"New Worlds Are Our Oyster."
No Time Like the Present
Spotlight on Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Natasha Mostert is South African. She grew up in Pretoria and Johannesburg but currently lives in London with her husband, Frederick. She still keeps an apartment in the university town of Stellenbosch in the Cape province.
She is the author of four novels. Her debut novel, The Midnight Side, is a story about obsessive love and a ghost manipulating the London Stock Exchange. In The Other Side of Silence, a sinister computer game becomes the key to unravelling the riddle of the Pythagorean Comma: one of the oldest and deadliest mysteries in the science of sound. Her third novel, Windwalker, is a story of fratricide, redemption, ghost photography and soul mates searching for each other. April 2007, saw the release of Season of the Witch. A modern gothic thriller about techgnosis and the Art of Memory, it will have an international launch with Transworld (UK), Penguin Dutton (USA) and Goldmann (Germany).
Educated in South Africa and at Columbia University, New York, Mostert holds post-graduate degrees in Lexicography and Applied Linguistics and a bachelors in Modern Languages majoring in Afrikaans, Dutch, English and German. She worked as a teacher in the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and as project coordinator in the publishing department of public television station WNET/Thirteen in New York City. Her political opinion pieces have appeared on the op-ed page of The New York Times, in Newsweek, The Independent and The Times (London).
Interests aside from writing include music, running and kickboxing. Future goals include writing poetry, executing a perfect spinning backkick and coming face to face with a ghost.
An Interview with Natasha Mostert
PNR: Have you always wanted to be a writer, what led you to pursue writing as a career?
Natasha M.: When I was younger I wanted to write dictionaries! I even ended up doing a graduate degree in Lexicography. Why I ever thought this would be a cool thing to do is a mystery to me today. But I suppose I always liked playing around with words and in fact, my writing career started early. As a child I wrote stories and tried to sell them to my class mates, without much success. My mother thought they were wonderful, of course, and saved almost all of them. I recently read one I wrote when I was nine years old and was taken aback by how dark the narrative was. Every-one dies a horrible death and then turns into ghosts. My instinct for the paranormal obviously started at a tender age.
PNR: How do you manage to balance your writing and personal time? What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
Natasha M.: An author’s life, sadly, is a very unadventurous one. It is just you, your computer and a tub of Hagen Daaz. You also try to avoid interruptions at all cost. However, I find that after staring at my computer screen in quiet desperation for eight hours, I develop an overwhelming need to punch something! I am an avid kickboxer and train five days a week. My trainer is a former European light heavy-weight kickboxing champion who takes no prisoners. Apart from my evening classes, I have a full-on sparring session every Friday morning at 8 am. I have picked up a black eye in the process, a cracked nose, and every color bruise you can think of. But I am hopelessly addicted. I am also very lucky in that I have a husband who is supportive and who gives me room to breathe. He tolerates my absent-mindedness and has made peace with the idea that when I’m busy writing a book, I always fall hopelessly in love with my hero…
PNR: What are the greatest challenges to you as an author? The greatest rewards?
Natasha M.: Let’s start with the rewards first. Writing is the most sublime form of play. I get to play every day even though I am all grown up! Authors are blessed. We are wired to write – it is impossible for us not to do so – and we get paid to be creative and do what comes naturally. I never take for granted the privilege of being a published writer.
Challenges? It’s a difficult job! And lonely. People talk about the loneliness of the long-distance runner. I don’t think it compares to the loneliness of the long-distance writer. We get to do a marathon that can last months.
Furthermore, I start out with these wonderful, imaginative ideas floating around in my head but they seldom translate onto the page the way I had planned. And writers never switch off. We are unable to pull the office door shut behind us after a day’s work and allow our brains a break. We are like vacuum cleaners, constantly picking up emotional and visual debris from the world around us. This can be very tiring.
PNR: Which author(s) is your favorite? And who has most influenced your work?
