The Museum of Broken Things by Lauren Draper
“Gideon crosses his arms behind his head. He looks tired again, I realise. And softer, somehow. Lifeguard Gideon is all hard edges and shrewd lines. Party Gideon is a little looser, his smile a little wider. I hesitate before I settle down beside him at last, gazing up at the mottled sky. We didn’t have stars like this in the city – the only thing that glowed in the sky were satellites and aeroplanes passing overhead. I tell him that, and he laughs again.” (The Museum of Broken Things )
Congratulations, Lauren, on The Museum of Broken Things being shortlisted for the Text Prize and now published by Text Publishing. It has important, and sometimes dark, themes, told in a way that sweeps the reader into caring for the characters and into the beautifully unfolding, and surprising, story.
You keep us wondering about The Terrible Thing That Happened, where Reece and Gideon might take their relationship, and the secret that Reece’s Nan leaves her.
As a very positive endorsement, it reminds me of Nina Kenwood’s YA novel, It Sounded Better in My Head.
Thank you for speaking to Joy in Books at PaperbarkWords.
Where are you based and what is your background in writing and publishing?
I live in Melbourne, which is such a hub for literary activity. We’re so fortunate to have writers centres, festivals, development programs and networks at our fingertips. I got into publishing after I enrolled in the RMIT Professional Writing and Editing course. I always knew I wanted to write, in some capacity, but I never really knew how much went on behind the scenes (I actually started out wanting to be a journalist, because I didn’t know what else I could do with writing!). The PWE course is so fantastic at pulling back the curtain and giving you a peek at the industry, and I just fell completely in love.
After I graduated, I ended up getting my start as a receptionist for a small publisher, and over the years I’ve worked my way up to become a marketing and publicity manager. In the background of all that happening, I kept working on my manuscript with the vague ambition that I was working towards publication. Although, I actually never told anyone at work that I was writing. It’s a bit strange to work within the field, because you know how hard it can be to breakthrough and I was really nervous that editors – who were now my friends and colleagues – would have to tell me the writing wasn’t good enough. So I just kept it a secret, until…
Please talk us through the process of being shortlisted for the Text Prize.
I decided to enter the Text Prize since I didn’t know anyone there and thought it would be a good way to find out if my work was actually any good. Not to mention, I’d been following the prize for a few years, and was such a huge admirer of their list. They have a knack for finding hidden gems, and I was really just hoping to make the long-list so I could have something on my writing “resume” if I needed to pitch elsewhere. I never expected to make the shortlist, so it was such a surreal moment when they called with the good news. It’s been a really wonderful experience, especially since I was able to find a writing community with my fellow shortlistees – it was so fantastic to be going through the same process as someone else, asking questions, sending support and bemoaning deadlines together.
I love your title, The Museum of Broken Things. Could you explain something about this? (I know it could be difficult to avoid spoilers.)
Without giving too much away, the book focuses on Reece, who is running from her past as fast as she can, feeling unmoored and isolated from the life she once knew. But there’s also a whole cast of characters around her who are all a bit fractured in their own way, and the story follows them as they come to terms with this imperfect version of life. I liked the idea that readers could interpret the title to have different meanings: maybe it alludes to the main character, or to her friends, or to the mysterious artifact she finds and the literal museum that follows. It really depends on what it means to you.
What genre is this novel?
It’s a contemporary novel written for a young adult audience. But there’s also a dash of romance and a hint of mystery, so really, there’s something for everyone!
Your characters are very appealing and well-developed. I love how you portray them so positively despite what they’re going through. How would you describe Reece’s voice and why do you think your protagonists Reece and Gideon will resonate with young readers?
Reece just appeared in my mind as a fully-formed person: she felt angry and bitter and exhausted, but beneath all that, there was a kernel of something like hope. She seemed like someone who wanted to give up, but she wasn’t quite there yet. That’s where her resilience builds from, and I wanted to show how a person can suffer through terrible things but still find a way back to themselves – and it’s okay if that takes a long time, especially if you’re a young person and don’t quite know how to process these moments. I also felt that it was important for her to have positive relationships, because that’s such a big part of your life as a teenager – it’s often your friends that know you better than your parents. Gideon was part of that puzzle: a friend, and then more than a friend, but someone who was willing to listen when she needed it. There’s so much love in this book, and it’s not just romantic love: it’s friends and family and memories. That’s what Reece is finding her way back to.
Please tell us something about a couple of your other young characters and how they relate to each other.
