Save the date: The Book of Revenge Dublin launch

Not long now – Dublin folk, come and celebrate with me! This is the final piece of the Nine Lives adventure (and there’ll be wine followed by after drinks in Neary’s)… I really hope to see you there…

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Overcoming Obstacles

dscf5788So, it’s only a couple of weeks into the New Year and already your motivation/confidence/belief in your work has begun to flag? You’ve lost sight of the story/why you bothered started writing it in the first place?

Well, take a deep breath and relax – because this happens to every writer at some point. And when it does happen, you have two choices – keep going or give up. Both can be viable options, but most of the time, it’s simply part of the creative process and you need to keep going to get the results you’re looking for.

It might be that the idea or voice of your story really doesn’t work, but in general, it usually means that you need more time, more drafts, and more thinking space. There are obstacles in your way, but you can usually overcome them, with some effort and patience and a dollop of courage.

Here are some approaches that work for me…

Face your demons: this is my first approach. When something is challenging, or scary, or seemingly impossible, I like to tackle it head on. Otherwise it grows into a giant monster that follows you everywhere, taunting you. If you give the most difficult or scary tasks your best shot, at your best time of day, even tiny steps forward will help to relieve the pressure you’re under and move your story along.

Take more short breaks: I can often concentrate for hours at a time, but when I’m caught up in something extra challenging, I take a break every time my concentration naturally beaks. This could be every hour or 45 minutes, but with increased challenge comes increased pressure and so the usual long concentration periods don’t work as well. Lots of short breaks allow your brain to relax a little before the next bout – and allow creative thoughts to keep flowing.

Try something new: If you write organically to find your character and stories, try pausing to map out how far you’ve got and where you want to go. Stepping back to see the bigger picture might help you to spot issues with plot or pacing, renew your enthusiasm, or remind you of your initial aim and show you where things have veered off.

Move! I swear by long walks! I start every day with a long walk (two-hours or more) to get the blood flowing and to encourage my brain to let go of any concerns or worries. Likewise, when I hit a wall, or I feel my concentration or enthusiasm ebbing, I get up and move. It might be a shrug or a dance or a stretch, but I find movement creates a momentary distraction and helps fresh thoughts to come flooding in.

If all else fails: I’m not an advocate of giving up, but if you have truly tried everything else and the words are still not coming, or if you’re endangering the quality of your manuscript, then put your work in progress aside. Don’t stop writing, but work on something else and go back to your tricky manuscript the next day.

Good luck with your work in progress – happy writing! E x

(Note: this was originally written for the Girls Heart Books blog)

#MGiechat Returns January 8th!

QuinlanIf you love reading or writing middle grade books (books for a readership aged 8-12), and you’re also a twitter user, then our monthly twitter chat #MGiechat is making a comeback and getting a makeover.

This all started in 2015 when I realised that there were no Ireland-based chats on twitter about middle grade books, and decided that I should start one. It ran for 2 years but in 2017, I got overloaded (in a wonderful way!) with writing/editing The Book of Revenge, short story commissions, residencies abroad (Australia and Iceland) as well as freelance, and social media had to take a back seat.

So, consider #MGiechat up and running again! It will run on the first Monday of every month, from 8.30pm to 9.30pm. There’ll be themed chats, interviews and special guests.

Our first chat is on Monday January 8th and we’ll be talking reading and writing aspirations for 2018, along with special guest author, Nigel Quinlan, who is due to release his second book The Cloak of Feathers.

Do come along and say hi. We’re a friendly bunch. See you there?

Writing a First Draft

ERMurray8_deskHappy 2018 to you all! At the start of a new year, people often feel energised and raring to go, so I’m starting the year with a few blog posts that will hopefully help to kickstart your writing, wherever you are on your writing journey. On the first day of the year, I’m starting right at the the beginning… because we all have to start somewhere.

