The five places that changed my life: Natasha Lester, author

FLORENCE, ITALY

In 1996, I went backpacking in Europe for the first time. I flew into Rome and it was, for a girl from Perth, a bit overwhelming. Then I caught the train to Florence and it was like entering another world. This was the Europe I'd dreamed of: sculpture and art and gelato and ancient buildings full of stories. I vividly remember sitting in a piazza in the spring sunshine, listening to Italian being spoken all around me, and realising I could not live without those kinds of moments. Foreign moments, when everything was strange and unexpected and also brilliant. My love of travel was born then and there and it shows no signs of abating.

DACHAU, GERMANY

How can visiting Dachau not change you? Of course I knew about the war and the concentration camps and the terrible things that had happened there but knowing it and feeling it are two very different things. I emerged from Dachau a different person to the one who'd entered: cruelty was no longer just a word but a visceral sense of anguish. How could we have let this happen? How could we make sure it would never happen again? That despair lingers with me still; terrible things keep happening in the world and too many people don't seem to learn from history.

SIESTA PARK, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

No place on earth has a beach like that at Siesta Park: an endless stretch of white sand, an ocean so calm you almost don't want to disturb the surface by stepping into the water, the sharp scent of peppermint trees. The idea for my very first book was born while sitting on the beach there. I often think that if it wasn't for Siesta Park, I might never have become a writer.

PARIS, FRANCE

It wasn't the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre that made Paris stick in my heart but the Sainte-Chapelle. I entered this gothic church on the Ile de la Cite expecting it would be just another in a long line of pretty European churches. Then I sat on a bench and stared at the magnificent stained glass windows and I didn't want to leave. It was one of those moments when you feel art as a spiritual thing, rather than a visual thing and that sensation has since become my yardstick for assessing art.

LONDON, ENGLAND

London is the city where my love of vintage fashion and fashion as art took hold. I spent most of my time in London visiting the V&A regularly, haunting the many vintage clothing stores and reading everything I could on fashion history. It's fair to say that I'm now completely obsessed with fashion history and I love indulging this passion in my books.

Perth-based Natasha Lester's new novel, The Paris Seamstress ($29.99, Hachette), is out now. See natashalester.com.au; Hachette.com.au

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