Natalie Meg Evans
The author draws her inspiration from real life experience of the world of fashion
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. ’