Ep 186 Do you need to experience what your character goes through? We chat to Natasha Lester about her new book “Her Mother’s Secret”.

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podcast-artworkIn Episode 186 of So you want to be a writer: Do you need to experience what your character goes through? There are two types of writers – which one are you? Wow your friends and dinner guests with your use of the word “callipygian”. Also, hear Natasha Lester talk about her new book Her Mother’s Secret.

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

 

Show Notes

Shout Out

From Bluebee$$$:

I found this podcast about three months ago and listen to it on my way to work. I thoroughly enjoy listening to Valerie and Alison chat to each other and it’s like having two friends along in the car with me. My writing had stalled for about 6months but listening to the podcast stirred the fire and enthusiasm in my belly and I have recommenced writing my memoir. I look forward to the new podcast each week because I know I will learn something from it and it’s like attending a course. Keep up the great work ladies and I look forward to acknowledging you in my published memoir for your awesome inspiration.

Thanks Bluebee$$$!!

Show Notes

There Are Two Types of Writers. Which One Are You?

I walked across Europe to understand my character

Short Story Essentials

 

Writer in Residence

Natasha Lester

Author Natasha LesterNatasha Lester’s fourth book, Her Mother’s Secret, was published by Hachette Australia in March 2017.. She is also the author of the award-winning What is Left Over After (2010) and If I Should Lose You (2012) and A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald (2017). 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 StoriesThe 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

 

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Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

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@valeriekhoo

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podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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Interview Transcript 

Valerie

Thanks so much for joining us today, Natasha.

Natasha

It’s my pleasure, Valerie. Thank you so much for having me back on the podcast. I’m very happy to be here.

Valerie

It’s great to have you back. Now, we’re so excited about your new book Her Mother’s Secret.

Natasha

Me too!

Valerie

So we have to find out more about it and also about your journey in getting this particular baby birthed, in a sense. Because the last book we spoke to you about was A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, which was a phenomenal success.

Natasha

Thank you. I was very happy with how that went.

Valerie

It went crazy well. Now let’s move on to this book, though. Tell us, for those listeners who haven’t read this book yet, can you tell us what it’s about?

Natasha

Sure. So Her Mother’s Secret begins on the day before Armistice Day in 1918. And it’s about Leonora, or Leo as everybody calls her, who has been making cosmetics in secret in the back room of her father’s chemist shop in a small English village called Sutton Veny.

She’s been making the cosmetics in secret because for women to wear cosmetics at the time is seen to be very scandalous. And it’s really hard to get hold of cosmetics. Department stores don’t sell them at this time.

So she supplies her cosmetics to the nurses working at the local army hospital camp that’s been set up because of the war. And she has a dream that one day she might be able to do more with her cosmetics than just sell them in secret to the nurses. But obviously the war has put that dream on hold.

Then the war ends, but Spanish flu sweeps through her village, and the consequences of that are so devastating that Leo decides to leave her life behind and move to a place unaffected by war, and also to a place where she hopes people might be more open to her cosmetics idea than the villagers around her have proven to be.

So she decides to move to New York. And so the book is essentially about her attempts to be a part of the fledgling cosmetics industry. And her attempts to show society that if women want to be able to wear cosmetics, they should be able to without being judged for that.

Valerie

Now, how in the world did this idea for the book form? Was it about the character first? Was it an obsession with cosmetics? Because it does sound like you have an interest in cosmetics. Where did this come from?

Natasha

Well, the very first spark of the idea came… I used to work for L’Oréal Paris in Melbourne. I was the marketing manager for Maybelline, which was a fabulous job because I had more lipsticks than anybody could ever possibly use.

Valerie

Yes.

Natasha

Yes. But the very first day on the job, one of the first things you hear is the story of the origins of the Maybelline brand. And the story goes that there was a young woman called Mabel who was in her bathroom one night preparing to go out on a date. And she wanted to look fabulous for her date. And at that time, the way that women used to darken their lashes was to use something called lamp black, which was essentially the soot from a candle. So it was a fairly hazardous occupation, darkening your lashes, because it often involved singeing your lashes.

