Friday, May 01, 2009

Natasha Mostert - The Keeper

please note: all photos used in this post, are courtesy of Natasha's website.

Mark and I recently were invited to the launch party for Natasha Mostert's new novel, The Keeper. We had a wonderful time and had a chance to meet Natasha face to face and be in awe of her fighter "boys" and meet some of the amazing people in her life. We were fed the most divine chocolate and finger snacks served by a lovely group of servers who were very free with the champagne.

I was even more thrilled to be able to chat to Natasha the day after, over an extended cup of coffee. The conversation ranged far and wide and I left with stars in my eyes. There is nothing more uplifting than getting a chance to speak to a personal hero like this. I also handed Natasha a set of questions I had drawn up for this interview which she graciously took the time to do.

Photo by David Dettman
Me (fan-girling): Many thanks for agreeing to do the interview – it is truly exciting!

Natasha, professional and calm: Thanks for your interest, Liz. And thanks for coming to my launch party the other evening and celebrating with me!

Tell us a bit more about your journey between Season of a Witch and The Keeper?

After I wrote Season of the Witch, I did not want to repeat myself and I deliberately decided to head in a different direction. So instead of a love triangle between two women and one man, The Keeper tells of a love triangle between two men and one woman. Instead of my characters being “posh” and living the good life in a swish neighbourhood, my heroine is a tattoo artist and live in a rather gritty area of South London. Of course, anyone familiar with my work will still be able to tell that I am the author – the narrative still has a wingbrush of darkness to it and the story has a strong mystical underpinning – but the themes and ideas are wholly new. The one common denominator is that both novels are books about an obsession that turns deadly.

I found that The Keeper felt an intensely more personal novel – was that your intention?

I’m usually not much in favour of authors using their own lives as fodder when they write their books – mainly because we authors lead pretty boring lives and I don’t think we’re really all that interesting as people! I therefore don’t think I had set out intentionally to write a personal novel. However, because The Keeper is set in the world of martial arts, which is a world I know extremely well, it did affect the story. And there were small personal touches. Mia, my heroine, has a chameleon as a pet, and I had one as a child as well. But I should immediately state that Mia is far cooler and hipper than I could ever hope to be!

Following on from that, can I ask you about character development and creation? Mia and her troupe of fighters she looks after come across as such genuine creations, how do you go about creating them?

It was important to me to keep the characters and environment in my book real. So often in martial arts fiction, the characters are able to run up perpendicular walls, float above the ground, engage in mystical sword play and pull off other spectacular physical and mental feats. I did not want to go that route. My characters are composites of fighters I know and they are real people. I’m their biggest fan – for almost seven years I’ve been following them from fight to fight. I know the problems and injuries they face when training. I know what it smells like in a fighter’s dojo! I understand the rivalries and camaraderie of their world and I hope I have managed to portray this environment accurately. There are, of course, mystical elements to The Keeper, and my heroine is in possession of a pretty cool skill, but I worked hard not to turn my characters into super heroes.

Your writing style is at once literary, gothic horror and mystery suspense and action adventure – how would you classify yourself / your writing?

Well, this is the question my poor publisher would like answered as well.

Publishers like to place labels on their writers because booksellers want to know where the book should go on the shelf. But my books straddle genres and have been embraced by many different communities. My novels are usually whodunits, or as in the case of The Keeper, whydunits and fit into the mystery and crime genre, which is why I am a member of MWA (Mystery Writers of America). My stories are very firmly embedded in reality, but there is usually a fantasy element to the narrative as well, which is why I am also a member of the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America). Even though there is no blood or gore in Season of the Witch, it was nominated for The International Horror Guild Award, which in the past was won by writers like Stephen King and Peter Straub. And there is always a love story at the heart of my books, and therefore I am fairly extensively reviewed by Romance reviewers too. If I had to describe my books I would call them mystical, idea-driven thrillers.

In The Keeper, your antagonist is intensely charismatic and although you realise that he is a Bad Man, you managed to convey a sense of empathy in your writing. Where do you find that quirk in a character’s personality to turn them into the antagonist and more importantly, how do you manage to convey him as a multidimensional character?

Villains are often one-dimensional characters – most thriller writers like their readers to hate the villain and to support the hero whole-heartedly. I’ve always thought it more interesting to give the villain some depth and to make his motivations not completely repulsive. Ashton is the one character in my book that makes a journey. At the end of the book, he is not the same person he was at the beginning. This kind of transformation is a journey usually travelled by a hero, not a villain.

Adrian Ashton was a fun character to create. As you say, he is a highly seductive personality and my heroine at first finds herself drawn to him. He seems to have had the same effect on my readers as well. I have received so many messages from readers saying they found him interesting, sexy and even likeable. I suppose part of this has to do with the fact that I’ve made it possible for the reader to get an intimate look at Ashton’s deepest thoughts and desires. Ash writes a diary called The Book of Light and Dust, in which he explains his passions and his reasons for killing. Many of my readers wrote to me that they could understand his reasoning even if they disapproved of the fact that he is a murderer.

Natasha and her sparring partners.

How did your martial artist friends react when you told them you were doing a book set in their / your world?

