Ten Books That Changed Me with Natasha Lester
With Natasha’s latest novel, Her Mother’s Secret, out later this month we thought we’d ask which books have most impacted and changed Natasha throughout her life. PLUS, thanks to Natasha and Hachette Australia we’ve got three paperback copies to be won – scroll down to enter!
Natasha: In the order in which I encountered them in my life, here are the 10 books that most changed me.
A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry
The first time I read this I was nine years old. It’s about a girl whose sister dies of leukaemia, which sounds harrowing, but it was the first book I’d really read about an ordinary person dying. There’s also a fairly graphic (for a 9 year old!) childbirth scene in the book. Death, birth, drama—it felt like a grown up book to me and I borrowed it every couple of months from the library from then on.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
A couple of years passed by and I stumbled on this in the library too, when I was about ten or eleven. Children locked in cupboards; madwomen in attics; brides jilted at altars; the tall, dark and ever so handsome Rochester; and passion with a capital P. This was storytelling. This was love. This was loss. It was a pivotal moment in my unformed writer’s brain and probably accounts for my preference for dark-haired heroes. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read this book.
A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor-Bradford
In my late teens I went through a huge Danielle Steele and Barbara Taylor-Bradford phase. I’ve only read A Woman of Substance once and, who knows, maybe it wouldn’t stand the test of time if I was to read it again. But it left a lasting impression on me because it was about a woman who ran a business empire. Until then, I’d never really read a book where a woman did something like this and, as a young woman about to embark on a marketing degree, it made me believe that women could succeed in the very male world of business. It also gave me a taste for sweeping sagas, which I’ve never lost.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
I know Pride and Prejudice is the more fashionable choice and I do love Lizzie but Anne Eliot and Captain Wentworth’s love story is worth ten of Darcy and Lizzie’s. It’s the slow burn, the second chance, the lost love, the passion that’s all the stronger for the time it takes to be fulfilled. It made me see that it’s not just the first rush of young love that’s important; it’s the wisdom you gain from loving that really matters and this is something I try to write about in all of my books.
Now Face to Face by Karleen Koen
In my early twenties, I shared a house with a friend. One weekend, bored, I searched through her bookshelves and pulled this book out, with no expectations, and sat down to read. I don’t think I left the sofa for the rest of the weekend! This book reminded me of how much I loved history, and stories set in the past. Since I’d left school, I hadn’t thought much about history and I’d been reading a lot of contemporary fiction, which I’d enjoyed, but it hadn’t swept me away the way this book did. It’s on no bestseller lists and probably nobody has ever heard of it but I still have my housemate’s very battered copy on my bookshelf as a reminder of the kind of stories I love.
The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett
Okay, I’m cheating a bit here because this is actually six books, but you can just count the first one if you want to be pedantic! I bought the first of these, The Game of Kings, from the second hand book stall in the South Melbourne markets. The first book is hard to read, occasionally opaque, and requires the reader to have a working knowledge of French to get the most out of it. Despite those obstacles, something made me push through and I was so caught up in the story that I returned to the market every week to look out for the next books in the series. Philippa Somerville and Francis Crawford’s love story is the most captivating I’ve ever read and I re-read this series every couple of years, finding more richness in the books each time. And yes, these books are also sweeping historical sagas—are you beginning to see a pattern?!
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
This is very different to everything else on my list. In 2005, I went back to university to study a graduate diploma in creative writing. One of the books I was asked to read as part of my studies was this one. And I remember reading it and thinking, wow, imagine what it would be like to write the kind of sentences she 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.
Possession by AS Byatt
My oldest child had just turned two and my new baby was a few weeks old. Exhaustion was the emotion I was most familiar with at this time. But I started reading Possession one night and, the next day when the girls went down for a nap, I crawled back into bed, not to sleep but to read more of the book! I hadn’t written much since the new baby was born and this book reminded me of what it was like to want to read a book so much that you’d sacrifice anything to do it. It reminded me that I was a writer and that writers write, no matter how tired they are, otherwise I’d never have any chance of creating this same kind of experience for readers through words.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
This has always been one of my favourite books. As a child, I wanted to be Amy March; I coveted her blonde hair, blue eyes and artistic temperament. Then, when I sat down to write A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, which, amongst other things, is a book about sisters, I kept my battered copy of Little Women on the desk as a kind of talisman and inspiration; my main character, Evie, even grew up in Concord, Alcott’s hometown.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I read The Night Circus just recently and can sum it up in just one word: magical. Morgenstern’s imagination is vast but everything she creates, from a fictional and impossible circus, to a gorgeous love story, never feels anything other than real. The book made me think about not always playing it safe as a writer and taking the time to think beyond the first set of ideas to find the more extraordinary story lying within. As writers, our imaginations are our best resource and it’s one I intend to tap into even more in 2017!
Her Mother’s Secret
A sweeping story of love and ambition from England to the Manhattan of the 1920s and 1940s by the author of A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD
1918, England. Armistice Day should bring peace into Leonora’s life. Rather than secretly making cosmetics in her father’s chemist shop to sell to army nurses such as Joan, her adventurous Australian friend, Leo hopes to now display her wares openly. Instead, Spanish flu arrives in the village, claiming her father’s life. Determined to start over, she boards a ship to New York City. On the way she meets debonair department store heir Everett Forsyth . . . In Manhattan, Leo works hard to make her cosmetics dream come true, but she’s a woman alone with a small salary and a society that deems make-up scandalous.
1939, New York City. Everett’s daughter, Alice, a promising ballerina, receives a mysterious letter inviting her to star in a series of advertisements for a cosmetics line. If she accepts she will be immortalized like dancers such as Zelda Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker and Ginger Rogers. Why, then, are her parents so quick to forbid it?
HER MOTHER’S SECRET is the story of a brave young woman chasing a dream in the face of society’s disapproval.
Thanks to Natasha and Hachette Australia, we’ve got three paperback copies of Her Mother’s Secret up for grabs! Simply leave your name, postal address (so we can send you the book), and your email address to enter the draw to win!