The #NatureAdvent Project

IMG_7158December means we’ve arrived at the heart of winter. And while many people hide from the elements, the dark is my personal challenge. The nights feel really long in the countryside, and I have to battle every day to stay positive, motivated, and to not feel trapped. And I know I’m not alone.

Many people say ‘But you’re a writer! I thought you’d love long nights!’. Yes, I am, but I also love exercise and in the summer, I regularly take a final walk of the day that’s over an hour long once it’s past 9pm. So, the dark can feel like a physical restraint.

Also, I work best in the morning. My optimum time is between 6am and 11am. I have tried to change my writing habits in the winter to accommodate some writing after dark, but it’s not my best work and never will be. And I truly believe I should always give the best part of my energy to my writing – especially at critical stages.

IMG_7146One of the ways I deal with these long nights is ensuring I get out into the fresh air for at least three hours a day, every day. Of course, there are a few days where this isn’t quite viable – workload, travel, obligations etc – but that’s my standard aim. And I usually succeed. And when I’m away from my desk for three hours, that means there’s three hours-worth of work to catch up on, which I can sit down to as darkness arrives. That tides me over until around 8pm, and takes up a portion of the long night.

Another tactic I employ is taking slower mornings, reading a short story or poem or essay every morning in bed to widen my reading and make the day feel like a treat. Is there anything more luxurious than reading in the morning?

I’m aware it’s all smoke and mirrors, but anything that maintains productivity, and keeps the heart happy, is fine by me. As writers, we often have to cheat ourselves into getting work done. Not because of procrastination (though that may be the case for some) but because writing progress is difficult to measure and these small tricks keep us going at our optimum pace and optimum levels.

IMG_7151Some of my favourite winter reads are nature essays. I spend a lot of time outdoors in the natural world, and I feel really grateful for the landscape around me. It’s not without its challenges, but on the whole, living in rural West Cork is grounding. It is where I breathe best.

I’m also aware that not everyone has access to the countryside or nature. Not everyone appreciates the natural world, but for those of you that do, I’ve given myself a winter project – #NatureAdvent – that will help distract me from the long nights but also, hopefully, bring some freshness to yours.

Every day, starting Dec 1st, I’m going to post a nature essay on my Facebook E.R. Murray author page and twitter, for you to enjoy. It might be personal, topical, or political; it might surprise, conjure up memories or dreams, or it might shock – but each essay will be something I’ve enjoyed that focuses on its themes with the natural world at its heart.

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I hope you enjoy! And if you have any thoughts or comments, or indeed have read anything beautiful that you think I’d enjoy, please do share. #NatureAdvent is a two-way project. After all, this earth is ours to protect and share, and appreciation of its wonders and capabilities is the first step towards empathy, to looking after ourselves and our planet.  

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Book Battles, Writing Projects and Moving Forward!

I feel that I’m always starting my blog posts with apologies recently – for the gaps between/infrequency – but I’ve decided to stop doing that because, hey, aren’t we all only human? And here’s the truth; it’s been crazy busy all year and I’ve had little spare time and during the spare time I’ve managed to eek out, I’ve been trying to stay offline.

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Why? Because as much as I love my friends, readers, fellow writers, and tribe online, I also love my sanity and it’s far too easy to stay connected. And when you juggle multiple projects/jobs and don’t take days off and the weeks/months begin to merge so you’re chained to your diary (otherwise you have no idea what’s coming next), being chained to the internet also becomes increasingly unhealthy.

So what have I been up to? Well, events galore for a start. And writing. And freelance work. And walking in the wild.

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Writing wise, my last book The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 was published in February, and I’m delighted with the reception it’s received. I’m currently working on two novels – one for children and one for an adult readership – and they’re moving along at a pace that’s slower than I’d like but then that’s always the case.

