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Author Q&A with Natasha Lester

As Australia's best-loved book subscription box, at Luxuread we love offering you - our loyal subscribers - the chance to get to know some of our very favourite authors a bit better. The latest guest on our blog is the brilliant Natasha Lester, author of The Paris Secret, The French Photographer, and more. Read on to find out everything from what an average writing day looks like for her, to where Natasha finds inspiration for her books.

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Can you tell us a bit about your latest book? 

The Riviera House is about the brave art spies in the French resistance who secretly recorded all the details of the Nazis art thieving during WWII. My main character, Éliane is a passionate art student who can’t bear the thought of France’s cultural heritage being stolen; she who works with real-life heroine Rose Valland to fight the Nazis. There’s also a contemporary storyline in the book – Remy Lang is a vintage fashionista who comes to the Riviera village of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and starts to uncover long-held secrets about her family.

Where did you find inspiration for your book?

When I was researching my previous novel The Paris Secret, I came across the story of Captain Rose Valland - a member of the French resistance and one of the most highly decorated women in French history. During WWII, Captain Valland worked at the Jeau de Paume Museum in Paris, which the Nazis used as a clearing house for the 20,000 artworks they plundered from the private collections of Jewish families.

Captain Valland is credited with secretly recording the details of the stolen works, which included paintings by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Vermeer and Picasso. She saved those works from falling forever into Nazi hands.  But she hid her spying behind a demure exterior, acting as the quiet and almost invisible caretaker, pretending to not understand German when in fact she understood every word. One can only imagine the punishment she might have faced if the Nazis had discovered what she was doing.

What does an average writing day look like for you?

I have three school-age children, so mornings revolve around getting them out the door, and then getting myself out the door for a run around Perth’s beautiful Swan River. By 9am, I sit down to write. I stop briefly in the middle of the day for lunch and reading (usually research). I stop again when the kids gets home from school, but I’ll often go back to the computer at night to catch up on admin and social media.

When writing, do you use people you know for inspiration?

Because I write historical fiction, I don’t base my characters on people I’ve met, but on the incredible real women who’ve been overlooked by history and whose stories deserve to be known. 

Do you have a favourite book of all time?

Gosh, that’s difficult! I have so many favourites, but the one I’ll mention here is Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. It was on the syllabus for the Creative Writing degree that I studied as a mature-age student. I vividly remember reading it and thinking: wow, imagine what it would be like to write the kind of sentences Didion writes, to create prose that was so beautiful I wanted to underline every sentence. I'd enrolled at university thinking I wanted to be a writer; this book made me know that I wanted to be a writer.  

What do you love most about reading? 

I love being swept away to another time and place where time stops, all my daily worries disappear and I’m living someone else’s life. It’s a kind of magic that I hope to create for readers of my books.  

Which writers have inspired you? 

So many! But I’ll nominate Margaret Atwood here. She has been witty, intelligent and brilliant for decades. I admire her talent, her longevity and her activism. 

How did you become a published author? 

My first big writing break was winning an unpublished manuscript award in Western Australia called the TAG Hungerford Award for Fiction. It’s quite a prestigious prize that included a publishing contract. At that time I was writing contemporary women’s fiction, but after two books in that genre, I switched to historical fiction and haven’t looked back. I’m very grateful to small publishers like Fremantle Press who support new writers and start them out on their writing journey.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 

Get started! There will never be a perfect time to start writing book. When I first began writing, my children were very small and the only time I had to write was the 1-2 hours in the middle of the day when they slept – but it was enough! A little bit each day produces a book eventually. 

What are you working on at the moment? 

My next book! It has the working title of To Lillie, From Paris. It's set partly in Paris in 1947, and partly in Switzerland and Italy in 1942-1945. It's about women's lives after the war – and of course there's a fashionable storyline thrown in there too!