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09 November 2021

Natasha Hastings: ‘Write the story you need to write: the one that won’t leave you alone, that’s lodged itself deep in your heart’

Photography by Claire Connold
by Katie Smart Author Interviews, From Our Students, Writing Tips

Natasha Hastings took our three-month Writing Your Novel course in 2018, now she has an exciting book deal for her middle grade series The Miraculous Sweetmakers with HarperCollins Children’s. The first book in the series The Frost Fair will be published next October.

Read on to hear about Natasha’s time studying with us, her approach to historical research and the inspiration behind her children’s book series…

You studied on our three-month Writing Your Novel course in 2018. How did your time on the course impact your approach to writing?

The CBC Writing Your Novel course helped me take my writing seriously. Being around fellow writers in a literary agency made me realise that having a writing career was possible, and that I had to work hard and go for it.

What was the best piece of advice you received from tutor Charlotte Mendelson during the course?

To maintain a good pace throughout the book by linking action scenes together, rather than having ‘filler’ chapters.

Many of our students form writing support groups. Are you still in touch with any of your course mates?

My CBC cohort formed Write Club right after the course ended, and nearly all of us have kept in touch since! We hold monthly catch-ups where we take it in turns to share and discuss our writing, which is invaluable.

Your debut novel The Frost Fair is to be published by HarperCollins Children’s next October. The novel was partly inspired by the historical frost fairs that took place on the River Thames in 1683-84. Can you tell us more about your magical middle grade series and the inspiration behind it?

My magical middle grade series is called The Miraculous Sweetmakers. In the first book, The Frost Fair, it’s a cold winter during the Great Frost of 1683. Thomasina and Anne are the best of friends: one runs her father’s sweet shop, while the other is an apprentice at the family apothecary, and together they sell their goods on the frozen River Thames. When a family tragedy turns Thomasina’s world upside down, she’s drawn to a mysterious conjuror and an enchanted frost fair, but soon the world of Father Winter threatens to claim everything she holds dear. Will she and Anne be able to solve the magical mysteries that surround them…?

I first thought of The Frost Fair while in hospital with pneumonia. I found it hard to fall asleep at night, and comforted myself by thinking of adventures I wanted to go on. I was a history student at the time, and had come across frost fairs one day while studying the 17th century. The escapades I imagined seemed to fit in with the Great Frost of 1683, and I started creating a story around that.

Do you have any advice for writers looking to bring history to life for younger readers?

Read up on the period you’re writing about but after a while, dive in and start writing. You’re not writing a textbook, and don’t need to cram in every single fact you’ve learned. Sometimes, less is more.

What does a typical writing day look like for you?

I don’t have a typical writing day, as I have a full-time day job and it’s important for me to take gaps between writing periods to refresh. I’ve just finished spending a fortnight doing no writing whatsoever, and when I wrote this morning before work, I noticed a big difference: the time away had made my thoughts clearer, and I was excited to return to what I’m working on right now (Book Two of The Miraculous Sweetmakers). I like to wake up early and write in the mornings before work, as my mind is clearest then, but if it’s a particularly busy day and writing in the morning isn’t possible, I snatch any time I can after work to jot something down.

What final words of wisdom would you like to share with the aspiring authors reading this?

Write the story you need to write: the one that won’t leave you alone, that’s lodged itself deep in your heart. And if it feels like it isn’t working, that’s a sign to put it in a drawer somewhere and have a break from writing, so you can return to it with fresh eyes. That’s what I did with The Frost Fair, and it’s one of the best decisions I ever made.

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