I’ve also been writing personal essays, short stories, and flash, with pieces published in HCE Review, Autonomy, Ropes, and Headstuff, among others. It’s been so enjoyable picking away at smaller pieces while trying to keep up the marathon sprint of novel writing. There have been some collaborations started too, but they’re secret for now… 

But, if you have a bit of time, you can read In The Company of Dreams on Headstuff and The Parting in HCE Review (Volume II Issue III).

As for events, since being published in 2015, I’ve now facilitated over 600 events in school and libraries and festivals, and I’ve loved every single one…

From events in special needs schools (there’ll be more of that in 2019) to Things That Go Bump in The Night interactive storytelling events in theatres with Caroline Busher, from this year’s Battle of the Book reading initiative (via Fingal Libraries) with Alan Early, to European READ ON writer-in-residence initiatives through Cork County Libraries (Dunmanway 2018, moving to Skibbereen in 2019), it’s been a blast.

But there’s lots of travel in-between and as you can imagine there’s as much preparation as there is facilitation and it all takes time. To give you an idea of what’s involved, I’ve added photos throughout this post that show some of the fun!

I’ve also been busy with freelance work wearing various hats, including Big Smoke Writing Factory mentoring, reader reports, and online workshops (shout me there if you want one!), Writing.ie social media, and then my usual poker writing. I also help writer friends with reader reports and edits, because they help me in return and the one thing you can’t get enough of as a writer, is good readers/editors. And then there’s the local school reading initiatives, chats with film companies and scripts writers, and writing to partner schools in the UK…

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Like I said, it’s been busy. And wonderful. And I feel really amazed by the opportunities that have come my way and the people of all ages that I’ve met and had the pleasure of working with. Long may it continue.

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But winter is here. And I’m slowing down. My brain is tired and my asthma is giving warning signs. So, I’m finally ready to listen.

I’m still writing and working, but it’s much more low key and at a slower pace.

It’s time for:

  • getting outside while light, exploring ground both new and familiar
  • lazy afternoons by the fire reading
  • chats with friends who’ve been waiting patiently to catch up for too long
  • live music and singsongs
  • writing at night with scented candles warming the air
  • short stories and poems before breakfast
  • craft fairs and Christmas markets
  • seaweed foraging and making marmalade
  • notebook observations on long walks

So, that’s where I’m at. What about you?

What have you been up to and how are you looking forward to spending your winter? 

 

 

Win a Winter Writing Residency

I’m really excited about this opportunity as I went to Greywood Arts for the first time earlier this year and I’m due to return for another week in December; the space is fantastic (I really loved having a separate writing study), the hosts are helpful and friendly, I got tonnes of work done, and there are fabulous woods to roam, as well as a great pub across the road for a bite to eat or glass of wine to signal the end of your working day. Highly recommend – good luck!

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Greywood Arts is delighted to announce the second annual Winter Writing Residency Award, a competition to win a one-week residency between December 2018 and March 2019.

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Writers of any genre are invited to submit unpublished works. Two authors will be awarded cosy self-catering accommodation and private work space overlooking the Dissour River. At the end of each residency Greywood Arts will host an intimate reading in our library where writers can share their work.

Categories:
1. Prose / Plays
2. Poetry

Prize: One-week residency and reading in the Greywood Arts library.
To be scheduled between December 2018 and March 2019.

Deadline: September 23rd, 2018

Notification: October 15th, 2018

Submission fee: 10€ payable by Paypal

Find out more… https://greywoodarts.org/writingres/

Some news & updates!

Sometimes, things can get so busy that I’m caught up on the treadmill of writing, events, freelancing, pitching, and social media, that I forget to check in on my own blog.  I know, I suck. I’m sorry. I must try harder. And so, I thought I should share some bits of news…

Firstly, The Book of Learning has been included on the Junior Cycle English suggested text list for first year pupils here in Ireland (alongside Steinbeck! Pullman! Morpurgo!). I know the education system doesn’t suit everyone, but I fought for an education and it provided me with opportunities I’d never dreamed of – so here’s to opportunity! This is a big honour and I’m truly delighted (see list below).

