Art In Fiction

High Fashion and Intrigue in The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard by Natasha Lester

February 19, 2024 Carol Cram Episode 41
High Fashion and Intrigue in The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard by Natasha Lester
Art In Fiction
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Art In Fiction
High Fashion and Intrigue in The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard by Natasha Lester
Feb 19, 2024 Episode 41
Carol Cram

Natasha Lester, the New York Times best-selling author of nine novels. joins me on the Art In Fiction Podcast to chat about her latest novel, The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard, listed in the Textile Arts category.

NEW on The Art In Fiction Podcast: Watch my interview on YouTube!

Highlights include:

  • Summary of The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard - role played by the Battle of Verseilles in November 1973
  • Challenges of writing three points of view in three timeframes
  • Fashion in the 1970s as inspiration for the novel
  • Mizza Bricard, known to history as "Christian Dior's Muse", as the catalyst for the novel, and debunking the focus on "woman as muse"
  • Combining fictional and real characters in the novel: Mizza Bricard with her two fictional descendants
  • Women in fashion over the decades: has anything changed?
  • Role of the Bayeux Tapestry in the novel as a metaphor for gender imbalance
  • Natasha's use of language and imagery
  • Reading from The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard
  • Advice about research methods
  • What Natasha  is working on now

Check out The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard and other novels by Natasha Lester on Art In Fiction: https://www.artinfiction.com/novels?q=natasha+lester

Natasha Lester's Website: https://natashalester.com.au/

Paganology, performed by The Paul Plimley Trio; composed by Gregg Simpson

This website contains affiliate links. If you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

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Are you enjoying The Art In Fiction Podcast? Consider helping us keep the lights on so we can continue bringing you interviews with your favorite arts-inspired novelists. Just $3 buys us a coffee (and we really like coffee) at Ko-Fi. Just click this link: https://ko-fi.com/artinfiction

Also, check out the Art In Fiction website at https://www.artinfiction.com where you'll find over 2100 novels inspired by the arts in 10 categories: Architecture, Dance, Decorative Arts, Film, Literature, Music, Textile Arts, Theater, Visual Arts, and Other.

Want to learn more about Carol Cram, the host of The Art In Fiction Podcast? She's the author of several award-winning novels, including The Towers of Tuscany and Love Among the Recipes. Find out...

Show Notes Transcript

Natasha Lester, the New York Times best-selling author of nine novels. joins me on the Art In Fiction Podcast to chat about her latest novel, The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard, listed in the Textile Arts category.

NEW on The Art In Fiction Podcast: Watch my interview on YouTube!

Highlights include:

  • Summary of The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard - role played by the Battle of Verseilles in November 1973
  • Challenges of writing three points of view in three timeframes
  • Fashion in the 1970s as inspiration for the novel
  • Mizza Bricard, known to history as "Christian Dior's Muse", as the catalyst for the novel, and debunking the focus on "woman as muse"
  • Combining fictional and real characters in the novel: Mizza Bricard with her two fictional descendants
  • Women in fashion over the decades: has anything changed?
  • Role of the Bayeux Tapestry in the novel as a metaphor for gender imbalance
  • Natasha's use of language and imagery
  • Reading from The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard
  • Advice about research methods
  • What Natasha  is working on now

Check out The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard and other novels by Natasha Lester on Art In Fiction: https://www.artinfiction.com/novels?q=natasha+lester

Natasha Lester's Website: https://natashalester.com.au/

Paganology, performed by The Paul Plimley Trio; composed by Gregg Simpson

This website contains affiliate links. If you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

ProWriting Aid is a grammar checker, style editor, and writing mentor in one package. Get 20% off: https://prowritingaid.com/?afid=7030

Are you enjoying The Art In Fiction Podcast? Consider helping us keep the lights on so we can continue bringing you interviews with your favorite arts-inspired novelists. Just $3 buys us a coffee (and we really like coffee) at Ko-Fi. Just click this link: https://ko-fi.com/artinfiction

Also, check out the Art In Fiction website at https://www.artinfiction.com where you'll find over 2100 novels inspired by the arts in 10 categories: Architecture, Dance, Decorative Arts, Film, Literature, Music, Textile Arts, Theater, Visual Arts, and Other.

Want to learn more about Carol Cram, the host of The Art In Fiction Podcast? She's the author of several award-winning novels, including The Towers of Tuscany and Love Among the Recipes. Find out...