But Mabel was persevering because she wanted to impress her date. And her brother Tom walked past and saw what she was doing – I still can’t believe it was a man who thought of this, but it was. And anyway, he said, oh there must be a better way to do that. So he ended up mixing up the lamp black with some Vaseline, and then they applied that to Mabel’s lashes. And she was really impressed and really excited about that. Went out on her date. And nobody knows how her date went that night. But what we do know is that that was the night in 1917 that the very first mascara was invented. And Tom then branded it as Maybelline, which is a combination of Mabel’s name Mabel plus the world Vaseline, to make Maybelline. And he began to sell that by mail order, because it was too scandalous a product to be sold anywhere else.

And being the kind of person who loves stories, hearing that story on my first day at work, that stuck in my mind. And half way through writing A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald I started to think, because a lot of the research I did for A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald was around that time, the early part of the 1920s, and I began to think, well, I really want to write about that time when cosmetics use was still seen to be very scandalous, and it wasn’t yet mainstream. And the way in which society slowly accepted the fact that women would like to colour their faces and that kind of thing. And that it was okay for them to do that.

Valerie

So you did have a background in the make-up industry, in the cosmetics industry. Was that enough for you, in terms of the research you needed in the book? Or did you have to do more?

Natasha

No, I had to do quite a lot. Because these days cosmetics, the manufacturing is much more complicated than it used to be. It really was just a few basic ingredients. And a lot of women made cosmetics in their kitchens and at home, because that was the only way you could get them, and you couldn’t get them anywhere else.

So one of the first things I did was to purchase the very first set of books ever published on cosmetic chemistry and read my way through those. Reliving my cosmetics courses that I did as a youngster. And actually in my kitchen I made up a batch of lipstick in the way that it used to be made. It was basically just four ingredients. A wax, an oil, a pigment and a scent. And so just got some beeswax and some almond oil and some crushed beetroot juice and mixed that up on the stove. And then you pour it into pots, because lipstick tubes weren’t invented until much later. They used to just make it out of compact pots. And I made up my very own batch of lipsticks in the way that Leo my character would in the back room of her father’s chemist shop.

So I did a lot of hands on stuff like that, as well as a lot of research into how society did perceive women who wore cosmetics at the time. Because I guess that was the hardest thing for me to really get my head around. Because obviously everybody wears make-up these days, and nobody thinks anything of it. But at that time I discovered that a sales clerk got fired from Macey’s for wearing rouge to work in 1915. Which you can’t even imagine that nowadays!

And the Atlantic Monthly published this article in which they were asking a man to comment on the state of the youth of the day. And one of the things he said in that piece was that he believed that old men like him should be able to use uncivilised warfare against women who did things like dance to jazz music and wear mascara and rouge. And, you know, it’s quite unbelievable that a national news magazine would give a man six pages to basically exhort violence against women for simply wearing rouge and mascara.

And so it was that kind of research that I really needed to do to see this was the way in which women were treated for doing something as commonplace to us as wearing rouge and mascara. And back then things like domestic violence, women dying in childbirth, etc, which were huge social issues weren’t given six pages. But yet something like this was. So that was what I really tried to focus on. Because I wanted to understand how hard Leo, my character, would have had to fight to be able to establish a business like that at that time.

Valerie

So I’m intrigued to know, because it sounds like you did a fair bit of research and that you really quite enjoyed it. Especially if you’re making your own lipstick! Did you subsequently wear the lipstick?

Natasha

I did. Well, because my kids got really excited about it. They love it when I do crazy weird things like this. And so I made it the morning before they went to school and then it had to set. So when they got home from school they all rushed in the door wanting to see what it looked like. So then they wanted to see what it would look like on me, so they put it on me. And then my girls put it on me, just because for a bit of fun.

I don’t think I’ll give up my writing day job anytime soon and become a cosmetics entrepreneur. But it was amazing how easy it actually was to do it. So it was a lot of fun. I love doing things like that. I think you have to get hands on. You have to feel how your character would feel. I’ve just recently done a fashion illustration workshop, because the character in next year’s book is a seamstress and she also designs clothes. So I had to get a feel for what it is like to sketch a figure, and to design and draw clothes onto a figure. So it’s just part of me immersing myself in knowing how my character would feel when doing their job, I guess.