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And secondly, the script and treatment for The Book of Learning screenplay is now underway with Rippleworld Pictures. There’s a long way to go but watch this space!

The Book of Learning is also on its fourth reprint, so if you’re having trouble getting a copy, hang in there – I have it on good authority they’ll be back on the shelves soon.

Event wise, I’ve been busy with drama groups in Dunmanway, Cruinniú na nÓg readings in Enniscorthy, the Hinterland Festival Kells, some school visits, and a week of workshops, events and chairing at the West Cork Literary Festival. Co-tutoring with Dave Lordan on the Words Allowed workshop was an exceptional treat; seeing Dave in action and getting to spend a week with enthusiastic and talented teens was a blast. I also got to meet some writing heroes, catch up with old buddies and make some new friends. All in all, this events malarkey is one of my favourite things about being a writer. I’ll have details of more events coming soon…

And as for writing; I got feedback from my agent on my adult WIP and I’m about to dive back in on the next draft. Meanwhile, I finished a draft of a children’s book WIP (8-12 years) and have sent that to a trusted reader. So although things are slow, they’re moving.

So, what else? There’s a lovely review of The Book of Shadows and Caramel Hearts up on Storgy Kids, – if you haven’t checked it out yet, do! – and the lovely Mia, one of my all-time favourite interviewers, did an amazing interview about The Book of Revenge over on Bleach House Library. I was also lucky enough to get to interview fabulous writer Carmen Marcus over on writing.ie; she has lots to say that matches my own heart re opportunities, class and making it as a working class writer.

hostelAnd finally, some books I’d highly recommend. First up, I am Thunder by Muhammad Khan – an incredible YA book that’s brave and honest, full of heart and hope. I was lucky enough to listen to Muhammad speak and if you can get to an event of his, do – he’s incredible. Next, This Hostel Life by Melatu Uche Okorie, a small but important collection of short stories and essays, from the perspective of different migrants. Also, Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (adult fiction) – a disquieting look at human relationships in a precarious future.

But enough about me – what about you? What have you been up to? What have you been dreaming of/working towards? What books have you been reading? How’s your summer been? I look forward to finding out!

Your Top 10 Writing FAQS Answered by E.R. Murray (Part 2

launchI was delighted for part one of this blog post to feature over on Swirl and Thread as an #IrishWritersWed guest post; it was originally meant to be a single post but I got a bit (!) carried away and there was so much info, I had to split it into two parts.

So, here’s the second instalment; five more of the questions I’m asked most frequently via events/emails/chats answered…

6)    How do you stay motivated?

Change. Play. Experimentation. Collaboration. Travel – these are all elements that keep me motivated and returning to my desk. I have a low attention span and get bored really easy, so I have to trick myself into doing more by shifting between projects. I’m an avid walker and counteract the long hours of sitting with a minimum of three hours walking a day. It clears the mind and keeps you healthy and pain free (think neck pain, back pain, RSI – common writer issues).

I also have multiple projects on the go at once so if one isn’t working or if it feels too intense, I can switch rather than stop. For instance, at the minute I have two novels in progress (one for children and on its second draft, one for adults and mostly on its third draft, but the end third not yet written). I also have three essays and four short stories. I bring one novel to the end of a draft and then set it aside and start on the other – and on off days in-between or when I finish up my daily goals earier than expected, I work on one of the shorter projects. I also have three different colaborations on the go – one with another writer, one with a collagist, and one with an embroider. They might not lead to anything but they’re fun – and that’s important.

IMG_43397)    When did you start writing?

Like reading, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. I used to fill copybooks with long, sprawling epics – all based on my love of myth and fairytale so they were always pretty dark and violent and everyone died at the end. I also used to tell myself stpries at night before I fell asleep – then the next night I’d recap and continue on. I guess that was my first atempt at creating a novel, in a way. I just didn’t write it down.