Carol Cram

Hello and welcome. I’m Carol Cram, host of the Art In Fiction podcast. This episode features Natasha Lester, a multi-award winning and New York Times best-selling author with novels that have been translated into more than twenty-one different languages. Five of her novels are listed on Art In Fiction including A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald in the Theater category, The Paris Orphan in the Photography category, and The Paris Secret, The Paris Seamstress, and her newest novel The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard in the Textile Arts category.

Prior to writing, Natasha worked as a marketing executive for L’Oreal, managing the Maybelline brand, before returning to university to study creative writing. She lives in Perth, Western Australia with her three children and loves fashion history, practising the art of fashion illustration, collecting vintage fashion, travelling and, of course, books.

Carol Cram

Welcome to the Art In Fiction Podcast, Natasha. 

Natasha Lester

Oh, thank you so much for having me. It’s lovely to be here.  

Carol Cram

Yes, and you’re coming to us from Sydney.

Natasha Lester

From the other side of the world and also the future. I always we’re always a day ahead of America whenever I’m doing these interviews and it feels kind of strained. 

It’s my morning and your evening. 

Carol Cram

It’s Tuesday for you. And it’s still Monday here. 

Natasha Lester

Yeah, that’s right.

Carol Cram

Can you give our listeners a quick summary of your novel, The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard

Natasha Lester

Of course. The book opens with Astrid, who is the daughter of Christian Dior’s infamous muse, Mizza Bricard. Astrid’s just moved to Manhattan, determined to make her mark on the world, but not in the same way that her mother did. And she does find fame very quickly, but just not for the things she’d hoped to become famous for.

And then, just as Astrid looks to be on the cusp of getting everything she’s ever wanted, when she’s invited to show her designs at the infamous Fashion Battle of Versailles, she vanishes, leaving behind only a white silk dress and the question, what happened to Astrid Bricard? And of course, if you want to know the answer to the question, you will have to read the book. 

Carol Cram

Yes, and the whole book winds three stories and three different timelines to answer this question, doesn’t it?  

Natasha Lester

Oh, yes, it does. And if I ever sit down to write a book with three timelines and four different points of view again, please tell me not to because it was the hardest book I’ve ever written.

I’m used to writing dual narratives, so two different time frames and a couple of different points of view, but throw in a third and it becomes very challenging to manage the length for a start because each woman deserved her own book. And then just the way you interweave those chapters to make it engaging and interesting for the writers, and also make sure they’re not becoming confused by the constant sort of jumping timelines, which I know some writers don’t love to do. So trying to make that as seamless as possible.  

Carol Cram

Yes, you did it very well, because I actually listened to it on the audiobook and I wasn’t confused. I pretty much always knew where I was, which is quite a feat because. I can’t even imagine doing three timelines.  

Natasha Lester

Well, and Barry Kreinik, our audio narrator, she is amazing. She’s so good with the accents and differentiating the voices and making the book into something different again and something quite wonderful. I adore Barry.  

Carol Cram

She was very, very good. I really enjoyed her narration. 

One of the many things I thoroughly enjoyed about your novel is how you brought the 1970s to life. Maybe that’s because I remember the 1970s. What was it about that era that attracted you? Because I think that’s before your time, isn’t it?  

Natasha Lester

Oh no, I was born in the 1970s, so I remember it very loosely because it was really my early, early childhood. But I think what attracted me to that was I’d written a number of books set around World War II and I just felt like I wanted to shift eras mainly to sort of stretch myself as a writer to keep myself engaged in the writing process and I just felt like time to do something new. 

And then I love writing about fashion. Fashion history is a bit of an interest of mine. And I do think that 1970s fashion is one of the most wildly misunderstood eras. Everybody sort of thinks ABBA and, you know, glittering jumpsuits and platform boots and all of that kind of thing. And that’s maybe late 70s, but the early 70s is incredibly glamorous. You’ve got these 1930s-inspired gowns. It’s very sleek and a lot of silk. And I just thought I’d really love to write about that. 

And then when I landed upon an article online about the Battle of Versailles, which took place in November 1973, I was like, Oh my goodness. This event is just begging to be written about. I can’t believe nobody has. So I knew immediately, okay, that is going to be my era because I want the whole book to kind of center around what happened on that one night in Versailles in November 1973. 

Carol Cram

Wow. Yes, because, well, I was in university in the early seventies, so I was sort of almost the same age as Astrid. So I found that really, really fun. Actually, it’s really kind of inspired me. I’m thinking, okay, is the 1970s now historical fiction? Maybe it’s time to set a novel there. I think it is. I think it’s considered 50 years.

