1. When did you start writing?
"I’ve always written in some form or other. Poetry has always been my own personal therapy, ever since I was a teenager. Going into adulthood I had a number of writing projects or ideas kicking about in my head— children’s books, novels, short stories— but nothing much ever really came from it. Then CoVid happened and I caught the virus and was in a very bad way for quite a long time. I spent my hours rewatching period dramas and rereading regency and victorian classics that I grew up on. From there I segued into reading some retellings of classic novels like Pride and Prejudice, and fell down the Fanfiction rabbit hole— very happily I might add, there are some really talented writers out there!
I connected with another writer who encouraged me to have a go myself. I did, and my retelling of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 'North and South' was a hit with readers and, most importantly, taught me that I had it in me to be a writer, and that there was space out there in the world for my art. Then, towards the middle of the pandemic I found myself on the recieving end of quite a few personal losses and traumatic experiences, and the poems just began to fall out of me. At that point I hadn’t written poetry in years, but my experience writing and publishing fanfiction gave me the confidence to send my poetry out for publication. Selcouth Station, a small but brilliant UK based indie press were the first to publish me, and the rest is history. My audience has grown steadily, and there’s nothing more rewarding that having someone reach out to you to say your work resonated with them, and that they found comfort, or consolation in your words."
2. What is your method of writing? Notebooks, computer?
"I don’t have the wrist strength to write by hand, although I would love to! I plan novels and outline short stories on paper, but the actual piece is always written on my computer or phone. I’m a busy mum, I homeschool my kids, run a small business, and teach part-time, so time is of the essence!
I tend to jot down poems or stories in my Notes app on my phone, and the rest of my work is organised in googledocs just because it’s easier to manage and share. I write whenever I get the chance- during my kids' TV time, while the pasta boils, during swimming lessons or dance class. But one of the key steps in taking myself 'seriously' as a writer was carving out time just for writing. My Tuesday afternoons and Wednesdays are childfree, and those are my set-in-stone writing hours each week. During my writing time I am not to be disturbed. Unless the house is on fire, or someone has lost a limb..."
3. Where do you draw inspiration?
"From everything and anything. Music, Ludovico Einaudi, Violeta Parra, Caetano Veloso, Kaya. Other works of literature, classic or otherwise. From people I see on the street, stories I hear, nature, the countries I’ve lived in. From the depression I battle constantly, the minute struggles and moments of sweetness in each day, my daughters, my body, my ancestry. From crippling compassion for a world that is, more often than not, going up in flames. From my faith, my beliefs, my sense of justice. From my past— what it has been, what it should have been. From the future— what I would like it to be. What it most likely will turn out to be."
4. What drew you to writing poetry?
"As I mentioned, poetry has always been my personal therapy. But discovering the small-press and indie-poetry world has ben life-changing for me. I discovered forms and subjects I never even knew existed. That is what I love about poetry— everything can be a poem! It is the most flexible literary form out there, and this somehow makes it the most powerful. Nothing can punch you in the gut like a good poem. Nothing can move you to tears in one line, then have you belly-laughing in the next like a poem. Nothing can convey so much feeling in so few words as a poem.
I honestly think I can’t not write poetry. Even as I move on to other genres and projects, I don’t think I will ever completely leave poetry behind. Even now as I’ve finished my first full-length collection I’m already starting to work on poems to go into another two chapbooks. To me poetry is like that old, well-worn cable-knit jumper— no matter how many other new clothes I buy, nothing ever fits quite as right or feels quite so warm."
5. Congrats on your debut poetry collection! How did Cajoncito: Poems on Love, Loss, y Otras Locuras come about? When did you realize you had material for a book?
"Thank you so much! It’s been quite a ride! Basically I had a wealth of very personal poems that I wasn’t sure what to do with. I honestly didn’t think anyone would be interested in them, as they were so raw and intimate, I doubted anyone else would be able to relate to them. I had written other poems about language, race, motherhood that I thought were more 'marketable,' so I tried to focus on writing about those, but the poems for Cajoncito just kept coming- poems on love in all its forms, loss of lovers, children, friends, family, my own identity… soon I had enough for a chapbook, and then a full collection.
It was my husband who encouraged me to do something with them. 'If your work is good,' he said, 'you should put it out there.' So I did. I curated the poems into a collection, separating them into 3 chapters of Love, Loss and Madness (Otras Locuras). By that point there were almost an even number of English and Spanish poems, and a few of my English-speaking beta readers suggested I include translations so that every poem could be enjoyed by readers of both languages.