Oh, they were thrilled and of course, they all wanted a starring role. Each one of the little darlings thought the book would be about him. I told them my characters are composites but I don’t think they believe me. They’re still trying to “read” themselves into my story.

Your books are deeply layered – it can be read on many levels. Where do you even start your research into the various topics which you cover in your novels? I suppose this question should be: how do you do your research and when do you know what to put in your novel and what to keep out of it?

All my books are research intensive and yes, that creates its own problems. Research is both potion and poison. I love research – I will happily sit in front of my computer for days simply clicking from link to link. My favourite place in the world is the British Library. But I have to be disciplined. Research is like an ice berg – only the tip should show. You need the knowledge, otherwise you can’t write with authority, but if you get carried away and keep adding little interesting titbits to the narrative the plot of the book will collapse under its own weight. In The Keeper, for example, I had a merry old time filling one of my chapters with all kind of fantastic information about Edison and research done at the Institute of Neurology at the University College of London. But that chapter sat there like a big, inedible chunk of taffy. In the end I reduced eleven pages to six paragraphs. It broke my heart, but it was for the best.

What are you cooking up for us next – if you are allowed to tell us!?

Ah, at the moment I’m still stirring the pot trying to see what is going to pop to the surface. I am presently engaged in doing research on four different topics. Each of these ideas, I think, will make a good novel but I’m waiting for the research to tell me which one will be my next story. But I have to say, Liz, you said something to me, which made me think. You suggested I write a book about Mia’s mother, Molly. In The Keeper Molly is no longer alive but she still throws a long shadow. She is a wild and very colourful person whose life ends tragically. But I’m beginning to think you’re onto something and her story could be a fascinating one. I’ll keep you posted…

You travelled all over the States, to promote The Keeper (where it is known as The Keeper of Light and Dust) – do you have any interesting / amusing anecdotes?

While I was in the States I did 34 radio interviews in a period of 13 days and this kind of pressure can make you lose the plot. I had one hairy telephone interview where I headed off in totally the wrong direction. I was under the impression that this was a radio show about fighters and fighting and was in full swing holding forth about blood, sweat and broken bones when I belatedly realised that the show was actually a "health" show. I couldn't understand why the interviewer sounded so bemused and had this wondering tone in her voice whenever she used the word "combat". Once I realised my mistake I segued smartly into remote healing, chi and light inside the body – also themes in my book -- but I fear it was too little too late.

Tell us about CPAU Fighting for Peace which lies very close to your heart.

While I was writing The Keeper, I happened to read – quite by chance -- an article about “Fighting for Peace”, which teaches Afghan women how to box and feel empowered in their lives. I was so fascinated by this programme that I contacted the organisers to find out more about it and how I can contribute.

The idea of boxing Afghani women sound rather strange, but it is a wonderful programme. Afghanistan is a very challenging place to be a woman. 87 percent of Afghani women are illiterate. 54 percent of brides are under the age of 16 and 1 in 9 will die in childbirth. By using boxing as a vehicle, this empowerment programme packs a huge symbolic punch and tears down very strongly the stereotype of the Afghan woman hiding behind her blue burqua. I was also very touched to learn that these ladies train in a gym that is attached to a stadium where the Taliban used to execute people, including women.

I have decided to donate some of the proceeds of The Keeper towards CPAU and have also donated the £5,000 award money I received last month when Season of the Witch won the Book to Talk About: World Book Day Award. I am hoping it will inspire generosity in my readers even in these tough times. Any-one interested in the programme should please go to my website , where they will find a direct access link to CPAU.

Looking back at your writing career and the experience you’ve garnered over this time, if there is one thing you can share about writing with newbie writers, what would that be?

Grow a thick skin and persevere! Make peace early on with the fact that not everyone will like your work. Sometimes you will receive negative feedback – try not to let that shake your faith in what you want to do. Don’t start doubting yourself if you get rejection letters. Remember: your writing skill is only one part of the equation. You also need a massive dose of good luck. There are many talented writers out there who find it very difficult to break into print – not because of the quality of their writing but because of completely random things. Your manuscript may have been read by a bored editorial assistant instead of an editor. Or if it is read by an editor, she may still decline simply because she has already accepted another book on the same topic for her list that year; or she may be stopped from purchasing your book because of in-house politics, or…oh, so many things. But if you truly love writing and can’t live without a keyboard, then stick with it.

Further news and TWO competitions:

Natasha currently has one of the coolest competitions going over at her site. You have the opportunity to win a Kindle or a Sony e-reader (amongst other things) - and all you have to do is play a little game called The Keeper. This is the link . Then, as a random fun item, Mark and I have one of the party favours from The Keeper's launch to give away - I am not telling you what it is, it is a surprise and it is unique and pretty cool and totally in keeping with The Keeper and it's the background of martial arts it's set in. So, for a chance to win, email us at myfavouritebooksatblogspot (@) googlemail (dot) com with THE KEEPER in the subject line - and we'll do a draw on Friday next week (8th May) and I'll post it off to you that same day and I'll put a picture up of what you will be getting.

1 comment:

Joanne said...

Everyone speaks highly of Natasha Mostert's books. I just read another really good review of Season of the Witch. I think I will pick up a copy and check it out myself.