I had a couple of poems published in my teenage years and then I forgot all about writing because I had studies and student loans to pay and jobs to seek. Then I wanted to travel and work was the best way. I’d grown up poor and I always knew education and hard work were your ticket out of anything; writing seemed too fanciful an option. I’ve been independent my whole life, so I didn’t even consider it as a possibiity. I’d never met an author – surely, they lived in castles? But I never stopped reading.

I returned to writing in my late twenties and dabbled with poems and short fiction for a while. They improved, they got published, and I grew hungry. It wasn’t until I moved to Ireland, met a community of real life writers and emerging writers and wannabe writers that I realised this was something I could actually do. For real. Thankfully, all the hard work in the past gave me the tools I needed to be able to make changes in my life so I could focus on my writing more.

8)    What’s the best thing that’s happened so far in your writing career?

Being chosen as the 2016 Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read was special because lots of people received my book and there was a big buzz around reading for pleasure. Displays, artwork, reviews, alternative cover designs; it was amazing! Someone even made a clay rose, and I was gifted a crochet rat! There was a full window in Hodges Figgis and there was even a The Book of Learning house recreated in Merrion Square with actors, magicians and real rats to pet. It was the stuff of dreams.

But another truly amazing element has been the friends I’ve made. I’ve really found my tribe within the writing community and across all genres and age groups. It’s so supportive, and it’s wonderful to be able to belong, yet have complete freedom and solitude (as a writer requires) when you need it.

IMG_45079)    If you weren’t a writer what you like to be?

I love travel so I’d love to be an explorer. I imagine myself living with tribes in trees in jungles or finding new land in the Antarctic. In truth, I’d get eaten alive by midges in the first scenario, and I hate the cold, so it’s never going to happen, but I can dream! (Or I can write about it).

10) What’s your top tip for aspiring writers?

Stop procrastinating, give yourself the permission to write. Do it now and don’t give up. Don’t wait for the perfect time (it doesn’t exist), the perfect room or the perfect pen; these are just excuses. Just get on with it, read lots, practice and enjoy what you do. There is no point in writing without joy – and there will be challenges along the way but, like anything, overcoming them will feel fantastic. And remember, finding a good idea is nothing like writing an actual book, and the quicker you discover that and see how far you have to go, how much you have to learn, the better.

Happy writing and good luck everyone! 

Building Blaggard’s – a guest post by Katherine Wiseman #GangsterSchool

final cover edit 2 v05.pngThis week, I’m delighted to be kicking off the Gangster School blog tour with a guest post from Kate Wiseman. I believe our environment shapes us dramatically, affecting our ever-changing moods and attitudes, and that setting is, therefore, incredibly important in fiction. World building has to be infallible, whatever your genre or theme or intended readership. so I shall hand you over to Kate and her excellent post on Building Blaggard’s, a school for gangsters…  

Writers are always being advised to write about what they know. If you’ve been a police officer, write a crime novel. If you’ve worked in a pet shop, write about working in a pet shop, etc, etc. So when I finally screwed my courage to the sticking place and decided to try to fulfil my lifetime’s ambition of writing a novel, the obvious choice for me was to write something based in a school.

I’d worked in schools for a long time, doing everything from mopping up sick in the kindergarten to helping teenagers with learning difficulties. Of course this isn’t exactly undiscovered territory, so I needed a way of making my school a bit different. Luckily enough the solution to that conundrum wasn’t hard to find, thanks to my son, Harry. As a small boy, he always answered queries regarding his ambitions for when he grew up by saying that he wanted to be an evil genius. He was a strange child. But it planted an idea in my mind – a school for evil geniuses!

I was off to a good start. The name for the school was quite easy to find. I wanted something that conveyed its criminal ethos. I grabbed my trusty thesaurus and looked up synonyms for evildoer. One of the first ones was blackguard, which I thought had the right swash-buckling ring to it. But lots of kids wouldn’t know that blackguard is pronounced blaggard, so I changed the spelling. Blaggard’s School for Tomorrow’s Tyrants was starting to take shape.