Natasha M.: This is such a tough question. I admire so many writers. I am fascinated by Cormac McCarthy’s use of language even if sometimes perplexed by his narrative. When I am having difficulty writing, I pick up Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and her lovely, evocative sentences manage to break through the block. Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series is my guilty pleasure. Ms. Carey writes mind-blowing erotic scenes and she knows how to build new worlds. I am also a huge Neil Gaiman fan -- he has an Alice-in-Wonderland imagination -- and I think Stephen King deserves more respect for his incredibly accomplished use of language. Who has influenced my work? I honestly don’t know. I read voraciously and all of what I read must seep into my subconscious and influence my writing in some way.
PNR: What do you consider to be the key elements of a great story?
Natasha M.: You have to find yourself emotionally attached to the characters. Even if you don’t like them, they have to touch your heart. And then the story has to say: What if? And you as the reader must care desperately about the answer to that question.
PNR: Your debut novel, The Midnight Side, released in January 2001, has received critical acclaim and has been released around the world; could you tell us about the publication of your first book? Where did you get the idea for this novel?
Natasha M.: The idea for this book started in a dentist’s waiting room! I was thirteen years old at the time and while waiting for my appointment, I happened to read an article in a magazine about people receiving phone calls from relatives who are no longer alive. I remember thinking that this was the most frightening thing I could think of. Coming face to face with a ghost will probably be an uncomfortable experience – but picking up the phone and then hearing the voice of someone I know to be dead – well, that would be terrifying. Many years later when I sat down to write my first book, I thought this would be the perfect way to start my story: a phone call in the middle of the night from a beautiful woman who had died mysteriously….
PNR: You continued to garner attention with The Other Side of Silence, released in June 2001 from Hodder & Stoughton, and Windwalker, released in April 2005 from Tor Books. How does it feel to have such positive recognition for your work?
Natasha M.: Critical acclaim is crucial to a writer’s success. Professional reviewers have, for the most part, been amazingly kind to me and for that I am very grateful.
But what is really important to me is how ordinary readers react to my work. I do not want to disappoint them. And I did pick up negative feedback from some grass roots readers with regard to Windwalker. Windwalker was my attempt to write a passionate gothic love story about two doomed, self-destructive lovers who have been searching for each other over the ages. I think some romance readers found the ending hard to take and the book too dark and they vented their feelings on romance websites and Amazon’s review page! On the other hand, this book has also elicited some of the most heartfelt reviews I have received for any of my books. Some readers have told me it is the most heartbreaking novel they’ve ever read and that the story stayed with them long after they had finished reading the last page. One reader even wrote to me that she kept the book permanently on her bedside table. This kind of feedback means a lot to me. By the way, I situated Windwalker in Namibia – long before Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie put that country on the map!
PNR: Congratulations on the April release of Season of the Witch, from Dutton Adult. This “Sexy, Gothic Thriller” is creating a lot of buzz amongst readers and reviewers; can you tell us a little about your latest release and what inspired the intriguing characters?
Natasha M.: I started out wanting to write a modern day Scheherazade story. When I was a little girl my mother would tell me the story of Scheherazade and the cruel sultan while playing the music of Rimsky Korsakov in the background! So this story was very special to me. The idea of a woman captivating a man – not by the beauty of her face – but by the power of her words, is a very seductive concept and I wanted to reinterpret this story within a modern day framework.
My hero, Gabriel Blackstone, is a cool, hip computer hacker who is asked by a former lover to investigate the possible murder of her stepson. Gabriel’s suspicions fall on two sisters who live in a creepy old red brick house in Chelsea, London. One night, while the women are away, he breaks into the house and hacks into their computer looking for clues. But what he discovers instead is an enigmatic – and quite erotic – diary and he falls in love with the voice behind the words. But there’s a catch. The diary is written in such a way that it is impossible to tell which of the two sisters is the author. And the author of the diary could also be a killer…
PNR: Your current release, Season of the Witch, centers on the fascinating subjects of Alchemy and the Art of Memory: could you tell us about the development of these themes and how they drive the plot? How much research was involved?
