Kiran Millwood Hargrave: 'Some readers have found the ending hard to understand'

Kiran Millwood Hargrave: 'Some readers have found the ending hard to understand'

Kiran Millwood Hargrave answers our questions about her YA reimagining of Dracula, The Deathless Girls (Bellatrix), which has been shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2020.

1. Can you sum up The Deathless Girls in one sentence?

Dark and gothic, The Deathless Girls is the untold origin story of the so-called brides of Dracula.

2. What inspired The Deathless Girls?

It's part of the Bellatrix series, which seeks to give marginalised characters in classic literature a voice. I was instantly drawn to the brides of Dracula due to their near-complete absence in Bram Stoker's novel. He describes them so briefly, as 'two dark, one fair', and I knew the 'two dark' were, for me, women of colour. I linked Kizzy and Lil to the original inspiration for Stoker's Dracula by making them Travellers, a much maligned culture throughout history, which originated in northern India, where my own family are from. Travellers were enslaved in their thousands by Vlad the Impaler, or Dracul as he was known, and this allowed me to explore themes of racism, class and prejudice alongside sexism. I also wanted it to be a classic quest narrative, to combine romance, adventure and excitement with these themes.

3. Which character in the book is your favourite?

Lil. She's my protagonist, so I'm biased, but I think she's the most intriguing character. She changes so much throughout the book, discovering her own strength, her sexuality, herself — but then she still makes the ultimate sacrifice. Some readers have found that hard to understand, but it was always going to be the choice she made. It's there from the very first line.

4. What does being on this year’s YA Book Prize shortlist mean to you?

I can't overstate how special it is to see my debut YA story alongside such vital, brilliant works. I am a voracious reader of YA, and have read nearly the whole shortlist now, and the variety and quality is testament to what makes the YA Book Prize so special. I'm only sad I won't get to meet everyone at Hay to celebrate in person. It gives me the confidence that I can write more YA.

5. What's the best thing about writing for young adults?

The permission to feel everything without cynicism, to go back to that place where the world felt both too big and too small, and you were still finding your place in it. When I write YA, I allow myself to paint the story with richer colours, to tell it with more boldness. It's a thrilling thing to write.

6. What was your favourite book as a teenager?

Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin changed the game for me. It's historical fiction about the Coram Orphanage, and interweaves tales of class, race, and privilege so beautifully. I've still never read anything quite so beautiful and sad. I remember reading it with so much hope. It changed the way I saw the world in a way only Noughts and Crosses had before.

7. What is your top writing tip?

Trust your voice. If a story interests you enough to tell it, it will probably interest others enough to read it.

8. What song would be on a playlist for The Deathless?

I make a playlist for every book I write, and the opening track is Me & the Devil by Soap&Skin. Now when I hear it, it transports me back into the world of the book.
9. Who would you cast in a film version of the book?

Hollywood isn't flush with actors of Indian origin, so I'd turn to Bollywood. Lil would be played by Ananya Panday, Kizzy by Avika Gor, and Mira by my friend Morfydd Clark, who was Mina in the BBC adaptation of Dracula.

10. Which book, film or TV show would you recommend to someone who enjoyed The Deathless Girls?

For books, Deathless by Catherynne M Valente for more dark atmosphere and romance. Aside from the obvious references to films and TV shows like "Carmilla" and "Dracula", I'd recommend "Only Lovers Left Alive", "Locke and Key", and "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" for queer historical swooniness. You can never go wrong with a rewatch of "Buffy", either!

Find out more about The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and read the first chapter of the book for free on the YA Book Prize website.​​​​