In conversation with

Natasha Lunn

Features Editor at RED Magazine, founder Conversations on Love

natasha lunn journalist

Introduction

Introduction

Natasha Lunn is Features Editor at RED Magazine and the founder of Conversations on Love, a newsletter made up of interviews and personal essays on – you guessed it – love. Natasha’s quest to give form to one of the world’s most fickle feelings has seen her unpack dating with Dolly Alderton, discuss fictional love with Hilary Mantel and talk the art of compromise with Alain de Botton. Meanwhile her role at RED has ben starred with interviews with David Miliband and Davis Sedaris ( she has a postcard from him on her wall).

And as is to be expected of a natural romantic, stories have shaped Natasha. Today however she is less obsessed with a Pride & Prejudice picture love and is more concerned with providing a platform for its nuances – dating and romance; family and friends; break-ups and loss. She’s been studying relationship therapy and is planning a book, so do watch this space. Natasha says: “my main aim is to encourage us all to take the love in our lives more seriously and to give love the respect and attention it deserves”.

Question and Answer

Did you read about love and romance when you were younger? How did that shape your views and expectations?

When I was younger, like so many others, I was obsessed with the notion of romantic love. If I close my eyes and picture my teenage bookshelf I see An Outrageous Affair by Penny Vincenzi, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, The Go-Between, The Virgin Suicides (with the Kirsten Dunst film cover!) Possession by AS Byatt and a collection of poetry by the romantic poets. There was also a 14th century historical romance called Katherine, by Anya Seton, which I took from my school library and read again and again and again. What all these stories have in common, I think, is they often pivot around forbidden or unattainable love, and so I grew up believing that the will-they-won’t-they love was the most romantic kind. If I’m honest, it took me 29 years to let go of that story.

pride and prejudice 1946
"I grew up believing that the will-they-won’t-they love was the most romantic kind. If I’m honest, it took me 29 years to let go of that story."

Are there any novels you’ve read recently that offer a more realistic portraits of modern love?

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, is one of my favourite books and to me it really is a love story. It is shaped by the love Cheryl had for her late mother, and by the painful hole that love left in her life when she died. And it is also a love story between Cheryl and herself. Page by page, mile by mile, as she walks the Pacific Crest Trail she has to learn to love not only herself, but also a life without her mother. For the majority of my life my greatest love stories have been with my mum, dad and brother, and so I’m always searching for books and films that capture the beauty, humour and intense connections that exist in families. And this is certainly one of them.

Others have been The Cost of Living, by Deborah Levy, Devotions, a collection of poems by Mary Oliver, and The Still Point of the Turning World, by Emily Rapp. The latter is a memoir about a woman faced with perhaps the hardest task of all: to come to terms with the loss of her baby. But she uses the experience to ask valuable and vital questions about what it really means to love. It reminded me of this Mary Oliver quote, “To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”

natasha lunn pile of books
pile of books

What about non-fiction books or memoirs?

My favourite book of last year was The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy. I felt as if her words burrowed themselves inside me in a very deep way and will be lodged there forever! Again, it is not a traditional love story. It is a book about a woman trying to work out how to keep living when her heart is broken. I know that the author did, in real life, fall in love at the end of the book, but she chose not to include that romantic relationship in the story because it wasn’t really about that. That relationship wasn’t the finishing line.

Now that I’m thinking about this book, and Wild, I can see that I am drawn to ‘love stories’ that look at the parts of us that are formed in difficult moments, particularly when we lose love from our lives. I really believe that today I am a sum of all my darkest hours, and that we really learn the most about ourselves when love, or indeed life, doesn’t go our way.

rules do not apply
"I felt as if her words burrowed themselves inside me in a very deep way and will be lodged there forever!"

What are the dos and don’ts of writing about love?

It’s so hard and I certainly don’t think that I have managed to put words on a page that accurately describe how I feel about the people I love. But I think a good place to start is to ask better questions when it comes to love, and that’s something I really think long and hard about when I am interviewing guests for Conversations on Love. Max Linsky, who hosts one of my favourite podcasts called Longform, said recently that he thinks a good interview is when you manage to get someone to think out loud, and that is often what I am trying to do in COL. Because I think all of us have those love stories we have told for years – the ‘how we met’ story we retell at dinner parties, the proposal story our parents recount when we are old enough to ask about it. I’m less interested in these stories, and more about the smaller moments that might tell a bigger story about the different shapes that love takes in our life.

natasha lunn red magazine

What story are you hoping to tell with your newsletter, Conversations on Love?

I think the above answer explains this a little, but I suppose my main aim is to encourage us all to take the love in our lives more seriously and to give love the respect and attention it deserves. Because we don’t study love. We don’t learn what it looks like or how to work at it. And I am convinced that love will be the new wellness! By which I mean that there is a real shift happening now, where more people (from Sharon Salzberg to the love professor Megan Poe who was in COL earlier this year) are taking love more seriously as a topic. I mean, it’s kind of mad to me that we spend so much time reading and learning about what we should put in our bodies, how much we should exercise, how we can improve our careers. And yet we just don’t give that same attention to love. It is such a powerful pillar in our lives. It really affects our mental and physical happiness too, and that’s something I am delving into with a clinical psychologist a little later down the line.I think Megan Poe put it really well when she said that we all have certain questions that we are born with, and I really think that the questions I am asking through this project are the ones that I was born with and have been thinking about since I was a kid. It’s funny, because I used to feel a little embarrassed about loving love, but what I once thought was a flaw has actually turned out to be a strength. And I think that’s so often the way.

“We spend so much time reading and learning about what we should put in our bodies, how much we should exercise, how we can improve our careers. And yet we just don’t give that same attention to love. ”

What are the most compelling conversations that you’ve had to date?

The first one, with Heather Havrilesky, will always be so special to me because I knew afterwards that there was mileage in the whole idea. Then Hilary Mantel was obviously a really significant one for me on a personal level because I think she is our greatest living writer. (My husband always says to me that he thinks if I was going to leave him for anyone it would be Hilary Mantel, and he’s probably right!) But if I had to pick one it would be the conversation with Modern Love editor Dan Jones.

bell hooks heather havrilevsky

Can you tell us about your work as Features Editor at Red Magazine – what do you think Red offers its readers?

Sarah (my editor) and I care very deeply about making sure that Red’s features tell real stories in beautiful and sometimes unexpected ways. I think in 2018, it’s more important than ever for a print magazine to commission stories that really linger in your mind long after you’ve put down the magazine. What I try to do is invest time in my relationships with writers so that I can (hopefully) help them to tell stories that really mean something to them – and therefore will to the Red reader too. To be honest, I very rarely take ideas from a pitch. I prefer to go for coffee with a writer, or read their book, to get a sense of who they are and what they care about so that I can suggest an idea to them. So I hope that what Red offers is stories that come from a very true place, that share a writer’s personal truth that can also offer up some useful advice for us all.

red magazine
"I hope that what Red offers is stories that come from a very true place"
Previous Story
tahmina begum books on head
Tahmina Begum

Editor-in-Chief at XXY Magazine, freelance journalist

Next Story
emissaries guide to worlding-seb-emina
Seb Emina

Editor-in-Chief at The Happy Reader, Deputy Editor at Fantastic Man

Articles

Featured storytellers

View all

Sign up to our newsletter