Keep an eye out when I feature A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald on my Facebook page as the May book club pick of the month because I have a personally signed copy by Natasha that she’ll be giving away to one of my lucky followers!
If you loved THE PARIS WIFE and Z: A NOVEL OF ZELDA FITZGERALD, you will devour this deliciously evocative love story of a small-town girl with big ambitions in 1920s New York.
It’s 1922 in the Manhattan of gin, jazz and prosperity. Women wear makeup and hitched hemlines – and enjoy a new freedom to vote and work. Not so Evelyn Lockhart, forbidden from pursuing her passion: to become one of the first female doctors.
Chasing her dream will mean turning her back on the only life she knows: her competitive sister, Viola; her conservative parents; and the childhood best friend she is expected to marry, Charlie.
And if Evie does fight Columbia University’s medical school for acceptance, how will she support herself? So when there’s a casting call for the infamous late-night Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, will Evie find the nerve to audition? And if she does, what will it mean for her fledgling relationship with Upper East Side banker Thomas Whitman, a man Evie thinks she could fall in love with, if only she lived a life less scandalous?
Captivating, romantic and tragic, A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD follows a young woman ahead of her time amid the fragile hearts and glamour of Jazz Age New York.
I can already tell that this is the stand-out of book of the year for me! Natasha Lester invokes the classic beauty of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and brings it to 1920s New York. A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald is exquisite, one perfect sentence after another for an entire novel. The writing is evocative, wise, warm and sassy and the story is uplifting and heartbreaking all at once. As we follow the immensely loveable Evie on her rocky quest to become one of the first female doctors in the world, instead of the path that has already been laid out for her as a lady of leisure, Natasha Lester takes us on an emotional rollercoaster, full of unexpected twists and turns until the triumphant final pages. The cast of characters are so full of life, you can easily imagine yourself among them, and the setting is so real, you would swear you’d been there too, joining in with the Charleston with New York’s high society or witnessing a complicated birth in horrid conditions – and that’s what happens in A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, from the opening line you’re taken away from the present and transported to the magical era of Gatsby and what an exhilarating time and place to be taken away to. This rich and beautiful story is a modern masterpiece. Bravo!
The Age newspaper has described her as “a remarkable Australian talent” and 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 Stories, The 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 often be found playing dress-ups with her three children.
To this I’d also like to add that Natasha has been a huge source of support and advice for me and has devoted lots of her time to helping me find my feet as an author. I owe her so much and love her to bits!
If you would like to find out more about Natasha and connect with her, visit her website http://www.natashalester.com.au/
An interview with Natasha Lester:
Can you tell us briefly about your book?
It’s 1922, in New York City. Evie helps a woman giving birth in secret and the experience is so profound that she decides she wants to be one of the first of a group of women to go through medical school. Her mother just wants her to marry the handsome and wealthy boy next door, and absolutely forbids Evie to do anything as shocking as going to medical school. But Evie isn’t to be deterred. After her family throws her off, she becomes a chorus girl in the infamous Ziegfeld Follies to pay her way through her degree. Life is a constant battle to work days at the college and hospital, nights on Broadway, and to put up with the daily humiliations that all of the men at the college throw at Evie in an attempt to make her quit. Add to that, her burgeoning relationship with an Upper East Side banker who Evie thinks she could fall in love with, if only she lived a life less scandalous, and you have the story of A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald.
What do you love the most about the main character in your book?
That she’s so brave! (she also has a penchant for gin and beautiful dresses, which I quite admire!) In all seriousness, I wish I had the half the courage that Evie, my main character, has. And I suppose that’s why we write characters like this—not to explore what we know, but to explore things we’d like to know more about. In writing Evie, I had to think hard about what it takes to be that courageous, and about what it costs, and, most of all, about how it might change you.
Where is the novel set and why did you choose to set it there?
The novel is set in 1920s New York and, seriously, if you could choose any era and place to set a book, wouldn’t you choose the same?! I’ve had a passion for the era since I sat in history classes in Year 12 and we learned all about the Roaring Twenties in America; all I could think was, wow, how I’d have loved to have been alive then. It was such a huge time of change for women; they’d just begun to work during the war for the first time, they suddenly had their own money, they started to go out without chaperones—life became something to be lived rather than endured. It’s also an era full of forgotten stories of women doing amazing things and I wanted to tell one of those stories. And New York - who doesn’t love New York? With Manhattan as a backdrop, you’re always going to have romance, fun and tragedy, which makes it the perfect place to set a story. A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald moves from the bohemia of Greenwich Village to the riches of the Upper East Side, stopping at many other iconic places in between.
