Natalie Meg Evans

The author draws her in­spi­ra­tion from real life ex­pe­ri­ence of the world of fash­ion

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

NOV­EL­IST Natalie Meg Evans says she is liv­ing life with a cap­i­tal L. Since mov­ing to Suf­folk ten years ago, she has cer­tainly ex­pe­ri­enced her share of highs and lows. Although she’s re­alised her dream of be­com­ing an award-win­ning pub­lished author, with a place in the coun­try, it’s come with the loss of her hus­band’s busi­ness, a house move and the end of her mar­riage.

“It was all rather hor­ren­dous and heart­break­ing, and it co­in­cided with the launch of my first book,” she says. That was The Dress Thief, a novel about fash­ion, se­crets and betrayal in 1930s Paris, which won awards on both sides of the At­lantic.

Three more books have fol­lowed, all set around the Sec­ond World War, with fash­ion as their theme. The lat­est, The Wardrobe Mis­tress, was pub­lished in August. But the cel­e­bra­tion con­tin­ues to be bit­ter­sweet, as th­ese days Natalie’s heartache comes largely from los­ing an­i­mals.

“I al­ways have ‘sec­ond hand’ dogs,” she says. “With res­cue an­i­mals, you get enor­mous love and heal­ing, but I tend to take the older ones. This year my two Labradors both died within two weeks. That’s what hap­pens when you have bonded an­i­mals.” As Natalie was an­tic­i­pat­ing the re­lease of the lat­est novel, she was also seek­ing a com­pan­ion for her new dog, a Bel­gian Shep­herd called Ge­or­gia, who she is now show­ing lo­cally.

“Though she’d been picked up off the streets only a cou­ple of weeks be­fore, and spent time in the dog pound, Ge­or­gia won Best Crat­field Dog, and was the Re­serve Best in Show,” says Natalie. “We were both very proud!”

Im­mers­ing her­self in vil­lage life of­fers an an­ti­dote to what can be a soli­tary ex­is­tence as a writer. Natalie also sings in the choir and is a trustee of the Friends of Halesworth Li­brary.

“Writ­ing a book, you spend a lot of time sit­ting in front of a screen chew­ing your fin­ger­nails and moan­ing, hat­ing what you write,” she says. “But it’s lovely not hav­ing to leap into my car each morn­ing to drive to work.” She has had a var­ied ca­reer over the years, first dab­bling in ar­chae­ol­ogy, then leav­ing art col­lege to act in fringe theatre, and writ­ing her own plays and sketches be­fore work­ing in PR. De­spite 25 years in Lon­don, she al­ways longed to re­turn to the coun­try­side.

“I was brought up in a small vil­lage in Le­ices­ter­shire,” she says, “very much like this one, peace­ful, re­mote and way be­hind the times – in the best pos­si­ble way. I took a lit­tle while to find my feet, but I have a net­work of truly dear friends here. It is an in­cred­i­bly kind-hearted and close-knit vil­lage, and I never feel alone.”

Natalie is also sur­rounded by the char­ac­ters from the worlds she cre­ates, and rev­els in the re­search she car­ries out to cap­ture the essence of the pe­riod cor­rectly. Di­aries, mem­oirs and letters are the best source, she says, be­cause peo­ple don’t have any sense that they are writ­ing history, but she also raids char­ity shops for the faded cov­ers of books by for­got­ten writ­ers.

“It’s of­ten flow­ery lan­guage which isn’t bed­time read­ing, but gives the most amaz­ing

de­tail.” Per­sonal tes­ti­mony is par­tic­u­larly rich ma­te­rial, of course. “For The Wardrobe Mis­tress I talked to peo­ple who lived in Lon­don dur­ing the Blitz. There was an ac­tress, now liv­ing in At­tle­bor­ough, who acted dur­ing that time.” And Natalie of­ten lis­tens to and reads an archive of per­sonal memories held on the BBC web­site.

“Let’s say you want to know what it was like to take a bus dur­ing the Blitz, you type that on the in­ter­net and the BBC will have some­one’s mem­ory. It might say, ‘I was a lit­tle scrap of a thing and my sis­ter, Mau­reen, was two years older, and I re­mem­ber her hold­ing my hand as we walked through the streets of Whitechapel.’ You read that through a few times and you get a vivid men­tal pic­ture.” Natalie also be­lieves in the im­por­tance of her own ex­pe­ri­ence fu­elling her writ­ing.

“I’ve been on the stage. I know the smell of the dust and the boards. I know how it feels when the cur­tain goes back. What­ever book I’m writ­ing, I need to press the grapes.”

So, hav­ing never made a hat, when Natalie wrote The Milliner’s Se­cret she went on a hat­mak­ing course.

“I needed to find out what it felt like un­der the fin­gers. And for Sum­mer in the Vine­yards, I cast my mind back to a sea­son of grape-pick­ing, feel­ing the sun beat­ing on the back of my neck, and the creepy crawlies.

The next book is go­ing to be set in the Au­vergne, about SOE agents parachut­ing into north­ern France.” Natalie pauses. “I don’t think I can de­scribe jump­ing out of an aero­plane with­out hav­ing done it.” She’s still liv­ing life to the full.

‘I took a lit­tle while to find my feet, but I have a net­work of truly dear friends here. ’

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