Natasha Lester won the TAG Hungerford award for her first novel, What is Left Over, After. She has recently published her second novel, If I Should Lose You. She juggles writing books with teaching creative writing at university and playing weird and wonderful games with her three children. Her website is www.natashalester.com.au
When did you first start writing? When did you decide that you wanted to ‘be a writer’?
I have always loved to write - my mum has kept the evidence of this in my very own Mr Men book that I wrote and illustrated when I was about seven, an Enid Blyton knock-off story called Toys Alive that I wrote when I was about ten and a poem called Seasons that I was incredibly proud of because I had used what I thought were grown up words like ‘absurd‘ and ‘cascade’. There are many other literary masterpieces of mine lurking in her spare room.
I decided to become a writer because I have always loved to read and I hoped I might be able to make readers lose themselves in my books in the way that I love to become lost in a really good story. So, after working in marketing for ten years I decided to do something I loved, rather than something that paid the bills! I went back to university and studied a Master of Creative Arts and wrote my first novel, What is Left Over, After, as part of my thesis. From then on, I just haven’t been able to stop writing.
Who would you say are your writing influences/inspirations?
Joan Didion and Margaret Atwood are my two favourite authors and both of them have influenced the way I write. All of Atwood’s books are in some way about storytelling and I suppose this influence is quite evident in my two novels as they both look at the power of storytelling in some way.
Didion writes perfect sentences - spare, beautiful and to the point and I continually aspire to write a sentence that is as perfect as one of hers. It’s what keeps me going as a writer sometimes - always striving to come closer to the kind of writing that I admire.
How does motherhood affect your writing, (and vice versa?)
It’s obviously something I’m a little obsessed with as both my first and second book have motherhood as a theme and, I’ve just finished writing the first draft of my next book and guess what one of the themes is - yes, motherhood! I suppose that’s because I think motherhood has caused me to experience a much broader range of emotions than I’ve ever felt before - not all of them good! So I think motherhood affects my writing by giving me the ability to write truthfully about those emotions, emotions that I’m sure many of us have felt. Motherhood also means that my imagination is constantly switched on - my children love to role-play and live in the land of make-believe. I think playing with them and being a part of their imaginary worlds can’t be anything but good for a writer!
Both of your novels deal with marriage, motherhood and loss. What is the fascination with those themes for you?
My mum just thinks I’m morbid and is constantly asking me to write about something more cheery! I think the marriage/motherhood themes are in my books because that’s a big part of the phase of my life that I’m in and that my friends are in and so I’m constantly engaged in discussions about those things. And when people want to keep talking about a particular subject it makes me think - there must be a book in there somewhere. In regards to loss, I think it’s just that the important questions in life about love and death are so complicated and therefore worthy of examination. One of the things I wanted to explore in If I Should Lose You is what it means to love another and what it means to be alive - and at the opposite end of that, what it might mean to lose someone you love and what really lies on the other side of life. I hope readers explore their strongest feelings, whatever they might be, in the same way that I have in writing the book. Part of that exploration is to do with a mother’s feelings for her child and how feelings of love can be pushed to their very extreme edge; it is these intensities of emotion that I try to unravel in the book - to see how someone might behave in relation to someone they love when they are pushed to their emotional limits.
What are your writing habits?
I always write between 12.30pm and 2.30pm every day because that is when my children are asleep. I have a 2, 4 and 6 year old and so only one of them is at school full time. Ever since my oldest was about six months old, I have escaped to my study at nap time and done nothing but write, otherwise I would never find the time to do it.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? And if so, how do you overcome it?
Not writer’s block so much as a confidence crisis. I find that when I get to around the 20,000 word point in a novel I begin to hate everything I’ve written. I think it’s the most unpublishable rubbish and this makes me reluctant to sit down and write any more because I have no faith that it’s any good. But I now know that the only way to get through it is to keep writing - stopping is the worst thing because it confirms all your fears. So, as much as it’s very difficult to do when your mind is telling you that you are a terrible writer, I force myself to sit down and keep going, knowing that I will eventually get to the point where writing becomes enjoyable again.
Have you had any interesting or surprising reader responses to your work?
I had the most wonderful letter in response to If I Should Lose You, from a woman whose daughter suffers from the same condition as the child in my book. This woman’s daughter had had a liver transplant and they had essentially gone through everything that I write about in my book. She told me that reading the book was an incredibly emotional and wonderful experience and that I had written about the experience of watching one’s child wait for a liver transplant as if I had actually experienced it myself. It was one of those rare moments when I felt so privileged to have touched someone’s life and, after that, it didn’t matter to me if I didn’t receive any reviews in the media because here was the most special review anyone could ever receive.