Celebrating the little things…

imageI’m back from a marvellous visit to Galway to take part in a fantastic project called Read My World, celebrating diversity and difference through books, and I’m on a high. However, I’m always ranting about balance and so to make sure I haven’t been enjoying myself too much in the presence of lots of eager readers/ writers/ librarians/ teachers, all full of ideas and empathy and fun, I’ve returned home sick for the first time in years.

There, I’ve said it – even admitting it makes me flinch. I don’t do sick and I’m not a good patient. Also, my boss is not a good boss in this situation either. (The boss is me). And so, I’m ignoring my defunct lungs and hacking cough and temperature and instead, I’m going to celebrate.

We rarely give shout outs to the small things, the special things, the stuff that’s making us tick on a day to day basis, instead reaching for the grand or unusual or extraordinary. (Well, that’s me, anyway). And so, here are some things I’m feeling inspired by (I’m hoping you’ll share some of your own after reading – let’s celebrate the unsung heroes/small marvels of our own little worlds)…

Birdsong. I’m hearing the birds singing a little earlier and a little later each day, it’s a melody I never tire of and it brightens any day.

IMG_8259Books. It seems no matter how much I age, no matter what’s going on, books will always be my saving grace. And after being in front of hundreds of avid young readers, I always feel my appreciation of this fact rekindled and extra fired up. My current reads are Tara Westover’s Educated – an incredible, incredible book that I can’t put down – and Muhammad Khan’s kick the Moon, which is some perfect YA that nails London teen life.

Daffodils. They’re sprouting everywhere in West Cork right now, making outside so cheery.

Friends. This week, friends have sent me the perfect podcast (thanks Jackie!), the perfect poems (thanks Clare! thanks Nicola!), surprise cards (thanks Darragh!), wise words and warm virtual hugs. So precious, each and every one.

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Frogspawn. I love seeing this stuff appear – it signifies life and vitality and positive expectations, the coming of even more light. (Though it does also mean I’ll soon be on the lookout to rescue young froglings from my super-hunter cats.)

Librarians. These people create spaces where worlds can open up to anyone – for free. They have such passion and energy for books and people, they create community hubs where people can learn and make friends and they make the world magic.

Post. For every packet, postcard, letter, certificate, and cheque ever sent/delivered, thank you. It shines a light on the day, always.

Seaweed. I love eating it, foraging for it, preparing it, bathing in it – everything about this wonderful sea veg makes me happy. I can’t get enough.

Steroids. I can breathe again – I’m really rather grateful.

Trains. I love you for your trolley service, your nice ticket collectors, your toilets, your wifi and plug sockets that enable me to complete work on the go so I can take time off when I finally reach home.

VeryFit watch. Anything that allows me to leave my phone at home so I can zone out wins my vote. (Nope, no messages, no notifications, nothing. Just me and the countryside.)

And so – what’s keeping you buoyant right now? What small joys would you like to celebrate?

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Balance, Creative Egos, & Your Greatest Commodity

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Shot taken: West Cork

So, how’s your January going? Living in the countryside, I can already feel the stretch in the evenings (living without streetlights nearby, this is a big thing for me every winter!) but let’s not forget that it is still the winter season, that the weather can still be cruel, and we can still feel isolated in many ways.

Creative people often enjoy time on their own, but we can also tend towards being insular a little too easily. I’m currently battling tonsillitis and asthma problems, so I’m feeling a bit trapped as I turn down a few social engagements, but it’s more of an annoyance than anything else and it’s also a reminder to make sure I look after myself, as well as those I care about. After all, if we’re not in good health/state of mind, how can we be properly there for others?

I’ve always believed in approaching life wholeheartedly. I eat dinner at the table, no TV, even if I’m alone. I want to taste those flavours, enjoy the smells, know when I’ve had enough. If I’m doing events, I’m fully prepared with extras up the sleeve just in case and timings practised so I can be flexible as needed. If I’m writing, the internet is off; if I’m with friends, my phone is away. I find compartmentalising like this enables me to work smarter, have more fun, and get more done. Yet, finding balance remains an eternal conflict.

