Elizabeth M Castillo is a British-Mauritian poet, writer and language teacher. She lives in Paris with her family and two cats. When not writing poetry, she can be found working on her podcast or web-comic, pottering about her garden, or writing 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, Lanke Review, Authylem Magazine, Fevers of the Mind Press, Melbourne Culture Corner, Epoch Press, among others. Her first bilingual collection “Cajoncito: Poems on Love, Loss, y Otras Locuras” is out in 2021.
Who and what inspires you?
Everything inspires me! That’s the funny thing about poetry- literally anything can become a poem. Fried egg for breakfast? Wrap it in some guilt and silence and put it in a poem. Period pain? Paint it scarlet and wailing, and *bam*, it’s good to go. Kids, marriage, violence, loss, grief, mountains, trauma, oceans… there’s no end to subjects to mine in poetry. And as with any art, we are just reformulating everything that has been done before, so there is also great inspiration to be found in other poet’s and artists work. I’m a big fan of Warsan Shire, Lucille Clifton, Gabriela Mistral, Ada Limón, Roque Dalton...
I also write fiction, novel-length and short stories, and dabble a little in micro and flash. At the moment I reckon my Muse is sitting in Chile, because a lot of my creative thoughts and writing tends to pull me back there. The mountains, the desert, the flora, the protests, the city streets, the people I love and am separated from due to the pandemic and circumstance. A lot of these feature in the stories and poems I’m currently working on. I’ve also started digging into some more painful things, such as the reality of living with depression, so in that sense I draw my inspiration from my own experience, and the people, particularly women, I’ve known who have suffered the same.
My kid lit projects are inspired by many things, but mostly my daughters, or at least the literature I would like for them to read. Everything from moral stories, stories to encourage literacy, to ridiculous just-for-laugh stories, and series based on history, faith and STEM. My plays and screenplay are all based on social topics like the ageing population in France, the struggle to protect the environment in my home country of Mauritius, race relations in the Indian ocean, etc.
Music is also a great source of inspiration. I wrote a longer poem about a vengeful storm off the pacific coast of Latin America, based on Ludovico Einaudi’s “Storm Tower”. I’m also working on a picture book based about a friendship between a gardener and the moon, and the idea was originally inspired by Argentine folk group Aínda’s song “Canción de Bañar la Luna”. My proudest poem, that has yet to be published, is called “The Other Woman” and is set to the theme of Einaudi’s “Eros”.
Interestingly enough although I write a lot about motherhood and domestic life, my writing always tends to veer towards either the absurdity of parenting, or the struggles I face as a mother. I’m never able to respond to calls for submissions on the subject of parenting because so often publishers are looking for work that celebrates Mothers and Motherhood, and most of my work tends to either weep or rage over how hard it all is. But I do think that grittier subjects like PPD, post-natal recovery, body image, miscarriage, grief and loss of identity do need to be written about. They are part and parcel of the whole experience.
How do you find time to write as a parent?
I really have no idea to be honest. Time is the one thing I never have enough of! I teach, home-school my kids full-time and run a small, language-services business, so that’s a lot to be juggling really, and I must admit it does get to be a bit much sometimes. I am constantly learning how to streamline my life, so I can pursue the things I really want to.
When I decided I would pursue my writing seriously, I discussed our options with my husband in regards to our lifestyle and schedules, and we came up with a fairly consistent plan. I have Tuesday afternoons and all day Wednesday to myself as my girls are either with a babysitter or at playgroup. But it is up to me to protect my writing time, and I think that’s one of the biggest challenges. There’s always something else to be done, other work, household tasks or errands to run. But so far I’ve managed to say ’no’ to doing anything except writing within those two windows, and for now it’s working out quite well as I know each week I can bank on those two chunks of time to get some serious writing work done.
I also get a lot of my more abstract writing done at odd segments during the day. I write a lot on my phone in the bath at night, once everyone has gone to bed. Don’t know why that is, maybe it’s the one time I have the headspace for it. I put on some music, light some candles and write in my google docs. I reckon a third of my poems must have been written or edited in the bath, although I am nervous that one day I will drop my phone right in! I also jot things down in my notes while cooking, or pottering around the house with the girls. And I do get some social media and promotional work done during their TV time in the afternoons. I wish I could do those 5 a.m. writer’s club things but I think I might actually end up unwittingly committing some heinous crime if I had to get up that early every day.
Which writing activities kickstart your writing when you're struggling?
Depends what I’m struggling with. If it’s the writing itself I tend to spit everything out on the page. Either things will come out fully-formed, or they’ll need to sit for a while, after which they may or may not become something of consequence. Or they might get added to something else to form something new.
I never struggle with inspiration, but I do struggle with time, and I don’t cope very well if I don’t have time to be creative. It’s a need like any other- food, companionship, exercise… I need to be creating. But obviously life happens, and my children and marriage do come first, so sometimes you just have to pull up your big girl pants and tell your projects to be patient until you’ve dealt with whatever is in front of you. But I am also extremely blessed to have a husband who is incredibly supportive of my work- he encourages me to write everything and anything I feel the need to. He isn’t literary at all, but he's always willing to help in any practical way he can- setting up equipment, helping me record video readings, occupying the girls when I need to focus on a project, putting up with me reciting my poetry at him at random intervals during the day.
If I’m feeling burnt out I find that having some writing-adjacent activities can be very refreshing and don’t feel too removed from the act of writing itself. I beta-read for a lot of my fellow writers, so if I can’t get my head into my own writing I dip in to reviewing whatever work has been sent me. I also run some promotional projects for other indie writers and small-press creatives which is very enjoyable to set up. I also have a “Writing Inspiration” gallery up on my website and I always find it so relaxing to update that section for some reason. And it’s all part of the wider project which is my plan for world domination through writing, so it’s all good in the end!
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Link to website: https://shopega.wixsite.com/emcwritespoetry
Ludovico Einaudi’s “Storm Tower.”
Aínda’s song “Canción de Bañar la Luna.” (https://open.spotify.com/track/518wotaL3vqUUBCyGV2WSbsi=SWPdNT3HS0mLn2gJAlbDXQ).
Einaudi’s “Eros” (https://open.spotify.com/track/1rfNCTQKR0bzCscB39B1Au?si=CWlWMtgxQKCpEzUu4CuUmw).