So you want to be a writer: How author of The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins, took four books before she really found her voice, how to read a publication to find out what the editors are looking for, and meet the lawyer who wrote bestselling books on his daily commute. Plus: get an entire book on a poster, learn about the crazy proposals of the Productivity Commission and how this impacts you. Discover what a “logophile” is and how to get traction on social media. Meet Natasha Lester, author of A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald.

Click play below to listen to the podcast. You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher Radio. Or add the podcast RSS feed manually to your favourite podcast app.

Show Notes

Paula Hawkins: The woman behind The Girl on the Train

How to Read a Publication Like Your Future Editor Wants You To

Lawyer spurned by publishing house started writing thrillers on his commute: Now they’ve been downloaded 1m times and he’s earning a fortune

Spineless Classics Australia THE ENTIRE BOOK… ON A POSTER!

An open letter from Jackie French (AM) in response to the Productivity Commission’s Report on Australia’s intellectual property arrangements

Parallel importation

Intellectual Property Arrangements

Writer in Residence

Natasha Lester
Author Natasha LesterNatasha Lester’s third book, A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, was published by Hachette Australia in April 2016, with her fourth book to follow in April 2017. She is also the author of the award-winning What is Left Over After (2010) and If I Should Lose You (2012). The Age newspaper has described her as “a remarkable Australian talent.”

She has been the recipient of grants by the Australia Council, and a writing residency from Varuna, The Writers House. Her work has also appeared in The Review of Australian Fiction and Overland, and the anthologies Australian Love Stories, The Kid on the Karaoke Stage and Purple Prose. In her spare time, she loves to teach writing, she’s a sought after public speaker and she can be also often be found drinking tea, doing headstands at yoga, or playing dress-ups with her 3 children.

Follow Natasha on Twitter

Follow Hachette Australia on Twitter

Working Writer’s Tip

How do you build an author platform when you live in a small town and write about small town dynamics?

Answered in the podcast.

Competition

WIN our Mother’s Day book pack

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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Interview Transcript

Allison

Natasha Lester is the Australian author of three novels, contemporary novels,

If I Should Lose You and What is Left Over After, and a Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald, a historical novel published this month.

 

She’s also a teacher of creative writing, including courses for the Australian Writers’ Centre, a public speaker and a mother of three.

 

So, quite busy, Natasha. Thank you very much for fitting us in today.

Natasha

Thank you, Allison. I’m a regular listener of the podcast, so it’s very nice to be the writer in residence today.

 

Allison

Well, there you go. Thank you very much for listening.

 

Natasha

Pleasure.

 

Allison

All right. Now, perhaps we can start with the early days of your writing career. Can you give us a little bit of an overview of your journey to the publication of your first novel?

 

Natasha

Sure. I’m casting my mind back all of those years. So, I used to work in marketing. And, I was over in Melbourne working for L’Oréal, Paris, as the marketing manager for Maybelline cosmetics, which was lots of fun and a great job, and I had lots of lipstick, more than you could possibly ever use.

 

But, my husband had come over to Melbourne for my work and so he needed to come back to Perth for his work, so it was only fair that I kind of followed him back to Perth, which is where we’re both from.

 

And so I had to quit my fabulous job and I knew in my heart that probably wouldn’t find anything quite like that in Perth, in that I had kind of been given a chance to do something else rather than the marketing work I had been doing for more than ten years.

 

I had always wanted to do something around writing, but back when I left uni, which was a long time ago, writing courses didn’t exist. You could be a journalist and that was it. And I always knew that I didn’t want to be a journalist.

 

So, I kind of thought, “Well, if I don’t do something with this chance now… I’ve suddenly… I had to quit my job, I’m unemployed, I probably never will.” I thought, “I might go back to uni and do a writing degree,” because now writing degrees existed, and just find out two things I suppose. Firstly whether I actually liked it, because it’s one thing to think that you would like to write and another thing to actually know that you do. And I also wanted to find out whether I was any good at it, because I might have been terrible, who knows?

 

I went back and I started off doing a post-graduate diploma in creative writing and I loved that. And I wrote a few things during that degree which I sent out to journals… in fact the very first thing that I ever sent out was a poem that I had written for an assignment, my tutor had encouraged me to submit it somewhere and I did, and it was accepted and I remember thinking, “Wow, oh my god I’m sure it’s not always going to be this easy, but how fabulous that the first thing I sent out somewhere was actually published.” It was a bit of a boost. So, that was really nice.

 

I think that’s the good thing about going back to university and getting some confidence that way.