A first draft is exciting, but it can also be daunting. You have an idea and characters ready to burst onto the page, but at the same time, you have an intimidating blank screen glaring at you, daring you to fill it. So, how do you dive in and start getting those ideas down? How do you drag that first draft out of your head and heart and onto the page? Every writer is different, but this is what works for me…

It may seem obvious, but my advice is to just write. Write freely and manically and with abandon. Change character names if needed as you go, ignore the spelling mistakes, don’t edit a thing. Just write, write, write, until you have a decent body of words that can be shaped into a real story later along the line. Don’t worry about making mistakes – just go for it. Turn off that inner editor and inner critic, and make words.

I am now on my fifth book (an adult fiction, not contracted, title TBC) and so far, I have set myself the same goal every time I write a first draft. I aim for between 50,000 and 60,000 words in 30 days. That’s a lot of words in a short space of time, but I find that I get into a rhythm that’s both bewildering and fun – and once I have words there, it’s easier to make them behave. I admit that this method produces a draft that’s terrible. So terrible, in fact, that it’s more of a draft zero – but that’s how I find my story.

When I plot or plan, it kills the story for me and I get bored and lose interest. If I use this frenzied method, I get excited about the story and characters and surprising things happen. I try not to worry about mistakes or plots holes or story arcs, and only a small amount of this initial draft will be in my final book. After all, writing is rewriting! But like an artist mixing paints or a sculptor preparing clay, this gives me something concrete that I can shape, sluice, and colour.

BookofRevengecoverThis method won’t work for everyone, but if you’re finding yourself stuck, unable to get the words from your brain onto the intimidating blank page, it might be worth a try. In 2017, I tried documenting one of my first draft journeys on twitter and my own blog; here’s a glimpse into my first week of writing The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 (published by Mercier Press, Feb 2018).

#1stdraftdiary Day 1: Some words are stolen from deleted scenes from Book 2 (approx 300). Today was a real slog – it was difficult to switch off from the publication & (double) launch of Caramel Hearts, so it felt like I was connecting back with the characters and little more than that. Probably the hardest day of writing yet – and this is my fourth book so I didn’t expect that! Instead of feeling pleased that I’ve started, the day ended feeling rather glum. Word count: 2012

#1stdraftdiary Day 2: I decamp to a friend’s house for a change of scenery as a pick-me-up. She’s an artist and works with music on somewhere else in the house and I make an important discovery – I can work with music on if it’s not in the same room! This isn’t particularly relevant for me on a day-to-day basis because I live in a mobile home, so everything sounds like it’s in the same room! But it’s a discovery all the same. The change of walls, desk, light works and I manage to get a great word count down. I know that these are all the wrong words and usually I don’t care – but this time, I’m unsettled. As I close my computer down, I realise where I should have started and know I have to start again. I don’t usually do this, but the book is due October 31st & there isn’t much room for mistakes so I delete a whole chapter. Word count: 4521

#1stdraftdiary Day 3: And start again! But the day is warm and muggy and promising sun, and it’s calling to me. I walk the dog six miles instead of the usual three before it gets too hot. An essay I want to write keeps bugging me, so I decide to think about this when I’m walking, and then concentrate on my first draft when I am stationary. It works! The essay begins to form and then I sit at the water’s edge half way through the walk, writing more of my book using notebook and pen, moving now and again to avoid a pair of territorial swans. When I return home, I write up my thoughts on the essay, then type up the book. Because I started again (something I don’t usually do), I’ve gone backwards – this puts me 1500 words behind schedule. Word count: 3500

 #1stdraftdiary Day 4: I finally connect with my old way of working. Thanks to a brief conversation with author, Celine Kiernan, I realise that the start has been slow because I know the characters (this is Book 3 of a trilogy after all!!) so I’m automatically editing and criticising, when usually I let these things go and write freely, without the little nagging voice. And so, I force that voice to switch off and gallop on, feeling much happier with the actual writing part! End of day, I’ve caught up a bit; still 800 words behind schedule but it’s early days and certainly nothing to worry about – plenty of time to catch up. Word count: 7200 

 #1stdraftdiary Day 5: Woke up in a mild panic. The garden had to take priority, meaning a trip to Bantry to buy plants, then weeding the beds and planting before any work can get started. By 4.30pm, I still have 30 minutes of garden watering to do and no writing. Beating myself up severely about this for several hours of the day, but when I finally get to sit down, the words flow quite happily and I realise what a pain I’ve been to myself all day. Feeling rather joyous when I shut the computer down. Word count: 9100

What is your process for writing a first draft? Are you a plotter or do you write organically, like me? I’d love to hear how you work! 