Natasha Lester

50 years, exactly, which is now the 1970s. Oh no, doesn’t time fly. 

Carol Cram 

I know, but that is kind of worrisome, for sure. So, you started with the Battle of Versailles. So how did you end up with Mizza Bricard, who is a real person, right?  

Natasha Lester

Yes, I’ve long wanted to write about Mizza since I first encountered her when I was researching another book of mine called The Paris Secret and I loved the idea of the mystery attached to Mizza. She is always mentioned in any nonfiction book about Christian Dior, and she’s always mentioned as being his muse. And these books always talk about how she used to kind of swan into work in the late afternoon, wearing just a fur coat with nothing at all underneath, dripping with jewels, and that she lived at the Ritz and she lived on champagne and parties and was this very, you know, typically muse-like sexual kind of character almost.

And all the books also agreed on the fact that she just kind of appeared from nowhere. She had no history. And as a novelist, of course, we’re always interested in the mysterious characters, not the characters about whom everything is known. But I just didn’t know how to write her because I wasn’t really interested in writing a book about a female muse.

That didn’t seem like it had enough strength in terms of the woman and the person. But then when I started finding a couple of other facts about Mizza, I realized Mizza had an entire history that is actually there on the record. No one has ever bothered to look for that history that’s on the record and her history is so much more interesting than what has actually been written about her, which is in fact all, all untruths. And as soon as I realized that I thought, oh my goodness, there is a big story here. And it’s really exciting for me because in terms of. Picking up, you know, discovering those threads of Mizza’s early life.

I felt like I was doing new research, research that certainly nobody had done or written about before. And so she really became an important part of the story in terms of the injustice that had been done to her by being cast in the role of muse in subsequent years when in fact, she was an incredibly talented and brilliant fashion designer whose name probably ought to have been put in the back of Christian Dior’s gowns alongside his own name. So, I guess a bit of kind of rage drove me in the writing of Mizza’s storyline in the book. 

Carol Cram

Well, I just love this whole thing because you know, women so often are cast into the role of muse. That’s all we get to be--the artist’s muse. And so you just tackled it head on, you know, she’s supposed to have been the muse, but actually she was Incredibly talented on her own. And I think there’s so many of those stories waiting to be uncovered. So it’s very inspiring. 

Natasha Lester

Absolutely. Yes. And it is quite, you know, you look at history and every time a woman works alongside a man in a creative role or partnership, the man is always the creator, the one with all the talent and the woman is always seen to be the one who inspires him to create. And it’s such a powerless role, really. 

When you look at a lot of those female muses, like Dora Maar with Picasso and Camille Claudel with Rodin. They were amazing artists in their own right, and I don’t know why it continues, you know, this perpetual habit that we seem to have in books and in the media of casting the women into this role of muse. And I really wanted to say, hang on, let’s just take another look at that and see whether maybe that’s not true. And let’s actually give these women artists their due because they were amazing. 

Carol Cram

And thank goodness things are starting to change. More and more women visual artists in particular are starting to come out and we’re thinking, okay, they weren’t just muses of so and so. I think because art history’s been written by the men, so no wonder. Oh, absolutely. You know, women as the helpmate.

Natasha Lester

It just sounds so much more titillating, doesn’t it? To have the woman as the muse and, you know, those myths of Ricard stories about, you know, only wearing a fur coat and nothing underneath. It’s a great headline in a news article or something like that, isn’t it? But, you know, unfortunately those headlines aren’t really true.

Carol Cram

Well, again, it’s just that women are basically sexualized. That’s all we’re good for. And, you know, you’re redressing that balance. I really enjoyed how you did that. That was brilliant. And it made me again think, oh yeah. All my novels are about mostly fictional women who are in the arts. But the idea of taking a real one who is supposed to have been a muse and showing the backstory really and what they’re doing is very fascinating.

And, well, as you said, Mizza is a real person, but Astrid and Blythe are fictional. So how did you do that? How did you kind of meld the fictional and the real? 

Natasha Lester

I always enjoy doing that in my books. I love to take real people and real events and just look at them from the point of view of another character who you can kind of just run wild with because I do love to go with my imagination. And with real people, I try to stick as much as possible to the historical record. So, but I did do one very, creative leap in this book. I decided to give Mizza a daughter and a granddaughter in order to explore that kind of legacy of, well, what is it like if you have forebears as a woman who has been a famous muse and you’re also trying to work in a creative industry?

