In conversation with... Elizabeth Buchan (#2)

Hi Elizabeth! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of The Museum of Broken Promises! Can you please briefly tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you so much.

Half English, half French Laure Carlyle sets up a museum in Paris to which you can bring the objects which symbolize a broken promise in your life, thereby finding some redress and comfort. Why has she done this? The story goes back to her past life, to Prague before the Communist regime was overthrown and to Berlin just after the wall has been dismantled, and a story of danger, repression and a love affair which has marked her emerges.

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing the book or did it take an unexpected turn as the characters grew on the page?

A: I more or less knew who and what Laure was – someone at the beginning who was still to find true consolation for something she did earlier in her life. What I had not banked on was her relationship with her former employer, Petr, who also affected Laure’s future in various ways. Tomas was already there in my head – slight, sexy, reckless and brave. He and Laure have their love affair and I always knew it would contain equivocal elements. Did he really love her? Or was he using her? Readers can decide. I can only say that it’s possible to do both.

What kind of research did you have to carry out while you were writing this novel? In general, is research something you enjoy or a means to an end?

A: I love the research phase. It can be addictive, and you must watch you don’t overdo it. It is true that nothing beats going to a place to look at it. The germ of the novel was born when I visited the Museum of Communism and walked into a mock-up of an interrogation cell and the phone on the desk rang so harshly I jumped out of my skin. That kind of sensory experience is invaluable. 

If this novel was going to be turned into a film, who would you cast in the roles of Laure and Petr?

A: That’s a fabulous question. Clare Foy for Laure? Dominic West for Petr? Dream on…

How important was the choice of location when you started thinking of this novel?

A: Very. If I wished to write about the political broken promise, as well as personal broken promises, I needed a city such as Prague in order to ground the idea. Equally, I felt the area of Paris I chose to be slightly counter intuitive and would house Laure’s museum perfectly. 

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about a scene in the book that you love or that was particularly difficult to write?

A: I found the scenes where Laure finally realises what happened in the past very disturbing to think about and to write. I also found writing about the Pierrot marionette took it out of me – he symbolized so much. The cat scenes tended to make my eyes water… but that is sheer indulgence on my part. But I loved writing about Laure’s happiness when she and Tomas fell in love and the pleasure and relief that, later, she finds in her museum. By the end, she is a woman at peace. I liked that very much.

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

A: A few more objects in the museum. My editor felt they could clog up the narrative pace.

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: It’s set in Rome. Bonne Morton is an archivist working on ordering the ex-pat archives and she takes some of the papers for restoration to book restorer, Stefan Ricci. Together, they piece together from the papers the story of Nina who was murdered thirty years back. But who, actually, is Stefan?

What are you reading at the moment?

A: Just embarking on Elizabeth Macneal’s The Doll Factory. It looks wonderful.

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: Do it. Don’t think about it. Don’t dream about it. Even don’t talk about it. Sit down and set yourself a target for every day – however little – and do it.

Thank you for your time!

Such a pleasure. Thank you for inviting me Silvia.

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