Natasha M.: Season of the Witch is my most research intensive book, with the possible exception of Other Side of Silence. I became interested in the Art of Memory after reading about the memory artists of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. They were fascinating men who believed they could build a personal information system that would encompass all the knowledge in the universe. Remember: this was a few hundred years before Bill Gates! But these memory artists were not interested in building a machine. They wanted to embed their information systems within their minds : wetware, not hardware. Now how cool is that? No wonder I became smitten with these guys.
My two modern day witches are memory artists as well and they are also direct descendents of the great John Dee, one of the most brilliant minds of the Elizabethan era. Dee was an alchemist and an information addict: at one point he had the most impressive library in all of Britain in his living room. His genius obviously traveled down the generations because my two witches share the same IQ and the same passion for knowledge as their illustrious ancestor. They are embarking on a highly dangerous adventure and they are drawing my hero into their fantastic world.
As for alchemy: this is a favorite theme for me. I wrote about it in Midnight Side as well. The kind of alchemy I’m interested in is not the kind which turns lead into gold but the kind that leads to transformation of the spirit. In Season of the Witch, my hero goes on a spiritual journey – an alchemy of the soul – and ends up a very different man from the arrogant, self-centered guy he was at the beginning of the book.
PNR: I must say that I was completely immersed in the atmosphere you were able to create in your novel, your writing fully engages the senses; does this come naturally to you? Could you tell us about the challenges you faced in world-building and making it believable for readers?
Natasha M.: Atmosphere is all important to me. The texture of the narrative has to be lush and sensual. That is why I would probably be a very poor script writer. If I only had to rely on dialogue to carry my story forward, I would be lost. Case in point: I love houses. In every single one of my books there is a wonderful house. They are all different but they all contribute powerfully to the atmosphere I create in my book. I would never be able to convey this sense of place simply by using dialogue.
How do I make my ideas believable? Well, that’s not easy. My books include ideas, which most people would consider fey and extraordinary. But I try very hard to make these ideas seem completely natural. I don’t want my readers to engage in “a willing suspension of disbelief.” I want them to believe absolutely in the world I create within the pages of my novels. This kind of world-building is challenging. But I find that if I embed my paranormal ideas within a contemporary setting, that they work well. In Midnight Side, a ghost is manipulating the London stock exchange. In Other Side of Silence, a computer game is unraveling one of the oldest and deadliest mysteries in the science of sound. In Windwalker my heroine takes photographs of a deserted house and when she develops the pictures, she finds a ghost wolf haunting the empty rooms. And in Season of the Witch, I stir together witchcraft, alchemy and modern information technology. The old and the new; the paranormal and the real. If you work hard at it, they can fit together seamlessly.
PNR: Do you feel your writing is character driven or plot driven? How do you balance these two elements?
Natasha M.: For me, the story comes first and I am not a serendipitous writer. I plot very carefully and know where I’m going and what the ending will be. The plots in my books are quite intricate, and I have to be disciplined otherwise I will write myself into a corner. Of course, this does not mean that the book doesn’t change as I write. It does, and the fun part is when your characters start to take over and play havoc with your carefully thought out narrative.
Once I have the plot in place, I concentrate fully on the characters and they become paramount. You have to know your characters inside out: their passions, their dislikes, their flaws and their strengths. You have to care very deeply about them. If you, as the author, don’t care what happens to them, how are you going to convince your readers to take them seriously?
PNR: Could you tell us a little about how you develop your characters? Who has been your favorite character to write? The most challenging?
Natasha M.: My two witches were exasperating, difficult, temperamental women and tough to handle! But I think of all the characters I’ve created that they are my favorites. When I develop my characters I am generous and give them many talents. The world they inhabit is filled with magic and in order for my characters to move through this world with confidence, they need to be larger than life.
The success of the Season of the Witch depended on my two witch sisters remaining fascinating, but ultimately unknowable women. This was a difficult trick to pull of, as an enigmatic character can easily become a bland character. But I had fun with my two ladies. They are certainly not your ordinary garden-variety witches. Their tools are not broomsticks and cauldrons but computers and code. They are also alchemists and practitioners of the lost Art of Memory. And one of them is completely insane and a murderer…
PNR: How would you describe the sensuality level of your books; do you find it challenging to write the love/sex scenes?