 

So, because I really enjoyed it I decided to keep going and to do a masters of creative writing. And as part of that your thesis is primarily a novel that you write. And, it was a fabulous way to write a first book, because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I’m not a big plotter, so I had this vague idea based on that initial poem that I had published.

 

I had a supervisor through the whole time was saying to me, “Just keep writing. All you have to do is keep writing,” which was probably the best advice I’ve ever been given.

 

So, I did. I kept writing. I persevered, I wrote this book. I finished my masters I was awarded a degree, and then I started submitting this manuscript off out into the world to agents and publishers.

 

That was a bracing experience, to say the least.

 

Allison

I like that word, ‘bracing,’ yes.

 

Natasha

It’s where you learn to deal with rejection right from the outset.

 

I think what I did there was I had a big list of all of the people I was going to submit my manuscript to. And, I like lists. I’m a very list-orientated person. A list is good because it means that if somebody says ‘no,’ you’ve got a next name on the list. You know, you don’t just stop there. So, I kept working my way through this list.

 

Again, little things happened that kept my spirits up, I suppose. I got lots of personalized emails and letters from agents saying, “We love this about the book, it won’t fit our list because of this, this and this…” So, I knew there was something in there that was working, but it just wasn’t getting across the line.

 

Around the same time I submitted it to the Australian Vogel’s Award, because at that time I was under 35, which I’m sadly not anymore. And, it got long-listed for that, which was great. And as part of that long-listing the judges sent me about a three or four page report, kind of like a manuscript assessment, again, telling me about all of the things that they liked about the manuscript, and all of the things that they felt that if I wanted to I could work on more to improve it.

 

So, that was just gold, it was fabulous, you know? Feedback from these other writers who were the judges, plus feedback from these agents, I pulled it all together and I rewrote the book entirely. I changed point of view. I changed tense, which are two things that I don’t recommend doing, because it takes forever and it’s really fiddling.

 

Allison

Wow, yeah.

 

Natasha

But, basically I put the end of the book at the start of the book, and the start of the book at the end, and I just chopped and changed the whole thing.

 

Allison

Wow.

 

Natasha

With it like that I submitted it to the T. A. G. Hungerford Award, which is a West Australian prize for an unpublished manuscript. I think each state has a similar kind of thing.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Natasha

And so I sent that off, without really any high hopes, because I remember on the day, I took it down to the post office, this manuscript, you had to mail it in an envelope. And, I was about 36 weeks pregnant with baby number two. And, I had my not quite two-year-old with me, and I was huge, enormous, hot… it was like February. I was just in the post office, not paying attention, looked down and realized my not quite two-year-old had pulled the manuscript out of the bottom of my pram and was literally throwing pages of it around the post office. And, I’m like, “Oh my god!! That’s my manuscript!”

 

Allison

Oh no.

 

Natasha

So, I had kind of a hysterical fit. Gathered up the pages, jammed it back in the envelope, and was thinking, “Oh my god, it’s going to be a miracle if it gets there in the right order, let alone if it actually goes anywhere.”

 

Anyway, months later, because it was like an eight or nine month judging process I finally got this email with the subject line tag Hungerford Award.

 

And of course, if it’s an email you think, “Well, it can’t possibly be anything good, because surely they would ring if anything good at happened.” So I didn’t read the email at the time. I think one of the babies were crying and so I was off getting her out of bed. Hours later I sat down and read this email and realized that the short-list had been announced and my name was on the short-list. I was like, “Oh my god, that’s fantastic.”

 

So, again, many more months later they had the award ceremony and I went along thinking, “I’m not going to win,” because another friend of mine who had in fact won the Vogel’s Award had told me that she had been telephoned before the award and had been told that she won, because they wanted her to have a speech prepared. So, I assumed this is how all award ceremonies must work. And if I had won they would have rung me, and I hadn’t got a phone call. So, I went along thinking, “Oh no, another rejection, what am I going to do? I’m pretty much at the bottom of my list.”

 

But, they opened the winner’s envelope and low and behold read my name, which was pretty much the most exciting moment of my entire life.

 

So, winning the award got me a publishing contract, that was part of — there was some prize money and a publishing contract, and it’s the publishing contract that is the… that is what you want, the best thing.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Natasha

So, I knew from then that book was going to be published, and that was my first book, What is Left Over After. It was basically this thing that had started as a thesis for my master’s degree, had been through many, many rewrites and finally made it onto the shelf in 2010.

 

Allison

Wow. That’s quite the story. I like the post office detail.