Valerie

Yeah. Wow. So it does sound like you had quite a bit of fun. And it’s easy, I can see that it would have been easy to get lost and immerse yourself in the research. Because it is pretty fascinating. So how did you… Which was the more dominant thing? The research or the character’s journey and the plot of the story? Did you already know what the plot was going to be? How did you figure them all out? At the same time, or separately or what?

Natasha

Well, for me, I find – and a lot of people think this is a slightly strange way to go about writing historical fiction, but it’s the way that works for me, and everybody else has to find their own way – but I like to write the whole first draft first before I do a lot of research. And that’s because I am the ultimate pantser.

I have tried, this is my fourth book, I have tried and tried and tried to be a planner, and it just does not work for me. That part of my brain which plans out every other area of my life in minute detail does not work when it comes to writing. So I really have to work out… Like, I literally began the story knowing I wanted to write about this character called Leo and that it was about the birth of the cosmetics industry. And that was about all I had. So there’s obviously a lot more that needed to go onto the page.

And so I have to write that first draft to work out what is the story that I’m trying to tell. And then that first draft acts as a research blueprint for me. Because then I can see what do I actually need to know to make this story authentic and believable and a better story. And then I will go and research to go and fill in those gaps. Rather than running into that trap of doing so much research that it becomes so overwhelming, not knowing what to research so therefore you don’t have a scope, almost, if you like.

And also, I find that there’s a danger that if I research too early, I then write to what the research tells me is possible, rather than what I want to do in that first draft is let my imagination run wild, and just write the story that my imagination tells me is the best possible story. And if I research first I become trapped within the actuality and the research. So I like to do it that way because of those things.

Valerie

Now, I’m interested to know, because you obviously have done a lot of research, you bought the original books, you looked up stuff in the Atlantic Monthly and so on. I know that keeping that research under control and easily accessible so that you can refer to it when you need to is something that some writers struggle with, or there’s piles of paper everywhere. And I know that you’re a big fan of the writing app Scrivener. And in fact you do a course with us called Two Hours to Scrivener Power. And I’ve done your course, and it’s fantastic, and I absolutely love Scrivener for any of my long form things. I don’t use it for articles, like magazine articles. But anything over say 30,000 words I definitely use Scrivener. And your tips in that course, I mean your Scrivener tips generally are so practical and they make so much sense, and they’re so neat and tidy! You’re just very neat and tidy.

Tell me using this book as an example how you might have used an app like Scrivener to arrange not only your research but obviously the story overall.

Natasha

Yeah sure. So my secret goal is convert the world to Scrivener one writer at a time. It’s actually not a secret goal. I tell everybody that! Because it is the most amazing piece of software, and it literally changed my writing life when I discovered it. And one of the reasons for that is the fact that you can keep all of your research documentation in the one document along with your manuscript. So every photograph that I take on the streets of New York goes into my Scrivener document.

And Scrivener enables you to do a couple of things with something like a photograph. So when I’m typing my story and there’s a particular location that I’m writing about which I have photographs on, I can put a little link in my manuscript to that photograph which I can then click on that link in my manuscript and the photograph will pop up, so it’s right there when I’m writing. Or I can create a separate window to have that on a screen the whole time that I’m writing.

Same with anything I find on the internet. A PDF document with an article like the Atlantic Monthly article, etc, all goes into my Scrivener research folder, so I don’t have to leave Scrivener and go to the internet and look up the article, which will then lead me on to things like Facebook and wormholes of wasted time. I just click on the article within Scrivener and it pops up there again in another window so I can have both the article and my document open at the same time, and I’ve only had to access that from Scrivener.

So it’s a really great and efficient way to organise your research, have it all there, make sure you only stay in the one program for your writing time and you never have to leave that program.

But also just on a practical level. So this book spans twenty years, from 1918 – in fact, twenty-one years – from 1918 to 1939. So it’s this massive timeline. I’ve got two different point of view characters. So to organise and order that, the way that Scrivener works, again, is it enables me to colour code each section so I can see at a glance this is the 1920s section, this is the 1930s section, this is the section from Alice’s point of view, this is the section from Leo’s point of view, without having to go in and scroll through a long ream of pages in Word. You know, my colour coded binder means I can see at a glance which scene is from which point of view and which time frame, and I can easily jump in and out and jump around as and when I want to. So it works really well for something like this.