Natasha M.: I have never thought of my books as being overtly erotic but certainly for Season of the Witch I have received one review after the other, which mentions this aspect of the novel. One reviewer describes the plot as a mixture of “black cats, spiders, mystical signs and dangerous sex.” I love the dangerous sex bit. However, if you look at the story carefully, there is not that much sheet action involved. And the descriptions are not over-the-top graphic. But it is true that throughout the novel I have tried to keep a strong sexual tension going between my hero and my two witches. One guy and two women will always add up to a sexy equation. And to my mind the idea that my hero is allowed to look -- but not touch – is highly erotic.
Do I find it challenging to write the love scenes? Very much so. I always think sex scenes can so easily flip over into the ridiculous. Passion is best served up understated. And I think one well-written paragraph that stirs the senses is worth ten pages of sweaty wrestling.
PNR: In your opinion, what do you believe accounts for the sudden interest in all things paranormal, in movies, books and television?
Natasha M.: Paranormal stories allow us to discover the magic within the mundane. We live rushed lives filled with a million mind-numbing tasks that require our attention. But I think most of us sense that lurking just outside our vision are things that cannot easily be explained. Sometimes we notice synchronicities that hint at something extraordinary hiding behind the dusty curtain of our everyday existence. And that fascinates us.
PNR: Paranormal romance in a contemporary setting is experiencing an incredible surge in popularity, what about this sub-genre captures the reader’s imagination? What is it about this setting that captures your interest?
Natasha M.: Paranormal romance provides a little bit of fantasy on our daily bread. And paranormal romantic heroes are usually pretty sexy in a dark, sophisticated kind of way. If you have to choose between tormented Angel (as in Angel and Buffy) or your decent, upstanding bank manager who brings you flowers, who would you choose? And it is nice to think these guys with their very cool paranormal powers did not disappear along with Dracula. They may just share an elevator with you one day and sweep you off your feet…of course, they may also suck your blood!
I always embed my paranormal stories within a contemporary setting. I like the friction that results from pairing the lushness of a paranormal narrative with modern day issues and themes. This is especially noticeable in Season of the Witch, which has been described as a “gothic thriller for the twenty-first century.” The book does have a very gothic feel to it – the creepy house, the witch sisters – but it deals with thoroughly modern topics such as information technology and its impact on individuals.
PNR: Are you planning to continue writing in the paranormal genre? What is your favorite genre to write? Is there a genre you haven’t written but would like to try?
Natasha M.: My books all have a dash of mysticism and the paranormal but they straddle various genres. I was recently named author of the month by Crimesquad.com and those guys usually deal in books that feature private investigators, forensic pathologists and hardboiled crime. The SF and fantasy crowd have also claimed my books as belonging to their genre. A powerful love story usually lies at the heart of my novels, and therefore romance readers seem to find the books of interest as well.
As for the future: I’ll probably continue writing in the paranormal genre. It is a genre that gives the writer elbow room to explore completely off-the-wall ideas. This suits my kind of imagination.
PNR: Could you tell us about your current projects, what can readers expect to see in the coming months?
Natasha M.: I am currently working on my next novel, titled Dragonfly. The novel will deal with the concept of “chi” – the vital energy the Chinese believe is flowing through our veins. Dragonfly tells the story of a hunter who steals the vital energy of people who are blessed with strong “chi”. However, when he targets my heroine’s lover, she decides to take him on. She is in possession of a very cool power herself, but I’m not going to reveal what it is!
I’m not nearly as far along with this novel as I should be because my two witches have kept me busy! But as soon as I have finished the promotional work and publicity for Season of the Witch I shall get to grips with this book in a serious way. So then it will just be me, the computer screen and a tub of Belgian chocolate ice cream once again.
PNR: Thank you Natasha, for taking time out to speak with us; where can readers find out more about your work?