 

Natasha

I know, it’s a cool story, but you know… that’s how it happened.

 

 

Allison

All right, so you followed up What is Left Over After with another contemporary novel,

If I Should Lose You. And now you’ve switched gears slightly with A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald, which is set in the US in the 1920s. How and why did that happen?

 

Natasha

It’s another long story — I have no short stories.

 

This is why I write historical fiction, because they’re big long stories.

 

Allison

120,000 words later, we’re still here.

 

Natasha

Yeah, I know. I’m not very good at concise.

 

Well, I had What is Left Over After and If I Should Lose You published, and then I sat down to write a third book, which was in the same kind of vein. It was cotemporary women’s fiction, tackling sort of issues… it was issues-based fiction. And, I wrote that book and I basically hated every single moment of the writing.

 

Allison

Oh, right.

 

Natasha

Yeah, so it was not fun. And I remember thinking the whole time, “Surely it wasn’t like this for the first two books. I don’t remember it being this bad.” But, also convincing myself that it must have been and I had just forgotten, because I had, like, three babies and I was clearly, you know, not of sound mind when I was writing those other books.

 

Everyone says writing is hard, so I was saying to myself, “Well, this is hard, this is writing. That’s what it’s like.” But, I knew in my heart that something wasn’t right. And, I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back on it now I know it was because I was writing what I thought I should write, rather than what I had wanted to write.

 

I think because I had written my first book at university, you know, the natural focus when you’re writing at university is to go down that more literary path. I think nowadays there’s a lot more commercial fiction coming out of universities, which is great. But, at that time there wasn’t quite so much.

 

And so I just traveled that road without really thinking, “Is that the right road for me?” I mean I loved reading literary fiction too, so it wasn’t as if I was, you know, pretending to do something that I couldn’t really do.

 

But, so I wrote this third book and I submitted it to my then agent saying, “Look, something is not right with this book, it’s not working, but I don’t know what it is.” And, she came back to me after a long time, which is never good, if it’s a long time. And she basically said to me, “Yeah, it’s not working.” And if there are three words that you never want to hear from your agent, those are the three words.

 

Allison

Yeah, that’s right.

 

Natasha

It was a big, again, a big moment of decision-making for me, where I basically sort of sat for a month and contemplated what I was going to do. And it was pretty hard to sort of pick myself back up, knowing I’d written this book that was a failure, basically. And to say, “Well, what am I going to do now?” And, so for some reason, still unknown to me, I pulled together some very vague ideas that I had about a historical novel and I sat down and I started writing that book. And, it was the complete opposite experience to that third book, it was the most amazing, joyful, wonderful experience. I loved every second of writing that book, which was A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald.

 

But, also at the same time there’s a constant, constant voice in the back of my mind saying, “What are you doing? This is never going to be published. This is so completely bizarre that you would now write this historical novel. You’re never going to have another book published in your entire life.”

 

But, I think one of the things that you do eventually learn as a writer is that those nasty voices will always be in your head.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Natasha

And you have to write on anyway, which is what I did. And, so, yes… basically in a succinct nutshell…

 

Allison

To summarize…

 

Natasha

I know, “To summarize…” some loose ideas I had about this historical novel, and I just sat down and wrote it, with no real knowledge as to whether it would eventually go anywhere.

 

Allison

 

 

Natasha

Yeah.

 

Allison

So what did you find most challenging about writing the historical fiction? Like, it’s a different genre.

 

Natasha

Yes.

 

Allison

You’re sort of breaking new ground for yourself. So, what did you find most challenging about it?

 

Natasha

The good thing was that mostly nothing… mostly it all just fell very seamlessly into place. I mean I’ve always loved history. I still vividly remember sitting in year 12 history classes and learning about the 1920s in America, which is where I set this book. And just thinking, “Wow, that’s a place I would have loved to have been alive in, and a time.”

 

So, the research and all of that was fabulously fun. I love sitting in a dusty archive and looking through stuff. And the plot came to me very easily, much more easily than it normally does. I would say that probably the most challenging thing was getting the main character right and having her be sort of instantly likeable and someone who the reader was on side with, right from the outset. I mean I know from looking at Goodreads reviews of my first two books, which something a writer should never do.

 

Allison

No — no.

