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An Interview with Author Elizabeth Train-Brown

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Twice-shortlisted Poet of the Year, Perito Prize and Pushcart Prize shortlistee, and winner of the Best Creative Writing Portfolio Prize from Lancaster University, Elizabeth (she/they) is a chronic reader and writer of the Weird. Her debut poetry collection, salmacis: becoming not quite a woman (Renard Press, 2022), was hailed as “vital for society today” (Jennifer Hill, Ulverscroft Publishers). Their work has been published over fifty times worldwide, including by Rattle and Fly on the Wall Press.

After five years working in a voluntary editorial capacity for literary magazines around the world, Elizabeth now headlines literary festivals across the UK and leads workshops in Creative Writing for Lancaster University’s outreach team. She collaborates with writing groups throughout the north of England to help set up events, regular workshops, and support them in becoming more accessible for writers from all backgrounds, especially during the cost-of-living crisis. Founder of the writers’ podcast, Ravens & Writing Desks, Elizabeth interviews authors around the world on their process, work, and tips for fellow writers.

Outside of writing, Elizabeth is a second-generation circus performer, competitive pole dancer, and Widening Participation Coordinator at Lancaster University, where she works with schools across the UK to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds in Higher Education.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

For as long as I can remember, my dad was reading me books before bedtime. What started as The Wishing Chair became Harry Potter became Dad’s own stories that he came up with on the fly, usually starring Beth the Dragon-Flyer or Beth the Great Explorer.

I’m constantly proud of my dad, who has always followed his dreams, where they’ve taken him to work in newspapers, radio, circuses, and now writing stories. His series, Chipwell Boys, is his own world. It was watching my dad create these worlds and characters that made me realise I wanted to be the god of my own stories.

I started writing my first book when I was eight. It began as a blatant plagiarism of The Adventures of Dick and Dom (my favourite CBBC programme of the age) and turned into an excitement for worldbuilding and character that has never gone away.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

My first few proper novels were standalone contemporary fiction—something I had no love for writing beyond a bit of gratuitous Mary Sue-ing. I desperately wanted to write a YA fantasy series but had no ideas. In the end, it was the beginning of another contemporary fiction novel that turned into Bleed.

It was originally a book following three teens all affected by a car crash in different ways but I found that the three core characters had a lot more story in them. I started playing with the idea of how different supernatural characters would interact, with the weight of history and context and their own cultures behind them. I went back and rewrote the intro of this book I had and started changing bits. What if the snarky one is an ancient dragon? Who drinks? And what if the short, shy one gets bitten by a vampire? What if that’s the catalyst of the story?

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

Bleed was once known as The Bitten. It was actually known as this for a long time; almost the entirety of its writing. When I started exploring a little more how my main character, Charlie, as a trans teen, interacts with this new identity, I wanted something more active; Charlie is shy and overworked and faints at the sight of blood, but he isn’t a passive participant in this story. In fact, he drives cataclysmic events for the supernatural world. So, I wanted to get rid of that 99p horror title you’d find on a yellow-edged book from the 90s in a charity shop and give it something with more present action. Bleed is a command, an action, a lament. It’s about being a vampire, being human, and a nod towards being a trans man.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

This book certainly has more than one playlist—given that it’s multi-POV, I like listening to each character’s playlist while I’m writing them so I can get into their head. My main character listens to a lot of musicals, his best friend the dragon listens to classic rock and Lady Gaga, the witch who’s having a very bad day listens to songs about scary women, and the rich boy with a mansion full of trauma doesn’t listen to anything (but I’ve made him a playlist of emo kid music because I think he’d appreciate it).

As for specific songs, oddly enough, “Balcony Scene” by screamo rock band Pierce the Veil viciously inspired a scene that drove an entire romantic subplot of the novel so that is absolutely on there. Along with “Mr. Sandman” by SYML, which similarly inspired a paranormal subplot, and “Welcome Home” by Radical Face, which just kicks me in the writer’s teeth every time.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I once worked as a model during lockdown and had a photoshoot in an abandoned church in Skidbrooke, where I covered myself in soot and breathed fire for the camera. It’s something my mum taught me to do when I was fifteen and, to this day, the smell of paraffin settles whatever’s darting around in my chest.

I also once worked as a cleaner at McDonalds. I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you about the conditions there, but I will say we once found a cricket in a burger.

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell was a huge inspiration because it helped me realise that for the type of book I was writing, a present-tense/first-person/multi-POV narration style was exactly what I needed. It brings the psychic distance way down and allows the reader to really root for the characters that are driving my story. They’ve always been primary to the story over the plot, so this choice did a lot of good for the novel.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer, one of my all-time favourite books, also gave me a sounding board for my lead character. I wanted him to be someone who was kind and soft and shy without detracting from the fact that he’s still very much a three-dimensional character who sometimes despairs at soft-parenting his own mum or that the responsibility for dragging his best friend away from fights falls to him. It also really helped developing how this translates into the love of friendship. I adore a romantic subplot as much as the next person—and this book comes with a slow-burn enemies-to-lovers—but I also wanted to keep friendship a crucial theme. Charlie and his best friend and their adopted witch friend form different dynamics of relationship but all fight to forge a connection that is tested again and again (by me, writing them horrible scenarios to deal with) and always comes through the other side.

Finally—hardly a comfort book because it made me doubt everything I’ve ever written—Leigh Bardugo’s entire Grishaverse series, but especially that bastard spin-off duology, King of Scars. A thousand curses for writing this brilliant, intricate, and utterly formidable book that does wonderous things with writing that I’ve never seen in literature before and didn’t realise books could do. It raised the standard by a Fold and gave me a three-month hiatus from writing while I dealt with the existentialism it threw me into. However, after those three months, I emerged with even more determination to achieve something that makes someone sit down with an “oof.”

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

There are plenty of things I think I could say here. Duality of identity is a big one, considering Charlie is a trans man who’s half-vampire and half-human, my witch is mixed-race, their village divided by gentrification and hatred. A sense of Britishness that goes beyond bulldogs and teabags to return to some of our folk origins in the May Days, street parties, well-dressings, and British folklore. That sense of friendship and love and being able to see yourself in characters.

Although, if I’m being honest, whenever I work on this book, I write for the teen I was when I first started reading books that made me want to hold those characters and those worlds against my belly and never let go. The kind of feeling that usually goes with merch you spend too much money on, printed-out memes and fanarts that plaster walls, or tattooed lines on ankles. I always wanted to create characters and worlds that made people feel like that.

So, the thing I’d say I hope readers take away from reading my book is all the bits of it they love and they never want to let go. But especially my dragon Felix who has all the best lines that he won’t let me take credit for.

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