And even for next year’s book which is a part-contemporary, part-historical, again the colour coding is a life saver in terms of seeing in front of you, visually, the entire structure of your book. I love it.

Valerie

Now when you first started using Scrivener though, tell me, I’m interested to hear about your experience, because I do meet people who – and I also try to convert them to Scrivener – and they say, oh yeah, I downloaded it, or the free trial, or whatever, but it’s just too much to learn. What’s your… Did you initially also feel that way? And what’s your response to that?

Natasha

Yeah, I did. I was really worried that I was going to download Scrivener and I was going to spend weeks of time working out how to use it and it would prove to be a waste of time. But I’m so glad that I did dive into it. I mean, I did work through the Scrivener tutorial, which is a document that you open and work on in Scrivener. And it’s a great way to get started. But I think one of the key things is you just have to dive in there and use it.

But also you have to work out a way to use it that works for your writing process. So it’s not just about, here are the functions of Scrivener. But it’s how can I use those functions to make my writing process more organised and easier and that works for me. And that is, I guess, what I try and teach in the Scrivener course. Not just here are the different functionalities of Scrivener, but how can you make those work for you as a writer to make the writing process more intuitive. And I think that’s the hardest part, when you just dive in there yourself and try and work it out. Making it work for you is hard to figure out.

So I just battled on through it and I did figure it out in the end. And that was why I thought, oh my god, somebody has to teach this! Because it would just save so much time. If I had have had a two-hour course back when I was starting out, it would have saved me a couple of weeks of time. But I’m glad I did persevere. But that’s obviously, as I said, why I made the course up.

Valerie

Yes. And I think that that was one of the most valuable things, because when I went through the course, just seeing your real-life manuscript, and seeing how you used it with your specific characters, and your specific piles of research, your specific folders, really helped me realise how I could use it. And I write totally different things to you. You write fiction, I write non-fiction. But I could totally see how it would work for my purposes.

But anyway, let’s move on to… You had the smash hit of 2016 – A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald. And you’ve followed it up now with this. Tell me some timelines. Where did this book fit in to – in terms of its conception, you’re writing the first draft and all of that – fit in to the timeline for A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald. Do you know what I mean? Like, when were you doing what?

Natasha

Basically, I’m sort of contracted to write a book a year. So I’ve got a year of time to write. But what that means is that you’re essentially juggling three books over the course of the year. Because you’re writing one book for two years’ time, in fact, for me, it usually is.

So right now I’m writing the 2019 book. I’ve submitted the 2018 book. And I’m just about to embark on the structural edit for that book. And then there’s also the publicity for the third book, which is Her Mother’s Secret. So you’ve got a publicity book, and a book you’re editing, and then a book that you’re writing. And that’s how it tends to work for me with one book a year.

So you’ve got to, I like to chunk my year up into school terms. Because I’ve got three young kids who when they’re on school holidays I can’t write around them. So I really look at my year in terms of school terms. And I go okay, this term is for writing this manuscript and getting the first draft of the 2019 manuscript done. This last six weeks or so has been really publicity for Her Mother’s Secret, and really focusing in on that. And then the editing for next year’s book is about to come in so I need to block out a month to work on that.

So I have a wall calendar, a 12-month wall calendar up on my wall. And I’ve got things blocked in for every school term. Because this project or that project, so that I know and I can focus. I don’t work well if I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. So I have that calendar there, and I can say, okay, this month is all about publicity. You’ve just got to get out there and talk about Her Mother’s Secret and meet readers and do all that fun fabulous stuff, and don’t worry about the writing of the 2019 book. When you stop doing the publicity, that’s when you sit down and do that.

So then I know that it’s all taken care of, it will all get done, the deadlines will all get met. And I’m a much more relaxed person rather than stressing out about not getting things done.

Valerie

So you’re contracted for a book a year. Which for some writers that is their dream, absolute dream. But I want you to cast your mind back to when you weren’t contracted to a book a year and you were navigating your way and trying to get published for the first time, or get attention for the first time. What do you think you did to break through? Or to get that attention?

Natasha

Well, a few things. I guess, the biggest thing is not giving up and not stopping. Because you just never know what is around the corner. And the day you decide to give up, you know, maybe the next day something fabulous was just about to happen and you’ve stopped just too soon. And it does take a long time. It took, it was five years from the time I started writing my first book until the time it was published in 2010. So it’s a long-term commitment. It’s not a year. It’s not a few months. It was five years.