 

Natasha

Least you want to be scarred for life. Is that some people didn’t always like the main characters in my first two books, which I totally understand, because they were sort of gray characters, they definitely did some things that were, I though understandable in the context of what was happening in their lives, but maybe that didn’t always make them likeable people.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Natasha

And so I knew for this book that it was going to be a big commercial work of historical fiction, character likability was absolutely crucial and I had to get that. And, so I spent a lot of time in the manuscript working on that, and even in the structural editing phase, I was still working on areas, Evie has a sister, Viola, who she butts heads with occasionally throughout the book, and I had probably had her butt her head a little too hard against Viola, at certain points in time my lovely publisher pointed out, and I need to reign things like that back in.

 

So, yeah, that was my challenge.

 

Allison

  1. What about… I mean you said you really enjoyed your time in the dusty archives, do you think there’s a very real possibility of over-researching when you’re writing historical fiction? I mean did you have to pull yourself back at times? How did you do that?

 

Natasha

Well, I’m like to write the first draft without doing very much research. And, I actually think that was one of the things that destroyed that failed third manuscript that I mentioned. I had started writing it as a PhD and that required me to do quite a bit of research upfront, so I had researched first and written later, which for me doesn’t work.

 

I wrote the first draft of a Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald, without doing very much research at all, just reading a few non-fiction books about daily life in the 1920s, things like what kind of small electric appliances were invented back then, could you use a toaster or a vacuum, or whatever.

 

So, I did a little bit of research around that, but the large bulk of the research, because Evie is trying to get into medical school to be one of the first women accepted into medical school and to become one of the first female obstetricians in New York City. So, there was a lot of medical detail that I needed. But, I didn’t do a lot of that until after I had the first draft, because the first draft for me is that discovery draft of finding the story.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Natasha

I actually think that’s really a great way to go about historical research, because it means that you already have the story in place before you go and do the research, and so the first drafts acts as like a research blueprint, I suppose. I know where the gaps are what research I need to do to feel those gaps. So, I only research those things. I don’t — I can’t over-research because I know I don’t need to go beyond filling in those gaps in the manuscript.

 

Allison

Right, so as you’re writing you’re just putting in brackets [insert historical detail here]?

 

 

Natasha

Exactly, yes. Yes, that’s right.

 

Allison

Which is what I do.

 

Natasha

‘XX,’ yes. “Stuff needs to go here.”

 

Allison

Yes, “Insert something about mapmaking here.”

 

Natasha

Yep. That’s right.

 

Allison

Alright. So, your writing process then is, as you say, discovery. So, you’re not a massive plotter?

 

Natasha

No, I’m not a massive plotter. I often wish that I was, because I think it would save a lot of rewriting, and also a lot of that nervous tension of getting three-quarters of the way through the book, which I do for all of my books, and not knowing how it’s going to end, which is quite stressful.

 

But, I also know now that’s how it always is. The end always presents itself, I just have to sit back and wait for that to happen.

 

So, no, I’ve got to say I have tried to plot a little bit more for my next book, which is coming out in 2017, and I probably will try to do even more on the next one I sit down and start working on, just because as I’m writing more historical novels the plot lines are starting to get a little more complicated and I think it would be good to be able to plot, but whether I can actually do that effectively or not, I’m still to find out.

 

Allison

Well, we should follow your progress with interest, because you do blog regularly about writing and publishing and your process and how things are going, which is always highly entertaining, and very pinnable, because you are the queen of Pinterest of Australian authors, from what I can see. There is so much going on with your Pinterest stuff.

 

But, when did you start doing that? When did you start your blog and all of those sorts of things. And why did you start?

 

 

 

Natasha

I started writing my blog in about March of 2010, so my first book I knew was coming out in September of 2010, and so six months before that I thought, “Right, I’m from a marketing background, I know this stuff, so I need to get out there and do some marketing,” because I knew my first book was being published with a small press, small presses have limited marketing budgets, and so a lot of the onus for that would fall on me.

 

So, I embarked on this world of blogging, which I really knew very little about. And, it was a wonderful process of discovery. And, I love blogging because I get to write about things that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to write about. And, I think as a writer the more different kinds of writing you can do, the better writer you become. So, from that perspective, just purely from a writing perspective it was great. But, it also just allowed me to make contact with people, which is one of the things I love.

 

So, back then, yeah, I set up my blog, I set up Facebook and that was what I really focused on for those first couple of years, before finally being dragged into the Twitter fold, sort of quite late, actually, because I was terrified of it.

 

And then obviously, as you say, venturing into Pinterest and things like that, which I quite love doing, because they’re a bit of fun playing around with visuals. So, yeah, it’s been a gradual process. I started with two things, really worked out how to do those things, regularly and reasonably well before I then started playing around with other things as well.

