Interview with Dr Liz Brewster

Today I am delighted to be able to share with you an exclusive interview I had with Dr Liz Brewster, who will be appearing at the Morecambe & Vice Crime Writing Festival event which is running this weekend.

You can find out more about the event via this link

Thanks to Sarah at Book On The Bright Side Publicity for inviting me to join in the blog tour.

Dr Liz Brewster is a lecturer at Lancaster Medical School, Lancaster University and a crime fiction aficionado. In her day job, she researches the relationship between creativity and well-being, as well as teaching medical students to remember that patients are people too.  Her research on bibliotherapy (the use of books to improve mental health and well-being) has examined the way that reading crime fiction can make us feel better about the world. She favours a classic ‘locked-room’ puzzle and her favourite crime writer is John Dickson Carr.

Course Director, Clinical Research postgraduate programmes

Director of Special Study Modules
Lancaster Medical School

So Liz, what are you most looking forward to about appearing at the Morecambe & Vice crime festival?

I’m looking forward to sharing some of my research on using reading and books as a form of support for mental health problems, and also what some excellent crime fiction authors think of this work. Sometimes crime fiction gets dismissed as a genre, but I think it’s got a lot going for it and a lot of interesting things that authors can do with to build tension and explore a whole world.

Being a lecturer you will no doubt be used to talking in front of people, do you ever get nervous and if so, do you have any tips on how to calm those pesky nerves? 

I used to get nervous, but now I love standing up in front of people and talking. Always think about what you really want to say in advance, to make sure you get your key point across. I always remember that if I make a mistake or do something stupid, it’ll be me that remembers it and cringes at it, and everyone else will have forgotten it within minutes! That helps.

Is crime fiction something you’ve always had an interest in? 

I grew up reading all kinds of literature, and I still do, but I have always had a soft spot for crime fiction. I love a good puzzle, and pitting my wits against an author in a whodunit is just the right level of engagement after a long day. But I didn’t go into my research on bibliotherapy thinking that crime fiction would play a part in it – it was the people who participated in the research study who I interviewed about their lives, mental health problems, and reading habits, who kept mentioning crime and made me think differently about it.

Are you able to tell us a bit more about the research you do? 

Broadly, my research looks at creative and non-medical ways of managing mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Over time, this has included work on reading and books (bibliotherapy), and also photography. I’m really interested in story-telling and story-reading as ways to help people with mental health problems – everything from talking therapies that allow you to talk through your concerns to reading books that help you to recognise your experiences and think differently about them. And how reading things that have nothing to do with mental health problems or life experiences can sometimes be as helpful as a more direct approach. At the moment I’m working with a bibliotherapy scheme over in Kirklees, trying to learn more about the work that they do and how they use literature to help people with mental health issues and dementia.

Do you get much time to read yourself and if so what have been some of your favourite crime books/authors?

I read when I can – I try to make some time every day. My suitcase is always full of books when I go on holiday, because often I’m reading out-of-print books that I pick up second hand. I love a classic ‘locked-room’ puzzle and my favourite crime writer is John Dickson Carr. Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh are also go-to reads that I’ve read and re-read. 

Describe your typical working day?

The life of an academic is rarely typical! There’s always a balancing act and too many things to do in a day. I’ll almost certainly spend a couple of hours preparing for teaching, delivering teaching, organising assessment and marking, or seeing students who you might have concerns about,  depending what time in the academic year it is. Apart from that, I’ll be keeping up with the new academic literature that has been published, working on data analysis and writing papers and doing admin. There’s a surprisingly large amount of admin in academia, both for research and for teaching. One of the things I like best about academia is that you get to travel to different places for research data collection and for academic conferences – I’ve been all over the place, though at the moment I’m just going to various bits of Yorkshire.

What sort of student were you and what advise would you give your younger self? 

Mostly a good student, when I was interested in what I was studying. Less so if I wasn’t. I think that’s still the case now, to be honest. The best thing about working in research is that I am always still learning. As for advice for my younger self, I’d probably say that all the things that you were worried about turned out OK, so perhaps you don’t need to worry so much about it.

What are you currently reading?

Peter Lovesey’s Beau Death. But I’ve just started it so don’t tell me what happens…

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Kim Nash