Natasha M.: Thank you, Dee! If your readers would like to find out more about my work, they can check out my website at www.seasonofthewitch.com or www.natashamostert.com. And please, they should remember to play my memory game! It is fun to play and has some lovely visuals created for me by my long-suffering but very talented brother. Players can win signed copies of my book and the top scorer after three months will win an ipod nano. Also for those readers who are into MySpace, you can check out my page at www.myspace.com/natashamostert. And I’d love for you to send me friend requests!
the Witch Memory Game
April 19, 2007
The Matrix meets Interview with the Vampire in this sexy gothic thriller
Season of the Witch tells the story of Gabriel Blackstone: hacker, information thief, and skilled "remote viewer." Asked by a former lover to investigate the disappearance of her stepson, Gabriel's suspicions fall on Minnaloushe and Morrighan Monk, two beautiful sisters who live in a rambling Victorian house in London. Independently wealthy, the sisters spend their time dabbling in alchemy and the ancient Art of Memory—invented by the Greeks and used by alchemists and magi such as Giordano Bruno and Leonardo Da Vinci. The sisters are white, or "solar," witches, who aim to use alchemy not to turn lead into gold but to attain ultimate knowledge and therefore ultimate power. Gabriel soon becomes convinced that his client's son had been murdered and that one of the women is the killer. But which one?
As Gabriel infiltrates the world of the sisters, he finds himself drawn inexorably deeper— becoming entranced even as he realizes that he is in mortal danger. When he is caught snooping, Gabriel must race to unlock their secrets before they can retaliate. To save himself— and the one he loves, presuming she is not guilty—Gabriel will have to fight one of the sisters within the landscape of her own mind.
April 1, 2005
Windwalker is the story of soul mates: a man and a woman who are karmically linked but who have been frustrated in their search for each other. Through the ages their lives have never connected: the one always walking too far ahead of the other. But just as an amputee may feel in his nerves the ghost of a missing arm, so they know that out there is someone who can make them complete. Will they manage to defy the extraordinary obstacles facing them in this life in order to find one another?
Hodder & Stoughton
January 1, 2001
Grounded in an ancient musical paradox, Natasha Mostert's thrilling second novel is a tour-de-force of mystery and violence.
It is the most compelling music ever invented. Born of a wildly successful computer game, Angel music has taken the world by storm. Some worry about the way it hypnotizes its listeners; others, that its addicts can become violent - but most are simply captivated by its beauty. Behind the music from the computer game called The Angel's Key are three brilliant young men. Their goal is to create a perfect musical scale, and with the help of the enormous computing power the game's addicts bring when they play it, they are getting very close to success.
Now, Jon Falconer, the American mathematician who made it all possible, has come to Africa to follow up a tantalizing clue: the sound created by the natural bell- like stones called rock gongs. He finds both new enlightenment and Tia, a woman who already understands the gongs' primitive power. Stephen Yale, the visionary Englishman who began the quest for perfect tuning, and Jon's brother Richie, the genius computer hacker who made the game a success, follow him. As Stephen and Jon both fall in love with Tia, the music's hold grows ever stronger, the musical scale comes closer and closer to perfection - and the world comes to the brink of an unimaginable catastrophe. One that can only be averted by an unimaginable sacrifice.
January 1, 2002
The Midnight Side is a chilling tale of an incredibly seductive woman, who, even from the grave, is able to manipulate events to her satisfaction. A haunting story of obsession and loss, Natasha Mostert's arresting debut is an intricately plotted psychological thriller that will leave you breathless. Isa de Witt is not alarmed when she receives a phone call in the early morning hours from her cousin Alette - until she later discovers that Alette has been dead for two days. Then Isa receives three sealed envelopes - a final request from Alette that will wreak evil vengeance on the living... Torn between her conscience and her cousin's memory, Isa does nothing. But the dead will not rest - soon Alete begins haunting Isa's dreams, slowly overpowering her will to resist...just as Alette had planned.For a more info on Ms. Mostert's work visit her website
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