 

Allison

What do you think are the steps in that process sort of worked best for you? I mean I know all authors are different and different things work best for different people. But, what do you think has worked best for you from the perspective of raising your profile and making people aware of your books and your writing?

 

Natasha

Yep. I think one of the most valuable things… I think it gets a little bit underrated in the social media era is face to face contact with people.

 

Allison

Yep.

 

Natasha

One thing… if you’re going to do one thing, it’s to get out there, to get in front of people, to do author talks, to go to libraries and do talks, to do workshops, to teach, to do all of those things, because my most loyal fans are the people who I’ve taught at a course or who have seen me speak somewhere, and we’ve had a personal kind of contact or connection. I just think you can’t do enough of that, and those are people who go out there off their own bat and talk about my books and share my blogs, without me having to ask for anything. And, it’s the most wonderful, amazing word of mouth publicity, and it’s also just a great connection, to be able to speak to readers like that, and other writers like that.

 

So, you know, if you can get out, even just going to writers’ festivals and going to conferences. I mean this is another, probably, relatively long story, but I’ll try and pull it right back.

 

Allison

Oh no, a long story? Natasha, you surprise me.

 

Natasha

I know! But, back in — it must have been in 2008 or 2009, it was a long time ago, I was just at the Perth Writers’ Festival, prior to any books being published, sitting in the audience, next to this other young woman, about my age.

 

And we struck up a conversation, and you know we got along really well. We both were into writing and books. And, her name is Sara Foster. And Sara Foster has just published her fourth book, All That is Lost Between Us, which is fabulous. And, literally just from sitting down next to each other at a writers’ festival and having a conversation, we became friends from that, and we have been able to be supporters of one another through our writing journeys, and that has been wonderful.

 

And if I hadn’t have been the kind of person who just goes along to things, to learn and to find out, then I would have missed the opportunity to a.) just have that friendship, and b.) that writing connection, who… she’s been invaluable to me, as a mentor, a friend, a support, a connection, so it’s been great.

 

Allison

I completely agree with you, and I’ve always been a big advocate for talking to the people next to you at these kinds of things, because I’m in exactly the same boat. I’ve met some of my best writing friends ever just by sitting next to them and making some snide remark at a writers’ festival.

 

Natasha

Yep.

 

Allison

Not that I ever make snide remarks.

 

Natasha

No!

 

Allison

It must have been them making the snide remark. No, it’s not my thing at all.

 

All right. So, the other thing I notice that you do use a bit within your platform, which does make you stand out a little bit, the only other person I can think that does this on a regular basis is Tristan Banks, the children’s author, but you use video quite a bit with your author interviews and your book chat.

 

For someone like me who’s like, “Video, oh god, no,” I’m hiding.

 

Natasha

I remember dragging you in front of the video screen once upon a time.

 

Allison

I know, we talked about fitting writing into our lives. I was sitting there the whole time just thinking, “I can’t believe we have to do… why can we just talk to each other?”

 

Anyway, so why did you start doing that and have you got any tips for people who might be considering it?

 

Natasha

I suppose it comes back to that whole face-to-face thing again. Trying to replicate the connection that you can make with people when you are face-to-face in front of them, and I mean as you can probably tell I quite like to chat.

 

Allison

No, really?

 

Natasha

So, sitting down and chatting in front of a video, like I actually find that quite fun. Back when I was working at L’Oréal it wasn’t uncommon for us to have to get up in front of a crowd of 300 or 400 people, all of us sales reps and hype them up about our new products coming up. So, I was quite used to getting up in front of people and talking. I enjoy doing it, so video just seemed a natural progression of that, for me.

 

Also, you know, you spend so much time sitting alone in front of your desk typing on your keyboard that, again, video just feels like a nice way to get out in the world, albeit in a virtual way.

 

So, yeah, if I had any tips for people it would be don’t be scared of it, it’s actually more fun than you think. And, just be yourself. I watch back videos of myself and my hands are flying around all over the place, because that’s just how I am. I know standing in front a crowd of people my hands are always flying around. Probably if I was going to go to media training and be all professional about it, I would have them folded in my lap and be a little bit more formal, but that’s just not me and not who I am. So, yeah, I think you have to just get in front of the video camera and be your normal self and that will come across to people and hopefully they will respond to that.

 

Allison

Right, well, I might just think about that for a little longer, if that’s all right.

 

Natasha

Yes, yes.

 

Allison

Now, the other thing that I’ve been thinking about for a while and you keep telling me that I need to stop thinking about it and do something about it is that you are a proud and dedicated convert to Scrivener.