I’ve always loved history, especially the gory variety and it seemed important to me to know who had started Blaggard’s, and when, and what had happened to it since. Enter Sir Thomas Blaggard, born in a mud hut in London in Tudor times, eater of stinging nettles because there was nothing else available, bear wrestler and in time, the most successful villain in Tudor London. In my world, he cut off Anne Boleyn’s head and pinched her emerald necklace when the deed was done. Sir Thomas’ first wanted poster has pride of place in Blaggard’s reception. Other famous alumni followed. There’s Sir Bryon de Bohun, the Devilish Dandy and Blaggard’s most infamous ex student. He died when his bullied butler shook up a bottle of champagne and aimed the cork at his heart. His portrait is in Blaggard’s reception too, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. My favourite is Sally Masters, the 18th century highwaywoman. Her nickname is Blunderbuss Sally and she’s the idol of my protagonist, Milly Dillane.

Knowing the school’s history had a big influence in shaping its appearance and layout. In acknowledgement of its Tudor founder, Blaggard’s has a thatched roof (adorned with bear statues, Sir Thomas’ emblem, concealing remote controlled look out cameras) and half-timber walls. It also has a huge, arched front door that Sir Thomas pinched from the Tower of London because he thought it was important to set a bad example. Another example of how the school’s history shaped it can be found in the artefacts on display in the Assembly Hall. My favourite is the badly stuffed body of Sir Bryon de Bohun, a relic of Blaggard’s long-defunct and famously unsuccessful Taxidermy Club. It sits in a glass case and has proved surprisingly vital in several of the stories I’ve written so far.

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The gigantic spectre of Hogwart’s hovers over any attempt to write about school life, and I was keen to differentiate between Harry Potter’s haven and Blaggard’s School for Tomorrow’s Tyrants. One way that I tried to tackle this was by the introduction of numerous high tech touches. As well as the cameras in the swivelling bear heads, there are fingerprint detectors instead of registers and glass shields that spring up in front of the serveries in the dining room, when one of the frequent food-fights kicks off.

OK, I had a school, a rich history, a layout and a location (the sleepy town of Borage Bagpuize, where a stolen wheelbarrow merits a headline in the local paper). Now down to some of the logistical stuff.

For a start, what would the local Dependable (non criminal, to you and me) population think of having a school like Blaggard’s on its doorstep? Obviously they couldn’t know. The school needed a cover identity, so the sign outside Blaggard’s states that the school is Constance Bottomley’s Academy for the Rural Arts, specialising in sheep topiary and corn dolly weaving.

Then the lessons. This was tricky. There was an awful lot that that I couldn’t and didn’t want to include: murder, terrorism, torture, all the dark stuff. But would it be right to leave them out altogether? I consigned these to Blaggard’s rivals – Crumley’s School for Career Criminals, crouching on a hill like a medieval gargoyle. What were the skills that a criminal kingpin would need in order to climb to the top of the felonious tree? They’d need to be very good liars, so I introduced Fabrication (it sounds so much grander than lying). They should be willing to let anyone down at the drop of a hat, so Betrayal was added to the curriculum. They should be nasty and unpleasant so my favourite lesson, Defiance and Discourtesy, became a staple at Blaggard’s, taught by the unfailingly rude Jane Vipond. There are lots of others, of course.

I really feel that all the thought I put into building Blaggard’s was worth it. Knowing my setting came before knowing my characters and it has given rise to much of the madcap action that peppers the Gangster School books. With the introduction of Milly Dillane and Charlie Partridge, two secret Dependables from long established criminal families (to create an immediate problem and sense of their not belonging), I was ready to dive into a world where good is bad, bad is good and where apologising to a teacher lands you in detention.

I love writing about Gangster School. I find it devilishly entertaining and I promise that no useful criminal knowledge is imparted. Or am I Fabricating?