Does the stigma of muse attach itself to you? And I felt that very much. So, in the media environment that we operate in, you know, just look at someone like Taylor Swift, who is one of the biggest selling female artists of all time. But all anybody seems to care about in the media is who she’s dating and whether she’s pregnant and, you know, not her talent and the fact that she’s an inspiring, woman to so many other women, the fact that she is, you know, a leader in her industry. She’s a businesswoman. She’s an entrepreneur, all these other things that they could focus on. 

Carol Cram

She’s dating a footballer. That’s all we care about. 

Natasha Lester

And so I think that, you know, imagine if Taylor has a daughter who wants to be a singer, you can only, you can imagine the headlines. Like, I just, my mind wants to explode at the idea of it. So that was really what I was wanting to look at there. And so I thought we should do that.

I have to give Mizza these descendants and obviously I confess to that in the author’s note that these people weren’t real. They meant to feel real, but they did not exist, but that’s the final fiction, isn’t it? That you can ask those ‘what if’ questions and follow the story and say, okay, well what if this happened?

This is how I imagine it might play out. And I really enjoy doing that because it enabled me to look at the way in which something becomes fact just because it is captured in a media headline when, in fact, often it’s absolutely untrue. And if you go back looking for the source of that headline, you can never find it. Yet it becomes, you know, over years and years and years of being repeated because, particularly nowadays with a lot of journalism on the internet, the research people do for those articles is limited to the internet. And so the same stories get rehashed and rehashed. And I was really interested to look at how lies become truth and become believed so easily. 

Carol Cram

Well, it’s interesting so much of in the 70s and Astrid’s story, all of the headlines and everything was very much like today, as you say, they were casting her as a muse as well. 

I particularly enjoyed how the novel highlights the role women played in fashion over the decades. As characters often said in the novel, Coco Chanel and possibly Elsa Schiaparelli were the only fashion designers that we had heard of. Have things changed, do you think?

Natasha Lester

I’d like to think that they have and that they are changing, but I do still feel when you, I mean, certainly when you look at the upper echelons of fashion companies and I quote some statistics in the book in terms of the number of Fortune 500 companies, fashion companies within the Fortune 500 that are run by men, most of them are, I think it’s only five percent fashion businesses in the Fortune 500 are run by women. And we all think about fashion as being a female kind of industry and that women are the ones interested in clothes, but somehow the men are the ones in charge of these businesses. So it’s hard to say based on those statistics that things have changed.

And certainly, there’s a slew of articles on the internet over the last few years, which is great highlighting the major gender imbalance in management and power positions within the fashion industry. So hopefully attention and awareness start to chip away and change those things, but really, I mean, the book asks the question there’s only been one Chanel.

Has there been another Chanel since then? I don’t really know that there has been another female fashion designer with the influence and the sort of brand awareness that Coco Chanel has had, and I’d love for there to be, I don’t see any reason why there shouldn’t be other than these barriers that have been put in place that we may have to fight against within that industry.

And I just thought it was very interesting. I don’t think many people are aware of the fact of how males dominated the fashion industry so I really wanted to kind of put that on display and look at it. Some of the things that happened during the 1970s with John Fairchild being in charge of Women’s Wear Daily that may have perpetuated and, you know, really cemented in place some of those barriers that have made it really hard for women. 

Carol Cram

Yes, I loved how you characterized Halston. 

Natasha Lester

He was a terrible man. He made some beautiful dresses, but he was a terrible, terrible person. I just, you know, and again, he’s very famous, Halston. If you think of 1970s fashion designers, he’s probably one of the first names that people would say. And I think God, how can he have such enduring fame when he was so mean to so many people. 

It’s such a shame when you have someone like Anne Klein, who was actually again a pretty remarkable woman and who really revolutionized the way women dressed. And the way we dress today is because of Anne Klein in the 70s, making separates and saying, okay, you can just get a pair of trousers and a different blazer and put them together. You don’t have to be matching on top and bottom and which is how we dress today. And yet nobody really remembers too much who Anne Klein is. Whereas we as women, I think, owe her a bit of a debt of gratitude. So again, another injustice, which I wanted to sort of, again, weave a little bit of that into the storyline as well. 

Carol Cram

It’s great because I learned a lot about the fashion industry and the male domination, which I didn’t really know. I don’t really know anything about the fashion industry actually. So I found that totally fascinating. 

So the novel’s set in New York and France. I love how you wove in France. I love France. So, it sounds like you do too.