 

Natasha

Ah, yes.

 

Allison

And, in fact, have produced an online course for the Australian Writers’ Centre to convert others. I feel like it’s some kind of cult. But, anyway.

 

Natasha

Absolutely. I’m converting the world one writer at a time — and you’re next!

 

Allison

Yeah, right. OK, keep working on that. It’s a bit like the video thing.

 

Natasha

Yeah.

 

Allison

So, what are the features — why are you such a preacher for it? Like, what are the features that you like best about it?

 

Natasha

Well, when I sat down to write A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald, because I knew it was going to be a much longer book, my first two books were relatively short, they’re about 65,000 words, whereas A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald was like 110,000 or 115,000. I knew I needed a way to manage that book more effectively than I had in the past. And writing in one long continuous Word document did not seem to me to be the most effective way to do it.

 

When I go out and teach writing I always talk to students about at the start of the writing process, like Anne Lamott says in her book, Bird by Bird, you just have to sit down and write one scene at a time. You don’t have to be able to see any further than that one individual scene.

 

And so to be able to write with a program that facilitated you being able to write individual scenes, just seemed to be a logical thing to do.

 

And when I discovered Scrivener and realized that was the whole base of the program, that you sit down and you write individual scenes and then you can move them around and collate them and order them later, I thought, “Wow, that is just perfect. It fits in exactly with what I’ve been teaching and the way I’ve been writing for all of this time.”

 

So, I suppose the number one thing I love is the ability to make your book into discrete scene, a separate document for each scene.

 

I love that you can then drag and move those around, so if you’re the kind of writer, like I am, who tends to not know the story and will therefore be writing a little bit out of order and all over the place, I am able to just drag and move things around and see how the book could look in any number of different ways.

 

The color coding in Scrivener is another thing that I love, being able to easily identify in the binder, because things are colored in different ways, the different parts of your book. Like, I always color code my subplots, the love story subplot, for instance, I need to know how often that subplot comes in to play, and so being able to make that a different and discrete color allows me to see if there’s been too many gaps in that —

 

Allison

What color do you choose for your love subplot, just red, pink?

 

Natasha

No, you know it’s yellow. And I don’t know why.

 

Allison

Yellow? Goodness.

 

Natasha

There’s no logical reason for that. Maybe I will go back and make it pink or red now that you’ve suggested that.

 

Allison

Isn’t that funny?

 

Natasha

It would be quite fun.

 

Allison

That sounds like fun.

 

Natasha

Yeah, so that’s what I love about Scrivener, they’re my things that… my top things.

 

And, also the ability to have all of your research documents in the one place. You save them all and keep them all in that one document with your manuscript, so they’re right there whenever you need them.

 

Allison

  1. You do make it sound very attractive, particularly color coding.

 

Natasha

Yes!

 

Allison

I could spend days just changing the colors and trying to decide if they were the right colors. It’s like procrasty-coloring.

 

Natasha

Yes!
Allison

Excellent.

 

All right, so now have you always had an agent? Like, once you had that first manuscript, because you said you had an agent for the first couple.

 

Natasha

Yep.

 

Allison

And I know that you then had a change of agent with the third book, is that correct?

 

Natasha

Yeah, that’s right.

 

Allison

Where did you get your first — where did your first agent come into play, like, given that you had a publishing contract as part of your prize.

 

Natasha

Sure.

 

Allison

What was the story with that?

 

Natasha

I didn’t have an agent for my first book, because as you say, I did have this publishing contract and I had sent that book out to all the agents who were accepting at that time, and they had all rejected it, sadly. But, as I say, some of them had rejected it very nicely by sending me feedback. And, one of those agents had sent me a lovely letter saying the book opened with the best opening line she’d read in ages, and she loved a lot of things about it, but she had taken on an author with a book with a similar theme at that time. And, so that’s why she was rejecting it.

 

With book number two I thought, “Well, I’m going to go back to her, because there was obviously something that she liked about my first book, maybe she’ll like the second book.” So, I went back to her, reminded her about the fact that I had submitted my first book to her, reminded her what she had said. I had also subsequently been up to a writers’ festival where I had met another writer who had said, “Mention my name when you approach this agent, because I’ve read your book and I think that… I know her.” And, so I had a contact as well.

 

So, I put all of those things in my email and she got back to me really quickly and became my agent for my second book, which was great.

 

And, it was only when I sat down to write A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald that I realized that I was writing way out of my usual genre and that this book was going to be a very different kind of thing.