And so 'Cajoncito' was born. The name means small box or drawer in Spanish, and that’s exactly how I see these poems— pieces of myself that deserve their own little space to exist and tell their story, before I put them away forever for safekeeping. There’s a continuous thread about moving on throughout the collection, and I guess that’s what the book is about— acknowledging things, and gathering the strength inside of you to move past them."
6. You do a wonderful series on your author page where you interview writers. How did this come about? What got you interested in spotlighting writers for your blog?
"I love the small-press community! It’s full of creatives making wonderful art because they can’t do otherwise, and for very little or no money at all! I’ve come across such an admirable work-ethic, such dedication to the craft, such artistic integrity in this community that I want to do all I can to promote those doing such great work!
The idea just popped into my head one day. I asked myself 'What is my platform? What is my reach? And how can i use it to help other artists like me?' But I must confess it is more work than I first thought, so I keep my interview series limited to only a number of authors at a time. So far I run two series #EMCWriteroftheMonth showcasing poets and writers, and #EMC6Things which aims to promote authors and their books of poetry or prose. I’m hoping to run another series in the next few months."
7. What other project(s) do you hope to take on someday?
"I have a queue of projects in my head that should tide me over for the next 10-15 years at least! I have a few more poetry collections in the works, and some short story collections. After Cajoncito I do want to get back to my victorian retellings— I have 4 novel-length ones mapped out, which I will publish under a different pen name. I also have a few children’s books series, a children’s poetry podcast and a few bilingual picture books I would like to get a move on with. I started drawing my own webcomic about motherhood and depression, so I’d like to pick that back up again, although I’m not sure where I’ll be going with it. And at some point I’d like to start writing some contemporary women’s fiction— I have about 5 novels based in France and Mauritius, outlined and ready to be written. There’s also 2-3 plays, and an environmental science-fiction screenplay I’d like to write a produce into a film."
8. What do you hope people take away from your work?
"I hope my poetry speaks to the reader, that a line or two stays with them for a few days after they’ve read it. That they find something of themselves, something hopeful that says 'you’re not alone in what you’re going through. Tomorrow, the sun will rise again, and so will you.'
As for the rest of my writing, quite honestly I just hope they enjoy it. That they find whatever it was that brought them to my story/book/play/film in the first place."
9. What’s the best writing advice you’ve been told or happened to overhear? What writing advice would you offer?
"The best writing advice I’ve ever come across is from Chilean author Isabelle Allende who said 'Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up too.' You can’t always wait for moments of great inspiration to come upon you- sometimes, oftentimes in fact, you’ve just got to plough through.
In the same vein the writing advice I usually give is 'just write the thing, and worry about how good it is later.' That’s what drafts and editing are for. Although a reminder to 'Be kind.' is also often needed in the writing community, unfortunately."
10. And finally, what do you enjoy doing that you don’t talk about enough. Tell me all about it!
"Gosh… I don’t know… I guess I do love crafting my entire life into an act of quiet rebellion against the system of the world as we know it. I love being creative, championing kindness, compassion, and forgiveness even if it’s not fashionable. I love striving to live a slow life, even though I am always so excruciatingly busy. I love homeschooling my children, letting them wake and sleep and learn and play at their own rhythm. I love having a household routine that is out of the norm, loving my people, my projects, my plants and whatever else comes across my path. I firmly believe that the life I lead, and everything I do is my message to the world— and I work hard at making it a good one!"
Hear Elizabeth read her poem “Unwelcome.”
Elizabeth M Castillo is a British-Mauritian poet, writer, indie-press promoter. She lives in Paris with her family and two cats, where she writes a variety of different things under a variety of pen names. In her writing Elizabeth explores themes of race & ethnicity, motherhood, womanhood, language, love, loss and grief, and a touch of magical realism. She has words in, or upcoming in Selcouth Station Press, Pollux Journal, Revista Purgante, Feral Poetry, Streetcake Magazine, Fevers of the Mind Press, Bandit Fiction, Epoch Press, among others. Her bilingual, debut collection “Cajoncito: Poems on Love, Loss, y Otras Locuras” is available for preorder from her website, and for sale on amazon as from Oct 29th 2021. You can connect with her on Twitter and IG at @EMCWritesPoetry.
Cristina A. Bejan
Elizabeth M Castillo
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