Natalie Hart is a specialist in research and communications in conflict and post-conflict environments. She has a BA in Arabic and Spanish from the University of Cambridge and recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Lancaster. Natalie’s debut novel Not My Soldier won ‘The Write Stuff’ competition at The London Book Fair 2016. She is represented by Ella Kahn at DKW Literary Agency.
1. Tell us what you’re working on at the moment…
At the moment I’m working on a novel called Not My Soldier. The pitch for this novel won The Write Stuff competition at The London Book Fair 2016, but at that stage the manuscript was far from complete. Since winning the competition, I have finished another draft of the novel, signed with agent Ella Kahn and I am currently working on edits. It has been wonderful to get Ella’s input on the manuscript! Now that my Masters degree is over I am also back to work full time, so I am re-learning how to juggle writing and a job.
2. Where do you normally work from?
Anywhere and everywhere! I’m a bit of a nomad so this book has been written everywhere from a boat crossing the Atlantic to a library in Barcelona to an apartment in Iraq. At the moment, I am writing from a hotel room in Tunisia. Generally, the two things I need to write are quiet and coffee. If I can get both of those, then I’m happy.
3. Are you a published author and if so, are you self-published or traditionally?
I am not published yet, but I hope to be published in the not-to-distant future. As a teenager I worked in an independent bookshop called Barnett’s of Wadhurst in East Sussex and my dream is to see my own novel on one of the shelves there one day.
4. How many times have you attended LBF?
I have been to LBF twice. I am a great fan of Mexico and Mexican literature, so I attended the LBF in 2015 because of the Mexico Market Focus of the event. There were some great talks, including a particularly enjoyable interview with Valeria Luiselli in the English PEN Literary Salon.
In 2016 I attended LBF as a finalist of ‘The Write Stuff’ competition. The competition gave me the opportunity to pitch my novel to a panel of agents in a Dragon’s Den-style competition and I was honoured to be chosen as the winner. It was a great (if terrifying) experience to stand up and talk about my work in front of an audience. Aside from the obvious bonus of meeting my agent, I very much enjoyed meeting the other contestants too. They are definitely writers I will be looking out for in the future.
5. Why do you think it’s important for authors to be at the Fair?
The Write Stuff competition really provided a launch pad for me. I was very lucky to find agents interested in representing me and it was a huge confidence boost that my novel was so well received. I would highly recommend the competition to other writers; it is a wonderful opportunity to get feedback on your work. I also enjoyed the buzz of the Fair. LBF was my first experience of the industry side of publishing and I learned a lot about how the industry works. I would also recommend going just for the cool tote bags you can pick up!
6. What advice would you give a fellow author planning to attend for the first time?
First of all, wear comfortable shoes – I did a lot of walking around! I would also say that it’s important to understand that everyone is very busy and you can’t expect to be able to rock up at a stall and pitch your book. That’s not what the Fair is for. Instead, do your research in advance and if you want to use the Fair to meet agents then enter The Write Stuff or apply for an agent one-to-one. I’d also advise planning your time in advance and working out which seminars and talks you want to attend before you arrive.
7. Do you have any top tips for anyone who may be struggling with their writing?
I have found making friends with other writers to be invaluable. Writing can be a very solitary process but it is wonderful to be able to share both your struggles and successes with other authors. I have met some great writers both through my MA in Creative Writing and through a writing workshop called Under the Volcano, in Tepoztlán, Mexico. Wherever I am in the world, I know that when I am having a tough writing day there are always people I can contact who will empathise (and, when necessary, talk me out of hitting the delete button).
I also think that persistence is key. I find that having a daily writing goal helps me to keep going, even if I end up scrapping all of what I write that day, or week, or even month. I probably ended up binning at least 80% of the first draft of Not My Soldier! It’s important to be kind to yourself. Writing a novel is a long process and it’s natural that it will come with many lows as well as highs. Just make sure to appreciate the good writing days when you have them!