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Some amazing young folk I had the pleasure of workshopping with were published in this journal (#READON initiative)

The balance of writing vs work, alone time vs socialising, exercise vs downtime, business vs play; it’s a never-ending, winding path that I’ve never quite managed to master. Perhaps despising routine (and therefore not adhering to one) adds an extra layer of trouble, but it seems to me that everyone I speak to that’s writing has this same issue. How about you?

How do you get more balance between what needs doing, what you want to do, and what you need to do to maintain a happy, healthy, creative life?

I live far away from most of my closest friends so I’m trying to quell some of the solitude. Some of the things I’ve added into my schedule this year include: co-writing a short story (via email), squash with a friend (locally), bodhran (learning new skills alone via internet, practicing with husband), co-writing a novel (via email/occasional meetups), Borrowbox for audio books (extra reading while chopping wood/cooking etc) and a FaceTime book club (reading essays). Small things, simple things, but all effective.

Is there something simple you could add to your day/month to bring more joy and help relieve some of the stress or loneliness or increase motivation?

I’m always evaluating and reflecting upon my time, upon projects completed, opportunities undertaken, and the one thing that’s clear to me is that the ultimate thing of importance is yourself and those you surround yourself with: loved one, friends, colleagues, family, even acquaintances. The people that help you navigate your day, your creativity, your life, are your most valuable commodity and they need to be treasured.

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Not human, but probably doesn’t get jealous either (shot taken: Dublin)

Of course, we’re all human and have our limitations, but I feel lucky that the writing community is so supportive and friendly. And yet, the creative world is also littered with ego and from time to time, issues arise – if you let them. The issue I see most commonly is jealousy – but it’s the one I understand the least. Everyone’s just trying to create their own opportunities, their own way of life, their own slice of the artistic pie that enables them to earn a crust and keep creating.

Why not feel inspired by/delighted for people when good things happen and mean it? There may have been an element of luck involved for someone to land a certain prize/accolade/review/book deal, but trust me, behind every success there are hours of working and trying and failing and picking up the pieces and trying again. And it should be applauded, without taint.

If we could all work on bolstering each other even a little bit more each day, imagine the possibilities.

A new year is here and it’s all about heart…

I hope you’re all rested and you had a lovely festive season. 2019 seems to have raced here, and I’m fully embracing it after some delicious downtime. Time off over Christmas was a first for me, but something I’ll definitely repeat in future – if I’m not on a book deadline, that is… Which brings me straight to my focus for the year ahead: writing.

img_7820Last year, a lot of the business side took over and although I wrote frequently, I didn’t always feel completely present. There was a bit too much trying to squish writing in around everything else and not enough breathing space. Which is fine – we sometimes need years like that – but 2019 has to be different. This year, writing takes priority and all the other stuff will happen, but in second place.

That doesn’t mean the other (money earning, profile building, book selling) stuff will be substandard – personally, I struggle to do anything that doesn’t get my all – but it does mean that I will write before I complete my freelance work, answer emails, create events, mark assignments etc. It means my writing will get the freshest part of my day (as much as possible – flexibility is always a must!) and I’ve already started the year as I mean to go on… how about you?

In case you’re already feeling like a failure due to a broken resolution… forget resolutions and accentuate the positive, that’s my motto! Don’t give something up or make deletions; add in something (or things!) for 2019, that will help improve upon your life.

Whether it be morning pages, reading more poetry, taking walks, additional family time, or monthly skype calls with a friend, starting the year with good intentions that actually make a positive difference to your life is a much more motivating way to embrace the new year. My own additions include more music, more colour, drinking more water, and some actual days off.

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A good friend of mine sums up her year ahead with a single word: an intention. And so, I have decided to try this also. The word I have chosen is HEART…

Getting to the heart of the story, doing everything wholeheartedly, looking after the heart, taking on heart-felt projects, laughing heartily. Every variation of living life with heart; that’s what I want from the year ahead. If something has HEART, then it’s right for me.

And when I falter or when I find decisions difficult – which will inevitably happen at some point and on multiple occasions – I will have a reference point that can help steer me towards the better choice. And sometimes that choice can mean turning something down or choosing the more challenging option – I’m looking forward to seeing where this word, this intention of HEART, will lead.

What about you? What is your word for the year? What can you add into your life that will increase positivity and get you fired up?

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.  

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!