Valerie

Just give us a bit of an idea of why it took five years.

Natasha

Well, I had three babies over those five years, so that probably slowed me down a little bit. I don’t recommend doing that.

But also just, it was my first book. I didn’t know how to write a book. I had to learn how to write a book. I assumed that all writers did plan and they did have chapter by chapter outlines. It was very confronting for me to discover that I didn’t work like that and that I had to grope blindly around to find what the story was, and that it would only unfold for me page by page. It wouldn’t come any further out than that. So I had to figure out how to write a book, to start with.

Then I had to face rejection. I sent that first book out to agents. And I got rejected by all of them. Very nicely. And I got some beautiful personal responses. But I got a no from all of them. I submitted it to things like the Australian Vogel award, because I was young enough then. Not anymore! And it got longlisted for that, but it didn’t make it through to the final round. So there were all these little near misses, but ultimately rejections. And so to persevere and to keep going in spite of all that I think is really important.

I think the other thing too that is really important is that, for me, it was getting out there on social media and having a platform and getting people to know who I was. Because when I changed over from writing contemporary literary fiction to writing historical fiction with A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, I had to change agents, and change publishers, because it didn’t fit with my existing, the thing I was doing.

And I was really lucky. My current agent, Jacinta Dimase, emailed me out of the blue one day because she’d seen me around on social media and seen what I was doing and had been impressed by that and was engaged by the way I wrote. And so she asked me if there was anything that she could look at. It’s kind of the writer’s dream to have an agent email them. And it was really unexpected. But it was because I had done the work of building up that platform and putting myself out there. Which, you know, it takes time, and it was pretty scary. I didn’t really know what I was doing to start with. I mean, I had a marketing background so I like those kinds of things.

But to answer your question, what were the things that made the difference? I think it was a) not giving up and b) getting out there and trying to get people to know who I was and my name and that I was a writer. And so not just online but also face-to-face, going to festivals, going to writers talks, anything to do with writing, getting out there and going to it and meeting people.

Valerie

You’ve done such a great job at doing that. And you continue to do that. If you had to pick – you can say one, two, or three, whatever comes to mind – things that you think are essential for an author to do if they want to do that, to build their platform, what would you say? And if you could direct that to people who haven’t been published yet. Who want to be authors.

Natasha

Sure. I mean, the first thing is you have to understand that as an author you are a brand. And a lot of the times, people don’t like to think about themselves like that. And they think that’s too commercial or selling out. But you are. And that’s how publishers market you, as a brand, in terms of how they choose your covers, how they place you in bookstores, how they provide a soundbite to newspapers or magazines to entice them into wanting to write about you.

So as much as you can consider yourself as being a brand, and what is your brand all about, that is a good mindset to put yourself into, and to try to not think about that as being confronting but actually it’s quite fun. What kind of person are you and how would you like people to feel about you when they come to your website? And part of that is being real and true and who you really are. So I would like people to come to my website and go away feeling like they’ve learned something. Maybe they’ve been a little bit inspired. They feel motivated and enthusiastic and love writing. Because my whole thing is that I love writing and I want everybody who loves it to keep going with it.

So those are kinds of parts of what I like to consider as part of my author brand, I guess. And so, the author brand isn’t just this horrible scary thing. It can be all those beautiful warm things that I’ve just talked about there, that fit with who you are and are part of your natural personality, I guess. So those are a couple of things. Thinking a little bit about it like a brand, and not being scared about that, being true to who you are and being real and authentic when you are engaging online and that kind of thing. And face to face contact is so important.

Valerie

Yes, you do a lot of that, don’t you?

Natasha

Yeah. It’s so underrated. But getting to a library. And when my first book came out, I’d go to a library and there’s be like six people there. And I would talk to six people. And you might feel a little bit like, only six people, was that a waste of time? But no, those six people, because I took the time back with my first book to do the talk anyway, even though there were only six people there, they have stayed with me through all that time.

And this time when I’ve gone and done talks I’ve been so overwhelmed and surprised because they’ve largely been sold out. We’ve been getting big crowds of people. But it was because I went and spoke to the six people seven years ago, and didn’t pull out because it was only six. You’ve got to grow and build those sorts of things.