 

And I felt that probably I needed a different agent, someone who was more in the commercial sphere than in the literary sphere.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Natasha

So, I kind of knew that even though — really it was a crazy thing to do, to change genres, to change agents, and to change publishers, because I also wanted to do that. All three things at once, let’s not do anything by halves.

 

Allison

No.

 

Natasha
Even though it was crazy, that was what I wanted to do. So…

 

Allison

Right.

 

Natasha

So, I wrote the book and luckily, again this is where all of this author platform stuff comes into play, as I was writing A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald I received an email from another agent who basically said to me, “What are you working on now? Do you have an agent? Would you be interested in chatting?”

 

And, after I had picked myself up from the floor, because like when do you get an email from an agent?

 

Allison

Yeah, really.

 

Natasha

And then I spent, like, half an hour googling and looking up her email address, to make sure it wasn’t some kind of hoax email.

 

Allison

Scam.

 

Natasha

Because I could not believe this would actually have happened to me.

 

After I realized that it was genuine and legitimate, I realized that, yes, she was actually the perfect agent for me.

 

So, we talked, once I had finished the manuscript I sent it off to her. Luckily she loved it, and she took me on, and she’s just been so fabulous. I can’t rave highly enough about Jacinta di Mase.

 

Allison

So you’re obviously an author who likes to have an agent?

 

Natasha

Yes.

 

Allison

Because not all authors do. What is it about having an agent that you like?

 

Natasha

Well, firstly from having an un-agented contract for my first book, to having agented contracts on my second and third books, I can tell you get a much better deal when you have an agent.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Natasha

So, that’s number one.

 

Also, secondly I actually quite like getting editorial feedback and advice. I know that I have a lot to learn and that my drafts are far from perfect. And, Jacinta is fabulous because she will sit down and read the whole thing and she will give you back detailed editorial notes, which she did for A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald, suggesting some reasonably large changes, which at the time seemed daunting, but also it was like, “This is what I have to do get this book published. I have to make these changes.” So, it was sit back and rewrite it all over again, which I did.

 

And so I love that editorial feedback. I mean just as an example, with A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald, you know there are so many different rights attached to the book that if you don’t know about all of those rights, then you don’t have the opportunity to fully exercise and capitalize on those rights, audio rights being one of those things.

 

And it never occurred to me that anyone would make an audio book out of A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald, because none of my books had been made into audio books in the past.

 

But, it was Jacinta who said, “I think we can sell the audio rights separately and get you another advance and a higher royalty rate on the audio book.” And she went off and did that. I would never have known to do that by myself, nor been able to do strike the deal that she was able to strike.

 

So, agents, I believe more than pay for themselves in the fact that they will get you a much better deal.

 

Allison

All right, so do you consider yourself to be a full time writer? Like, what does a typical day look like for you?

 

Natasha

Yeah, I do spend most of my days — I mean full days, like that would be a dream. I’m usually at my desk by just about nine o’clock, by the time I drop all three kids off at school, and then I leave my desk at about half past two to go and get the kids from school.

 

And I try to have as much of that time between 9:00 and 2:30 on writing as possible, but I do always get away from my desk for an hour or so every day to swim, walk or to do yoga, because like you I’m a big believer in active mediation, and I get so many of my ideas when I’m swimming laps or walking or supposedly mediating at yoga, but clearly thinking about my book instead.

 

Allison

Clearly.

 

Natasha

So, yeah, basically that’s my days. Then I do a second round at night where I sit down about 7:30, after the kids are in bed, and nighttime is all about the administrative side of things, so planning new courses, because I do a lot of teaching, which I love doing and is a great source of income as a writer, because you need to have something else apart from just books.

 

I do my blogging, my social media, catching up on all of the emails that need to be responded to, at the moment obviously there’s loads of publicity stuff that I need to for A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald. So, responding to all of those interview requests. So, that’s my kind of nighttime work. So, I’ll sit down and do at least another two hours, sometimes more, every evening.

 

Allison

Wow.

 

Natasha

Yeah, that’s how I split my day up. So, it’s writing during the day, everything else at night.

 

Allison

I often do it the other way around. I’ll do everything else —

 

Natasha

Do you?

 

Allison

Yeah, and wait for that deep quiet of the night when they all go to bed.

 

Natasha

Yeah. Well, I’ve actually just started getting up at half past five in the morning.

 

Allison

Oh, stop.