How did you go about researching the settings and scenarios in your book?
My husband jokes that I choose to set my books in places that I want to go and visit - and he might be right! Of course I had to go to New York to research this book, which was an absolute blast. I did spend a lot of time sitting in dusty archives, but I love research, so I enjoyed every minute. I went to the Columbia Medical School archives to look through the lecture notes of one of the first female medical students at the college, I went to the New York Public Library’s Theatre division to look through a pile of papers about the Ziegfeld Follies, which feature in my book. The papers included everything from photographs of the showgirls, to wage sheets, to the cost of an ostrich to perform on stage! I also had to look at old subway maps to see how my characters might get around, and I also walked the streets - so much of the architecture is still the same from the 1920s so I could really imagine my characters in the city.
Do you write with a plan or do you see where the story takes you?
I follow where the story leads. There’s a character in A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald—a showgirl named Bea—who I absolutely love and who I had no idea was even in my imagination when I began writing the book. She was a real gift from the writing muse, as are so many other pivotal moments in my book. For instance, there’s a plot twist to do with a baby that, once again, I had no plan to write; the idea just appeared in my mind one day when I was writing. It means my first drafts are very messy as this is where I discover the story. And I don’t want it to sound as though it all just happens really easily; it doesn’t! I have to put in the work of sitting down and writing every day and getting to know the characters in order for the plot twists and supporting characters to become apparent and reveal themselves.
What is it about the genre you write that appeals to you so much?
Historical fiction shows us where we’ve come from, and sheds light on the stories of the people who’ve allowed us to get where we are. One of the most gratifying things about reading the early reviews of A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald is that so many readers are stunned at just how difficult things really were for women trying to be more than somebody’s wife back in the 1920s. A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald is the story of Evie, a woman trying to become one of the first female obstetricians in New York City, which was a hugely scandalous thing to do. Evie as a character is my own invention, but everything that she did and fought for and suffered in the course of trying to help women give birth is drawn from real stories of early female medical students. Historical fiction gives us real heroes, women whose stories are largely untold, but without women doing these extraordinary and wonderful things in their daily lives one hundred years ago, we wouldn’t be living the lives we are now. That’s why I love the genre.
What is the most gratifying thing you feel or get as a writer?
Without question, the most gratifying thing is receiving emails or messages from readers. That somebody would be so moved my one of my books to take the time to write to me is the most wonderful thing. I don’t care so much about newspaper reviews, but messages from readers really lift your spirits and remind you of why you love writing so much.
Which famous person living or dead would you most like to meet and why?
I would love to sit down with Jane Austen and watch the BBC series of Pride and Prejudice with her and ask her: is this how you imagined your characters to be? Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how she saw them, and how pleased or shocked she’d be by the way we now see them. I’d also like to ask her what she thinks of THAT Mr Darcy scene - I think she’d be a fan!
Tell us one thing that's on your bucket list.
To live in another country for 6 months or so. I lived in London for a couple of years back when I was single and childfree and I loved the experience of discovering a new place as a resident, rather than as a tourist. I think it would be a wonderful source of inspiration as a writer—to be somewhere all new, where every weekend you could easily go off and do something you’d never done before. I’d choose New York or somewhere in France—I used to work for L’Oreal Paris in their marketing department in Melbourne so I used to speak French fluently. I’d love to pick that back up again and I think living in France would be the best way to do that. Also, I don’t mind a bit of brie and champagne!
What was the first grown up novel you ever read and how did it shape you?
I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte when I was about 10 and it was an experience I still remember vividly. There was so much passion! I didn’t really even know what passion was, but there it was, on the pages in front of me, people going mad, and being blinded, and getting lost on the moors and being driven wild by their feelings for each other. I suddenly understood that those were the feelings that mattered, the feelings that made people do extraordinary and cray and remarkable things. I still try to remember that when I write because I believe it was one of my first and best lessons as a yet-to-be-writer.