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Elizabeth Buchan Interview

Posted on 31 August 2007. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to novelist Elizabeth Buchan

Tell us something about your background.

I began as a blurb writer for Penguin books which meant I was ordered to read my way through the Penguin list. I subsequently ended up as a fiction editor in Random House – so I understood a little about publishing. However, it did not mean I knew anything at all about being an author which is quite separate thing! I began with two historical novels, Daughters of the Storm and Light of the Moon. My third novel, Consider the Lily, was set in the thirties and was about a woman in an unhappy marriage taking solace from the garden.. I followed those up with Perfect Love, Against her Nature and Secrets of the Heart. Then I wrote Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman which has been my lucky novel for it has been published all over the world, hit the New York Times bestseller list and was made into a television drama by CBS in American. After that I wrote The Good Wife, That Certain Age and The Second Wife which is a sequel to Revenge of the Middle Aged Woman.

I am currently working on The Books of Hours which is the story of a missing illuminated manuscript. Why did it go missing? Who painted it and who was the woman who commissioned it and what was her story?

I occasionally do some reviewing and I welcome the chance to read other writers that I would not necessarily choose. However, I have found that – for me – it is better not to do so while I am writing as I need to concentrate on that process, otherwise I find my energies are diluted.

How did you start writing?

I think it was under the blankets at boarding school where I was cold, hungry and very angry at being there. Writing was a diversionary activity. There was a large gap between then and later when, as a mother of two toddlers, I decided that the time was never going to be right and I had better get on with it. I used to get up at 5.30 and write a page before seeing to the children and going out to work. If I was still upright after supper I would snatch half an hour to do another page. It took a long time, but I got there!

Who are your favourite writers and why?

There are so many fine writers, and great writers. To begin with, I was very influenced by the classics and the writers of the nineteenth century. Later on, I grew more interested in contemporary writing which is faster paced and more flexible. Ian McEwan and Michael Ondtjaae are role models, as Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro.

How did you get your first agent/ commission?

I was introduced to an agent who was interested in publishing fiction and she was immensely supportive and took me on. She auctioned my first novel and I was lucky enough to be sold to Macmillan. It began from there.

What's the worst thing about writing?

I think one had to guard against being thoroughly neurotic. A harsh verdict from a critic or a reader can plunge me into gloom. But I am aware that you will never learn if you ignore the bad review. It is a painful, but necessary, process and if you flinch facing up to the mistakes, then you do yourself a disservice.

And the best?

Handling the first proofs of the latest novel. There is something quite special about that moment. Also, I have been lucky enough to receive letters from readers all over the world who tell me they enjoy the novels and I love the connection that is made between them and me. But, above all, I feel so lucky at being able to do what I love. Writing has proved to be a fascinating journey – without maps and compass at times – but it is one where I am continually learning.

Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.

See above. I always bear in mind that is if something has a life in it, then it is bound to be liked and disliked for the dual response is a reflection of human nature. It follows, then, that you have to believe absolutely in what you are writing and be prepared to stick by your vision. When I published Revenge of the Middle Aged Woman it created quite a difference of opinion – and some readers were angry that Rose, the abandoned wife, was not more vitriolic. But I wanted to show how Rose arrived at state of healing by living well – which, as it turned out, was the best revenge. And I had to be prepared to stick by this, and to defend the theme of the novel. On other hands, some readers have told me that the novel has changed their lives. Then, I feel so touched and rather humble. The written word possessed a great deal of power over us.

What was your breakthrough moment?

When I published Consider the Lily which gave me a platform with publishers and later with the publication of Revenge of Middle Aged Woman.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Comments by other Members

MariaM at 08:21 on 05 September 2007  Report this post
Fantastic interview! Really interesting point about how writers have to be 'strong' and stick to their guns when taking a viewpoint which some people might not agree with. An in-tune editor a vital requirement when writing though, I imagine!

all best


little monkey at 10:28 on 05 September 2007  Report this post
Excellent interview thanks!

Lammi at 14:32 on 06 October 2007  Report this post
Congratulations on your success, Elizabeth. Your positive review of my second novel meant a great deal to me.

I'm nodding at so much of this, especially:

I always bear in mind that is if something has a life in it, then it is bound to be liked and disliked for the dual response is a reflection of human nature.

No one will ever produce a piece of art that's loved by all, and it helps to remember that when criticisms come in.

I'm also put in mind of the novel I've just finished reading, Jon McGregor's 'So Many ways to Begin,' where I was surprised by the anger of the hero when he finds out he's adopted. I was thinking, 'Why make such a big deal of it? You were loved by the parents who brought you up' - but that's only because that would have been my personal reaction in those circumstances. It's not a reason to query the characterization, or find fault with the book. Part of the pleasure in reading is finding out how people different from myself might react to a given circumstance.

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