Natasha Lester

Doesn’t everyone? I mean, I guess the first reason was just purely practically with the Battle of Versailles being kind of a centerpiece for the book that obviously took place in France and Mizza lived in France for most of her life. 

So again, that gave me that backdrop to it, but quite a few of my books have been set in France. I speak the language relatively fluently. I learned back in high school, and I continued my lessons outside of school with Alliance Française and I worked for L’Oreal Paris, a French company, for a number of years. So I have sort of a little bit of French influence in my background, no French heritage or anything like that. And I think my love of the country came from a love of the language. I’ve always enjoyed learning the language. I love being able to speak another language. I love visiting France because it’s very different to Australia in terms of the way we have a very ancient indigenous culture here.

But in France is a very old kind of Western culture in terms of the buildings, et cetera. So that’s quite different to Australia, so I’m quite interested in those sorts of things and find it a very beautiful country. 

Carol Cram

One of the scenes that you had there about the Bayeux Tapestry really stood out for me. I’ve been to the Bayeux Tapestry, and I actually started a novel about the needlewomen of Bayeux, which I haven’t done anything about. But tell us about the Bayeux, like, what was the point of that in the novel?

Natasha Lester

So, it was really interesting. I was actually reading a nonfiction book called Threads of Life by Claire Hunter. And she talks about the Bayeux Tapestry in there and how many, the sheer number of women it took to make that tapestry and how many, over how many years these women worked to make that tapestry.

And yet when you sit and look at the tapestry, I can’t remember exactly how many women there were. It was nine, I think.

Carol Cram

I think you said six. 

Natasha Lester

There’s hundreds of men on this tapestry in all their kind of battle regalia and all their glory, their victory. It’s this celebration of men and manhood and power and war and victory and all of those sorts of things. And here you’ve got, you know, a tiny number of women stitched into the tapestry, even though it has been made by hundreds of women and the way that women are depicted in the tapestry is in terribly subservient positions and sexualized positions. And you just think, oh my gosh, that whole tapestry is a metaphor for the way in which women have been treated for centuries.

I thought, oh gosh, I have to use that in the book because it’s literally the perfect metaphor for everything I’m trying to say here. And when you sit and look at the Bayeux Tapestry, it’s an astonishing piece of work, but I wonder how many people sit there and count the number of women and notice the way the women are portrayed in the tapestry.

I think it’s, you know, if anyone is listening and has a chance to do that in the future. I thoroughly recommend that you see it in a totally different way to the way you have may have previously seen that piece of art.  

Carol Cram

Well, that’s what’s so exciting is that when you bring this to our attention. I’ve seen the Bayeux Tapestry, people have heard of it, but now you’re looking at it from a different perspective.

And that’s what we need so much more of. And as novelists, we can do that, can’t we? We can look at things that have just, this is how it is. And wait a minute, there’s only six women and women actually created the whole thing. Have we ever thought from that point of view? And that’s a wonderful thing that we can do

Something else I really enjoyed about your novel was your use of language. I was actually in awe of your descriptions. As a writer myself, I was like, wow, that was a really good image. I wish I thought of that. Do you get a lot of your imagery as you write or later during the editing process? You’re really good at it.

Natasha Lester

Oh, thank you so much. That’s really lovely to hear because I guess as writers we’re always striving to, you know, create phrases that are a little bit unique and that kind of capture the reader’s attention. I think most of it really comes in those first couple of early drafts, just as I’m writing in the flow of it. People often say, you know, do you come back and add them in later?

And I’m thinking, I don’t really do that. No. I think it’s because, particularly for this book, I know a lot about fashion history and fashion terminology. And I always say that as writers, we need to be word collectors, constantly building our vocabulary about all kinds of different topics, whether it be, you know, football or gardening or circus performances or fashion, because every vocation, every hobby, every facet of life has its own particular set of words.

And if you have all these different sets of words in your head, then you can use them in those contexts when you’re writing to kind of sharpen the image for the radar or create a contrast or comparison between two things that you may not necessarily think from the outset of relating, but when you do it, it creates a much more powerful picture in the writer’s mind.

So, I think that’s something I’ve always been conscious of as a writer, you know, collecting words, making sure that if they’re in my head, then I’ve got a better chance of them coming out when I’m in the process of writing. And I, look, I always say I love a good simile. It’s just a part of my writing.

I’m not a spare sparse writer. I like adjectives and similes and that kind of very image-heavy style of writing. That’s what I love as a reader. So that’s naturally how I write. So it’s just a part of my style, I guess, as well. 