 

Natasha

Oh I know, which is… but, it’s so great. And, I thought that I would probably do it for two days and then give up. But, I’m going — I’ve done it for, like, only a week, so I’m not totally amazing at it yet. But, I’m going to keep going, because it’s only half an hour, 5:30-6:00, and 6:00 is when I have to really get going and make school lunches and breakfast and stuff. But, that half an hour of writing time I get so much done, and it means that when I sit back down at nine o’clock to pick the writing back up I’m already in the zone and I don’t have to get in the zone. So, yeah, it’s pretty good.

 

Allison

That makes sense.

 

Natasha

Yeah.

 

Allison

All right, we’ll let’s finish off with our fabulous top three tips for aspiring writers. And, I know you because you’re like a girl scout, you are totally prepared for this.

 

Natasha

Absolutely.

 

Allison

So, what have you got?

 

Natasha

Because I do listen every week…

 

Allison

I know, bless.

 

Natasha

… I know I have to have this organized. So, I have three tips written down no less.

 

Allison

Fantastic.

 

Natasha

So, my first one, which I actually blogged about back in January, is to write anyway. You know we are all capable of coming up with so many excuses to stop us from writing, but if we just sit down and write anyway then that’s how we get a book written.

 

It doesn’t matter if we’re tired or if we’re busy or if we’re not feeling well, or if we think we don’t have the time, or we think, “My writing is rubbish,” which we all often do. If we just sit down and keep writing on anyway, regardless of all of those thoughts, procrastinations, excuses, then we will eventually get a book written.

 

So, that’s my number one piece of advice for anybody, which like I’ve said, I’ve written an entire blog post about it, so if you need more explanation head off to my website. But, I think those two…

 

Allison

That’s www.natashlester.com.au

 

Natasha

That’s right, but think those two words are pretty self-explanatory.

 

Number two, which I guess we’ve already touched on a little bit, is to make connections with people as much as you can.

 

It always amazes me, when I’m teaching writing and at the Perth Writers’ Festival was coming up and I say, “So, who’s going to the festival this weekend?” And like one person puts their hand up. And, I’m like, “But, why isn’t everybody going?”

 

Here is a chance to hear other writers speak about their craft, which I always learn things from. And also a chance to sit in a crowd with other people who are clearly interested in books, because otherwise they wouldn’t be there, who you can meet, like I did with Sara Foster all of those years ago.

 

There are so many things about my writing career, as in writing books, and also the other opportunities, the other teaching and speaking opportunities that have come about solely because I’ve met somebody who has then been able to give me some kind of work in some kind of way, which is fantastic. So, make connections, whether it be through social media, through face-to-face, through going to festivals, through going to author talks, be out there seeking out those connections, because you never know — obviously you don’t do it because you hope to get something out of it, you do it because you like meeting people and you like learning. But, sometimes there are payoffs for it as well, which is fantastic.

 

So, that’s number two.

 

Number three is to write a lot. I remember, again, sitting in a session at the Perth Writers’ Festival, hearing Kate Greenville talk about her book, The Secret River, and she said that she rewrote that book 23 times.

 

Allison

Oh stop, really?

 

Natasha

I know. And, I always tell my writing students this, because — and their faces literally go — you can see them go, “What?!”

 

That book wasn’t Kate Greenville’s first or second book, she had written five or six books by then, so she was by no means an amateur.

 

But, just knowing that, you have to keep writing until the book is as good as you think it’s possibly going to be. I’m working on the structural edit for book number four at the moment, and I reckon I have thrown out half of the book. And I have written an entirely new half of the book.

 

Allison

Wow.

 

Natasha

So you write a lot of stuff that will never get used, will never go anywhere, will literally just sit on your laptop and never be used, but you have to be happy to do that, because you know that in doing that, in getting that other stuff out, you find the gold and you get to the good stuff in the end.

 

And, you know, we talked about blogging, that’s why I blog too. It’s another way of writing. So, as many different ways of writing as you can possibly find to do, all of those things come together to help make you a better writer, I think.

 

Allison

Fantastic. Those are very, very good top three tips. Thank you very much for that, Natasha Lester. And thank you very much for your time today, for we are at the end of our fabulous residence moment.

 

Natasha

Well, it was lovely talking to you, Al.

 

Allison

Always.

 

Natasha

Always is.

 

Allison

Always good to chat. We could just talk on for hours, couldn’t we?

 

Natasha

We could, but we’ll respect your listeners who probably don’t want to listen to us anymore.

 

Allison

Yeah, let’s not bore them to death, shall we?

 

Alright, well thank you very much and we shall — best of luck with the new novel.

 

Natasha

Great, thanks so much, Allison. Lovely talking to you.

 

 


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