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About Kate Wiseman: Kate is a late developer when it comes to writing. She started writing Gangster School, her first novel, about five years ago. Early incarnations were shortlisted for three national kids’ lit prizes. Her first book deal was with Piper Verlag, Germany, who have published two Gangster School books to date, with two more to come (so far). She is proud to be the very first author chosen for publication by new Manchester-based publisher, ZunTold. The series will also commence publication in Holland in August this year. She is currently working on a new MG series. You can learn more about Kate here

 

 

 

 

 

Staying Motivated: Writing Across Genres

IMG_4339I’ve always hated labels and I’ve always loved variety; moments in time, new experiences, the unexpected – that’s what makes me tick. Routine makes me feel like I’m trapped in a bog, struggling my way out. It doesn’t work for everyone, but change makes my soul soar.

And that’s why I write like I read – across a variety of age groups and genres, styles and lengths. Although I’ve been coined a children’s author (which, of course, I am!), it is actually only one part of what I do. I also write essays, short stories, story for radio and flash fiction – for both children and adults. Typically, however, when you write a work of longer fiction, i.e. a novel, the other stuff seems to pale in comparison. But if I had to label myself as something, then I think I’d identify with plain old ‘writer’.

BookofRevengecoverDon’t get me wrong; this is not in any way to belittle the fact that I write for children. Ask any children’s writer and they’ll tell you all about the time(s) they were asked the question – when are you going to write a proper book? It’s so common, the wonderful champion of children’s books and authors, Sarah Webb (who writes novels for both children and adults), even created an event for aspiring children’s writers with this as the very title.

So let me start by clarifying: children’s books are proper books, and for anyone rolling their eyes, answer this… How many people come to reading for pleasure as an adult? Not many. Children’s books are at the very core of reading and readers, whatever age you may be, and I cannot stress enough how important they are. How much I love writing them and proud I am to be part of that community. How much it makes my soul soar to be in front of a room of children enthusing over books.

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However, I also love writing other things. Lots of other things. Why? Because I enjoy the challenge. And also, projects and ideas come to me in different forms. Sometimes an idea might require a poem, other times the story might need flash fiction, and other times only an essay can shape the words I want to say. Some of these things will be published and some will not. But that doesn’t remove from the joy – writers write. That’s what we do.

And I’m certainly not alone. Some of the writers that I adore and admire that write across several age groups and/or genres include Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Nuala O’Connor, Roald Dahl Emma Donoghue, E.B White, Stephen King, Zadie Smith and Joyce Carol Oates.

So why do some writers feel the need to keep switching? I can’t speak for any of these prolific and talented writers, but I am pretty confident that every piece they write comes from the heart. You only need to focus on the quality to realise how much each publication meant to them. And remember, for every piece we see, there’ll be reams of stuff hidden in drawers, discarded, that didn’t quite make the grade.

Like I said, writers write. That’s what we do.

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For me, writing a book takes a long time and I have limited capacity for intense focus on a single work in progress – about four hours per day maximum. I find that writing shorter pieces alongside the novels helps to keep me motivated. Instead of taking a break when my concentration on a single piece is up, I switch to something else to keep those writing muscles in full flow. To give you an idea of what I’ve been up to, in the last six months, I’ve had the following published:

There are a few more awaiting decisions, a few more binned for now, and more on their way, all at different stages, edging forward like racehorses until one needs to push ahead to the finish line.

arlenI don’t know why a piece nags at me, demanding to be written, and in a certain way. It’s all about the story is all I can really tell you. But I do know that each piece requires focus, time and dedication, and each carries a little of my soul.

Sometimes a short story can take as long as a novel, if not longer, as I often require more time between edits. I also know that every piece comes with its own challenges and frustrations and sense of achievement as the final words/edits fall into place. Each provides me, in its own (sometimes cruel or meandering) way, with joy.

 And so, if you’re finding it difficult to motivate yourself, or you’ve fallen out of love with your current work in progress (it happens), or you feel like you’re banging your head off a brick wall (that frequently happens), then have you considered writing something fresh and new, in a different genre or style or for a different audience?

It might not work but what have you got to lose? I’d love to know how you get on.