Carol Cram

Oh, it works really, really well. I mean, it’s not heavy handed or anything. It’s just, you can see that you take a great joy in words. I think readers really appreciate it and certainly writers appreciate it. So, would you like to do a short reading for us? 

Natasha Lester

Of course, I will. It’s the prologue. So, it’s about two-and a-bit pages. Is that too long? Or is that okay? 

Carol Cram

No, that’s perfect. 

Natasha Lester

Okay. 

November 1973, the Palace of Versailles

In the same way that the Electric Circus nightclub in Manhattan is all about sensual overwhelm, so too is the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, Hawk thinks as he strides into the gallery beside four other men. 

The club’s excess comes from bands like Velvet Underground playing so loudly the music feels like a secondary heartbeat, from the fire eaters swallowing flames like candy and from the light show flashing over canvas draped walls that make you believe the room is leaning inward and, a minute later, that you’re the one who’s on a slant. 

But the extravagance here is of a different order, manifested in so many mirrors there’s nowhere to hide. Hawk can see himself caught from all sides and reflected a thousand times beneath cathedral like painted ceilings, the kind that make you feel guilty even when you’ve done nothing wrong. For one disquieting second, Hawk wonders if this is what it will all come down to. A belief that this kind of history makes French couture supreme, versus six American designers trying to show that a dress meant to writhe to the Rolling Stones is what fashion is now. He wants Astrid to saunter in right now and prove that very fact. But where is she? 

He glances over at Bill Blass, dressed as always in tweed and tobacco. Beside him is Oscar de la Renta in dignified black, Stephen Burrows in naivete, and Halston in self admiration. Hawk knows better than to ask any of them if they’ve seen Astrid. 

“Allons y,” their French chaperone calls disdainfully, as if he’d rather be accompanying Yves Saint Laurent and the rest of the French team, who everyone believes will whip the Americans so completely that not just their clothes, but their skins will be left in ribbons. 

To tell the truth, some days, Hawk thinks that too. As if to bolster Hawk’s fears, Hubert de Givenchy, a man Hawk couldn’t have named six years ago, but who he’s now chatted to several times, enters. He’s elegant in suit and tie, so intrinsically the French couturier that even the lines on his face look to have been pleated with a seamstress’s precision.

Hawk almost tugs at the sleeves of his favorite grey sweater, but he remembers that he’s 28 years old and has earned the right to be there, which maybe only proves how thin on the ground designers are in America. He looks around again for Astrid before the hall of mirrors exposes his agitation.

Against all odds, the Americans have to win tonight. Otherwise, Hawk and Astrid will never be together, and that’s not a thought he wants to contemplate, let alone have reflected to the whole room. 

Get it together. 

He rubs his hand over the stubble on his jaw and reminds himself that Hawk Jones is the man Life called the premier fashion designer in all America.

“Bonjour. “ Givenchy greets them with a handshake. Always a gentleman. “Good luck for this evening.”

Halston, who would as soon be called a gentleman as Hawk would be called conservative, mutters smug asshole, and Hawk sees relief across Blass’s and de la Renta’s faces that Halston’s expletive wasn’t for once completely offensive. 

And then the mirrors show Hawk some more sober reality. A team of American designers who are really a set of squabbling egos thrown together for a show that everyone from Princess Grace of Monaco to the Duchess of Windsor, as well as every newspaper and magazine across America and Europe is attending.

There they are at the Palace of Versailles about to do battle for their country’s honor to be crowned fashion capital of the world. And the five of them are barely on speaking terms, and it’s seen as a win when Halston doesn’t outright tell someone to fuck off. And the whole of Hawke’s happiness is riding on this. 

The mirrors shift again. Now they reflect not just his terrified face, but a bundle on the floor near one of the statues. The bundle becomes, with a sudden sharp twist of his heart, the delectable white column dress he’d seen Astrid making yesterday. A dress he believed would make everyone applaud her and acclaim her at last with the recognition she deserves. 

Why the hell is the centerpiece of Astrid’s collection lying sprawled on the floor of the Hall of Mirrors? Hawk’s feet move forward. He’s halfway across the vast glittering hall before anyone else notices the bundle. He’s three quarters of the way across when he sees that a crimson sash of savage red now stains the silk. His feet halt. 

His head turns away, but all around him, the mirrors double, triple, and quadruple the violence of that dress, and he swears now, loudly, the sound reverberating as if it might shatter every damn mirror before his fist does. 