And so on my social media, I use video a lot because I like to replicate that face-to-face sort of thing in that environment, too. People just like to see you and talk to you and face to face, nothing beats that for turning your book from a monologue into a dialogue, where you can get in front of the reader and answer their questions. And I really like that.

Valerie

Now, you do a lot of face-to-face, you understand how to build your author platform. I’m interested to know, let’s take this book, the current book, did you have… Obviously you have a great publisher and they have certain marketing strategies and campaigns that they want to do. Did you also have some of your own? And can you talk about any of the strategies that you had formulated in terms of marketing this book? Promoting this book?

Natasha

Sure. So one of the things that I love doing in my research is researching the fashion of the time. I have a thing for clothes, I will come out and say that. I do have a thing for clothes.

Valerie

Yes.

Natasha

So, you know, going to the Met museum and spending hours poring over dresses from the 1920s and 1930s is one of the best pieces of research I could possibly do. And so all the clothes that my characters in my books wear are based on genuine authentic pieces from the time that I’ve either seen in a museum or seen in a book or something like that. And I describe them in quite a lot of detail, because I get quite into that.

And so what I did with two of the dresses that Leo wears in Her Mother’s Secret is I asked a local fashion illustrator to draw up those and to illustrate those, illustrate Leo wearing those dresses from the book. I provided her with the images of the two dresses. One was a 1920s Worth wedding dress. One was a 1939 Lucien Lelong evening gown. And so she drew Leo up wearing these dresses and I had those made into postcards, which I gave out to readers who came to see me at any of my talks. So you could only get them by coming to my talks, or I gave a few away on my social media and that sort of thing. So just another way to bring the character to life and to reward readers and people who take the time to come and see you, by giving them something special and something limited edition. That worked really well.

I only had 500 postcards made. So once they’d run out they ran out. And it was just a really beautiful way to, you know, a lot of the readers do notice the clothes in the book too. So for them to be able to see what I’m describing in the book as well works really well. So that was something that I did because it was a kind of a love of mine and I wanted to bring the book to life in a certain way, and I thought that would be a fun way to do it. So that works nicely.

Valerie

Great idea. Now one of the things I love about the way you work is that you are so generous in sharing your experiences, your ups and your downs, and sharing advice. And as I said last year, the smash hit of 2016, A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, and now we’ve got Her Mother’s Secret, and I’ve no doubt next year’s one will be just as successful. But this… A lot of it came about because you did build your author platform and you were subsequently then able to get a lot of interest for last year’s book. And you had four publishers bidding for it before finally deciding on the final one.

Natasha

Hachette.

Valerie

Yeah, Hachette. And you’ve parlayed that into a course called How to Attract Agents and Publishers which is jam-packed with such useful information. Because if there’s one thing about you, Natasha, and this is really bizarre, is even though you’re a pantser, you’re actually incredible systematic.

Natasha

Yes.

Valerie

You are. And you are really organised and think things through and really, really can convey things really, really clearly. So that’s one of the things that I love about the way that you explain things and share your advice to people. So obviously people can go do that course if they want to. But what do you say, what would be the key things – and again you can pick one or two or three things – that people need to do if they want to attract agents and publishers?

Natasha

I think the first thing is, again, and sometimes people don’t like thinking about this in relation to their book, but is that you have to sell that book to the publisher or the agent. So you have to distance yourself from the fact that the book has say 400 pages and it’s about all these amazing and wonderful things, which of course it is, and you have to work out what is the most saleable thing about that book and how can you describe that succinctly and in an exciting way in around 30 words.

And to come up with that pitch line is so important and takes a lot of time to do. It’s not something you can just do over the course of a couple of days. It might take three months of going back and forth and refining those two sentences dozens of times over the course of that three months.

So it’s remembering that you only have one chance, really, with this book. You’ve got to give it the best shot. So you’ve got to invest the time in it. Yes, it may have taken five years, like it did for me, to write that first book. But then the whole pitching process is another chunk of time that you have to invest in and be patient. Because publishing doesn’t move very quickly. So to take the time to do that and to recognise that you are trying to sell something here. And I know sometimes people don’t like to think in that way about a creative product. But the publishers have thousands of manuscripts to choose from, so yours has to leap out of a pile. So if you can succinctly and excitingly and engagingly summarise your book in such a way that it leaps out of the email, then that’s the kind of the thing that will help to set you apart. So that’s really important.