I love found-family novel, so when Reece arrives in a new town, she finds herself (begrudgingly) building a community that she can depend on. Miles and Ava are two siblings eternally at war, but always loyal to each other when it counts the most. Miles was such a fun comedic character to write, and I love the angst that Ava provides, but it was also really interesting to occasionally flip those identities – Miles has his own private struggles, and Ava shows how joyous the bonds of female friendship can be. Gideon was always going to be the perfect-on-paper heart-throb, but I also wanted to show how teenage boys can be kind and gentle, and that those positive, healthy relationships do exist. And of course Reece’s brother Theo – it’s okay, you can tell me he’s your favourite, everyone does.
Please introduce us to a paddock party.
I simply cannot describe this to you, you must attend one to gain the full experience (at your own peril).
What role does water play in some of your characters’ lives?
Reece lives by the ocean in the novel, and so it felt natural to incorporate some small part of this element into her life. But I found myself really drawn to the metaphor of water “washing away” the past and it soon became a much larger part of the book, often where key events take place. I always loved swimming, and it’s always provided a sense of peace – time sort of stops when you’re underwater, and that seemed like a feeling Reece was chasing.
How/why have you shown your protagonists as having such positive relationships with their parents and the elderly?
I was always close with my family, especially my mum and my grandmother. Those intergenerational bonds are so important, and I think you often don’t fully appreciate their value until you’re older – sometimes when you become an adult yourself, and maybe caring for the people who once cared for you. And so many kids are close with their families, but we don’t often get to see it in Hollywood blockbusters. I liked the idea of Reece continuing to have that bond with her grandmother after she’s passed, in order to show just how strong that love can be. There’s something about grandparents, too, that feels a bit magical. Their house is almost the most fun, their photo albums are always the most exciting, and their stories are always told better – the duel sense of safety and adventure when you’re with them. That’s such a lovely moment in time that I wanted to capture.
Your writing is perfect for the story. How would you describe your style here?
Planning this story was such a hodge-podge, especially since I had such little time before the Text Prize deadline hit. But really, the voice came so easily because there’s so much of myself in there. I’d been working on a fantasy manuscript for a long time before I started working on this book, and I was starting to miss being able to use my own voice and to be able to play with fun bits of dialogues and humour. It was so liberating to be able to let the words flow for Reece, though we’re certainly very different people in many ways. She’s got a darker side that’s quite haunted by her past, and that was interesting to explore in juxtaposition to the front she often puts on for the people around her. So the style is a bit of me, a bit of her, and a lot of early 2000s influence.
How have you included humour?
I wanted to write a book about grief but I didn’t want it to be sad. The first chapter starts with a funeral, but I also wanted readers to feel like they could read this book as a bit of an escape from life, and to enjoy the process, so I wanted the narrative to have some levity to it. There’s a bit of dark humour, but also just a lot of teenagers being teenagers – they’re so resilient and adaptive at that age, they’re capable of going through big emotions and finding their way back to laughter. Showing Reece’s friendships was a big part of that – they really pull her back to the surface when she needs it most. I think that’s part of grieving, to: you’re going through such a painful, transformative period in your life, but you still have to get up in the morning and go about your day. Humour is inevitably part of that, and it shows that you can survive the worst moments while also living some of your best. Life isn’t chronological, and this clash happens more often than not.
What are you writing next?
I’m working on another contemporary young adult manuscript, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that readers might see it on shelves in the not-too-distant future! I think I’ll always write for teenagers – it’s such a formative period of time, where the emotions and stakes are high, your identity feels uncertain, and you’re just starting to find your feet when suddenly you turn eighteen and feel like the end of school means starting all over again. Plus, the voice is just so fun to work with!
What have you been reading that you would like to recommend?
I adore Biffy James’ debut novel Completely Normal (and Other Lies). It’s a love story with a twist – Stella’s sort-of-boyfriend dies on page one, and it’s really a journey through love, grief and friendships. Biffy’s voice is so strong and her whip-smart humour makes it a book you can tear through in a single sitting.
How can your readers contact you?
You can always reach out over Instagram (@laurendraperwrites) or on my website! I love when people say hello, it’s the most rewarding part of being an author.
Thank you for this very enjoyable (in fact, addictive and moving) reading experience, Lauren, and for your responses here. No doubt The Museum of Broken Things will appeal to a wide audience of YA readers.
“And as Ava tips me off the board and laughs maniacally, I think about Nina and the things we lost – and that I don’t want this to be another piece that’s taken away. Not when there’s a chance: the smallest, peskiest glimmer of hope. Not when I can picture her in that car park, the way I’m sure she smiled before she turned away.
I think, maybe, I am finally tired of losing things.” (The Museum of Broken Things)