Because, if the red staining Astrid’s gown is blood, then he knows that means Astrid is dead or gone, and so too is he. 

Carol Cram

Oh, that’s fantastic. Yeah, I really love that opening. It’s such a great beginning for this, yes, it’s a little bit like a murder mystery, this novel, isn’t it? 

Natasha Lester

Yeah, it is.  In the prologue from the start, make sure people were like, Oh my God, what really did happen to her?

Carol Cram

So, what do you want readers to take away from this novel? 

Natasha Lester

I guess I want them to take away the idea that it’s up to us what we choose to kind of click on or read in the media environment. And every time we click on one of those headlines about telling us whose boyfriend or whether Beyonce is pregnant or whatever, we’re telling the media that we want more of those kinds of news stories.

Whereas if we stop clicking on those headlines, then maybe the media will stop writing those kinds of stories. And we’ll look for more interesting stories about the complicated, brilliant, inspiring women who exist in the world, but who are made into something much less than who they are in those headlines.

So, uh, you know, of course, we all love an interesting clickbaity kind of headline, but sometimes we’re doing women a disservice by clicking on those and reading those stories. So that’s the one thing I’d like people to take away. 

Carol Cram

That’s a really good point. Yes, it’s true, actually, and with AI, it’s getting worse and worse. I know we need to click on the more unique stories. 

So, one of my goals with The Art In Fiction Podcast is to talk about the writing process and to inspire other authors. So, what is one thing you’ve learned from writing your novel that you didn’t know before? 

Natasha Lester

I think that every novel is as hard as the first. You know, after one, two, or three, I would know what I was doing and the whole process would become so much easier. But I have to say, The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard is my eighth historical novel, and that’s the hardest book I’ve ever written. So, it was certainly not easier by any means.

And I think there’s a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, with every book, I think most writers are pretty similar here. We try to expand our range and we try to make ourselves a better writer. And so, we try to tackle something that’s a little bit more difficult or tricky in some way than the previous book we wrote.

But also, you’re starting from scratch every single time. The blank page is there and there are 400 empty pages after that first page waiting to be filled and I’m not a, I can’t seem to read my creativity. I’m a very organized person in every area of my life, but my creativity likes to thrive in something of chaos.

And I sit down to write with very little idea of what I’m doing. And I always find that quite scary. So, I thought I would feel more accomplished as a writer by now, but I always feel like a novice and maybe that’s a good thing because it means that you’re always trying your hardest and always learning more by looking for opportunities to grow yourself as a writer. 

Carol Cram

I think that’s very true. A lot of authors have said that, and I’ve experienced it myself that it gets harder, not easier. Which is sort of depressing, because you think after the first novel, because the first novel was so hard to write, and then when you got that one done, it’s got to get easier and easier. No. Because you’re right, we want to expand and push ourselves more. 

And I mean, this novel was a tour de force, you had all three different timelines. So yeah, I could see how you were really digging deep to try and get better and better as a writer. I think that’s good advice too, like, always try and get better. 

Natasha Lester

Yeah, exactly. And I think the other thing too is enjoy writing that first book because you’re writing that first book, there are no expectations on you from an external audience. Like, that book can be anything you want it to be. You are writing it for the audience of one at the time. And then later, like, well, all writers love their readers and adore their readers.

As soon as I announce on social media that I’m sitting down to write another book, everyone wants to read it right then and there. And it’s like, Oh gosh, there are all these people who want this thing that I’m writing. And it suddenly becomes a little scary because what if they don’t like it as much as the last one?

What if they give it terrible reviews on Goodreads? What if it tanks? What if it doesn’t get picked up, you know? So, enjoy that first novel where you don’t have all those kinds of external pressures.

Carol Cram

That’s true. So there’s an incredible amount of research, of course, that went into this novel. What is some advice for authors on your research methods? 

Natasha Lester

I think that it’s quite easy to believe that you need to do all the research up front. I actually don’t do my research like that. I do very little research before I sit down to write the book. Perhaps that’s because I don’t tend to plan my books up front. So therefore, I don’t really know what I need to research up front.

So, for example, for The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard, I read a book about the Battle of Versailles, Robin Gavan wrote this masterful account of the event, and I read that, and I read a couple of things about Mizza, and that was really about it. Then I was writing the first draft while I was doing that.

And then at the end of that first draft, that’s when I go and do the bulk of my research. And there are a couple of reasons for that. Sometimes doing too much research up front means you write to the research, whereas if you don’t know what the research tells you actually happened, then you can let your imagination run free.