And that synopsis, getting a good synopsis, it’s sooo hard. I reckon writing a synopsis, my first synopsis, I thought this is harder than writing a book. And again, it’s letting go of everything you know about your book and extracting the most important things and the things that are going to attract the publisher’s interest. And writing it over and over and over again, dozens and dozens and dozens of times. So it’s those things. Investing the time, looking at what about your book is saleable, and being able to summarise that in an exciting way I think makes a big difference.

Valerie

Awesome. Now tell me, what has been the most enjoyable part of the writing process for Her Mother’s Secret?

Natasha

Um. This is going to sound like a really silly answer. But just the writing! Like, literally! I’m one of those people… I know there are some people who say that they don’t enjoy writing, but they enjoy having written. I’m not like that at all. I love the writing. I’ve just finished the second draft of the 2019 book and it was just, I loved every minute of sitting down writing that book. And same with Her Mother’s Secret. I’m living in the world of the 1920s and the 1930s. I’m experiencing all these gorgeous dresses, looking at the way make-up was made for the first time, and writing about gorgeous men who my characters fall in with, which isn’t very hard to do either. So I just love all of that. It’s like spending your whole day inside your imagination and letting it run wild. And why wouldn’t that be fun?

Valerie

All right. I’ll ask a different question then. What was the most challenging part of the writing process for this book?

Natasha

The structural edit, without a doubt.

Valerie

Why?

Natasha

I’m laughing as I say that, because otherwise I might cry. No, not really. It was challenging because it… Structural edits always are challenging. When you’re writing the book you’re using the part of your brain which is just all imagination, and letting that run away and run wild. And the structural edit is all about, okay, you have the story, and you have all the pieces of the book, and it’s like a jigsaw. But you can just make each piece fit in just that little bit more neatly if you tweaked it the right way. So it’s very minute work, and very detailed work, and it takes up all of your available brain space for the entire time. My first lot of structural edit notes from my publisher were 19 single-spaced pages long.

Valerie

Wow.

Natasha

So it was really daunting to sit down and think, oh my god, I’ve got to tackle all of these things. And I guess you… For me, there was a lot of self-doubt in that. It was, okay, can I do this, can I achieve what it is that she wants me to achieve or not?

Valerie

Do you really think that? Can I achieve that? Or do you just think, oh my god, this is going to be time consuming and a pain?

Natasha

Yes. You know, I literally had a crisis of confidence in the structural edit.

Valerie

Really?

Natasha

I wasn’t sure that I would be able to pull it off. And that I wouldn’t meet my publisher’s expectations for me. And I would disappoint her. That is what I was really worried about. Oh, absolutely.

But by the time I got to the end of it, you have to put those feelings away, and you have to sit and do the work anyway. The important thing is to do the work regardless of how you feel and regardless of the crisis of confidence that you’re having. Because doing the work always overcomes everything. And I did that. And I got to the end of the structural edit. And I thought, I am so glad I did that. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I’ve had the best crash-course in writing that I could ever have had.

And I knew that hand on heart I could say, I am proud of this book, and it’s the best book I could possibly write at that time. And that’s how you want to feel when your book is about to go out on the shelf.

Valerie

So what can you tell us about your next book?

Natasha

My next book is called The Seamstress from Paris. And it’s set in Paris and New York, so yes, I had to go to Paris to research.

Valerie

Oh geez. So hard.

Natasha

And it’s set during the second world war. So it’s about the time when Paris is closed off from the world because it was occupied by the Germans. And so up until then the world has relied on copying Parisian fashion. There’s no fashion industry anywhere else in the world. So it’s about that time when other places in the world began to realise that they needed to create their own fashion industry because Paris was no longer available to be copied. And it’s about a woman and her journey, once again, to do that. So it was lots of fun to write. And a love story in there as well, of course.

Valerie

Of course. Fantastic. All right. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to chat to us. Really appreciate it. And of course Her Mother’s Secret, everyone go out and buy it and read it. Thank you so much, Natasha.

Natasha

Thank you so much for having me, Valerie, it was lovely to chat to you again.

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