Natasha Lester is one of WA’s most prolific and best- selling fiction writers. She has a growing fan base across the globe, drawn to her historical page-turners that brim with romance, glamour and intrigue. Natasha’s latest novel, The Three Lives Of Alix St Pierre, has just hit the shelves, and she says it’s her best so far.
Natasha chats to The Starfish:
In a nutshell, what’s it about?
In December 1946, Alix St Pierre takes a job as publicity director for the soon-to-be launched House of Christian Dior. She throws herself into the work of trying to convince the press to come to the first showing from this new and unknown designer – and in trying to forget what she did during the war.
What inspired it and how long did it take to write?
The Three Lives of Alix St Pierre was inspired by two things. The first is that four of the key management positions at the house of Christian Dior in 1947 were held by women – the directrices of sales, the studio, the ateliers and also his assistant designer. Without those women, I don’t think he would have been the success he was – and still is. But nobody knows those women today. I wanted to show how integral they were to his success.
And I discovered a woman called Mary Bancroft who somehow worked as a spy in neutral Switzerland during the war and I wanted to know more about how a woman came to be working in a neutral country as a spy from 1943 to 1945.
Where did you research the book?
I travelled, like Alix does, across Switzerland and through the Italian Alps, down into the Piedmont region of Italy. I also spent a bit of time in Paris as a large part of the book is set there – how I suffer for my art!
Did you learn much about Nazi’s brutality in Italy along the way?
It’s not possible to read about the Nazis and not come across far too many stories of brutality. In Northern Italy, as in so many places, they torched towns, ran torture chambers and enacted inhuman violence upon the partisans and their families.
Anything in particular that really affected you?
A resistance leader in Italy was asked to allow safe passage to a man who ran a torture chamber in Milan called Villa Triste, in exchange for the villa being closed down. At the time, the resistance leader’s wife was imprisoned in the chamber, where such terrible things were done to the prisoners that I won’t describe them here. Even though it would mean his wife being freed, the resistance leader refused the deal, saying “With hyenas, we do not deal,” because he knew how many Italians had been tortured and murdered in the villa and that to let the man that ran it go free with no repercussions would be the worst injustice of all. An act of unimaginable heroism in the face of utter depravity.
Your agent called this your best book so far, would you agree?
I try to make each book better than the last – it’s what keeps me going as a writer, always trying to write my very best book. So yes, I would agree – until next year’s book comes out!
You’re gaining a big following worldwide; does that make you feel under more pressure when writing your novels?
Writing each book is hard work and I never feel like I’m going to be able to achieve what I set out to write. That doesn’t change, no matter how many readers you have or how many territories around the world your books are published in. I’m just hugely grateful for all of my readers, wherever they are.
What’s the feedback like from fans across the planet?
Mostly readers seem to enjoy the mix of fact and fiction – that they feel they’re learning something as they read, especially about incredible women in history such as Catherine Dior and Lee Miller and Rose Valland, women they might not have heard of, women who’ve been left out of the history books.
How many books have you written now, and do you work on more than one at any one time?
I’ve published seven historical novels and two literary/contemporary novels. I’m usually juggling three books in different phases – one that I’m writing, one that I’m editing and one that I’m publicising.
You’re also a wife and mum of three. Do the kids know or care she’s a successful author?
My kids recently came with me on a promotional trip to Sweden and Norway. While we were in Norway, my book, The Riviera House, was the No. 1 bestseller in the country and all of my kids told me how cool that was! So yes, they love it – especially when it means they get to travel with me to Europe because of my work!
Can you write any time, or is always while the children are at school?
When the kids aren’t at school, obviously I like to spend time with them. So I try to keep the writing to school hours, although it does creep into weekends occasionally during busy times.
No doubt you’re already working on your next book! Can you tell us what that’s about?
This time, we’re travelling to the 1970s. It was a lot of fun to write – and readers might find a couple of characters from The Three Lives of Alix St Pierre have been resurrected.
The Three Lives Of Alix St Pierre by Natasha Lester (Hachette) is out now.