And it’s supposed to be a novel, it’s supposed to be an imaginative tour de force. So you want your imagination to be uncaged. And the research immediately puts boundaries around your mind. It says, oh no, you can’t do that because this didn’t happen. But if you write the story and then something in the story happens that maybe wasn’t possible in terms of history, then it’s up to you to figure out a way to make that work within the history.

And I think that makes for a better and more imaginative and more interesting book. Also, if you research up front without knowing the scope, you can just keep researching and researching and researching and never actually sit down and do the writing. So my first draft acts as my research blueprint. It outlines the scope of my research for me, makes my research process more efficient, more timely and I think means that there’s very little danger of the book feeling didactic and like the research is overtaking the story because the research comes after I’ve got the story all written down. 

Carol Cram

Yeah, I think that’s actually a really interesting approach and a good approach because first and foremost, we’re storytellers. So, yes, put the story first, and then add in the history. I sometimes worry what happens though, when you have this story and you have something happen and then you find out that, oh, no, that couldn’t have happened in the context of the period.

But as you say, then it’s up to you to kind of make it fit. And I think that’s a better approach. 

Natasha Lester

And it happens to me in most books that I’ll have written something, and I’ll be, like, okay, that couldn’t have happened. But okay, how are you going to make that work? How can you change that plot point to still work within what actually happened in history?

And it makes you think harder rather than just knowing from the outset what the limitation was and kind of just having to avoid that. Whereas you’re written into it. Okay. So now what are you going to do? 

Carol Cram

That’s a really good point. Actually, I was thinking about that because I get a little bit worried that, oh, I don’t know if this is actually realistic when I’m writing, but maybe it’s true to the character, and this is what she would have done. Is it possible in the context of the period? Not sure, but let’s go for it and then see what happens. Especially when we’re writing about women protagonists in history, wanting them to do things that they may not have been able to do, or been allowed to do. But we also want to show that they weren’t just powerless victims because they weren’t, you know, so how do we do that?

Natasha Lester

The other thing too is I think that, you know, we often treat history, nonfiction, as if it’s a real account of what actually happened, but it is not a real account of what actually happened. And my research in Astrid Bricard absolutely proves that. So, I think that if you become too locked into what the nonfiction books tell you happened you may actually be writing a version of history that isn’t true if you look at if from other perspectives. So sometimes I think there’s no reason why, because one book tells you that Mizza Bricard was, you know, a sexual predator who came into work naked besides a fur coat to write her in a different way, because that’s maybe what all the men think happens, but maybe that’s not actually what happens.

So sometimes I do think that it’s okay to use your imagination because often there’s a whole other truth out there that exists in history that has been left undocumented. And who is to say that your version is not actually closer to the truth than what has been reported. 

Carol Cram

Exactly. Because, I mean, who wrote the history for one thing? You have to look at that. 

Natasha Lester

Yeah. Good point. Good point. 

Carol Cram

So, what are you working on now? Or if you want to share that. 

Natasha Lester

I’m just starting the edit for my next book. It has a working title, The Secret Life of Marie Madeleine, but I feel like that title probably will change.

And it’s about a woman called Marie Madeleine Foucault, who was the only female leader of a French resistance network during the Second World War, which is probably the most amazing woman I have ever written about. This is the most heartbreaking story I’ve ever written in my life, and it’s taken an immense amount of research and work, but I cannot wait to share this story with everybody.

It’s probably the book I’m most excited about. 

Carol Cram

Oh, wow. So, what is the timeline for that? 

Natasha Lester

It’ll be coming out in April 2025. 

Carol Cram

Oh, that’s exciting. So that’ll be a World War II novel then. 

Natasha Lester

Yes, that will be. Yes. Probably my last one. I feel like this woman is so extraordinary, there’s no other World War II story that could match up to this one. So that might be it for a while.

Carol Cram

Well, thank you so much, Natasha, for talking with me. This has been just delightful. 

Natasha Lester

Oh, thank you. It’s been lovely chatting to you too. I really appreciate you taking the time. 

Carol Cram

I’ve been speaking with Natasha Lester, author of several novels listed on Art In Fiction, including The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard listed in the Textile Arts category at www.artinfiction.com.

Be sure to check the show notes for a link to Natasha’s website at www.natashalester.com. You’ll also find a link to a 20% discount on a subscription to Pro Writing Aid, a fantastic editing tool for writers. 

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