Playing Catch-Up: events, writer’s block & #amwriting

Unfortunately, I’ve fallen behind with my blog. So huge apologies to you all! It’s not that I’ve forgotten about you or the blog, it’s just that there have been lots of events to attend, proofs to complete, new freelance contracts to sign, 2018 festival pitches and other applications to complete, and new manuscripts to write. It all takes a lot of time, and when time gets tight, I reduce my online presence to keep everything ticking over as it should.

BookofRevengecoverThe good news is: The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 is completed. The proofs are done, gone, (almost) a distant memory. The final book in the Nine Lives Trilogy did not manage to kill me (as I feared it might around February earlier this year) and I’m super excited to see it on the shelves in 2018. The Dublin launch will be February 15th – more details to follow but save the date!

And so, that means I’m now out of contract. It’s simultaneously exciting and nerve wracking – who knows what will happen in the future? But right now, I’m enjoying working on the second drafts of two new manuscripts. No deadlines or pressure, except whatever I impose upon myself. I’m keeping a steady pace – maybe not as fast as I’d like – but I’m making progress and am being kind to myself. After all, four books published in two and a half years is pretty tough going so I think slowing it down now will have a positive impact further down the line.

Around all the proofing and writing, I had a fabulous time last month travelling around Ireland’s libraries for the Children’s Book Festival, meeting lots of young readers and writers. The ideas, the questions – fabulous! Often, I was working alone, but I also did some events with Alan Early and Caroline Busher. I love doing events so much but when you do several a day with lots of travel in-between, it can get tiring. So it’s really lovely to have wonderful friends you can work alongside to keep up the momentum and have a laugh with!

Myself and Caroline debuted our Things That Go Bump in the Night interactive storytelling event at the Glor theatre for Ennis libraries and it went down a storm. We had the best sound and light technician ever (thank you, Ian); it was a lot of work and slightly terrifying, but we had a ball. Now all we need to do is figure out how to take it on the road… any takers?

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After the show was over, I suggested to Caroline that I should be banned from having any more ideas for a while – especially if they’re completely new, a lot of work and take us well out of our comfort zone. And she agreed wholeheartedly. But then, we had some chats over a glass of wine by a fire and candlelight and guess what? Inspiration hit and we had another very exciting idea – it’s not fully formed yet, but it’s going to happen, so watch this space!

Speaking of too many ideas… yesterday, I was honoured to be one of the guest speakers at the fantastic Fiction at the Friary event in Cork city, organised by the impressive duo, Madeleine D’Arcy and Danielle McLaughlin. There was a great and enthusiastic crowd, and one of the questions asked was about writer’s block. Now, I’ve never had writer’s block (yet), I suffer from the opposite: too many ideas, and many of them terrible. So my issue is sifting through the nonsense in search of gems.

But I do find that stopping writing altogether makes it harder to start back up again. Writing is a muscle that needs to be continually flexed, so if you are suffering from writer’s block, I suggest writing something new. A short story or poem or piece of flash fiction perhaps. Step away from the current WIP and try to play. Let it be terrible or without purpose. Alternatively, take a long walk and record any thoughts/ideas on your mobile phone, then go home and type them up.

If all else fails, distract yourself with something completely unrelated, then trick yourself back to the desk to write something about whatever it was you chose to do. Break the habit of focusing on not writing and find yourself writing again.

Get moving. Writing anything. Gain momentum. Then write more. 

And now, it’s time for me sign off – I have to pack because I’m off to the Irish Book Awards tomorrow. I didn’t have a book out this year so I’m not nominated, but I’m delighted to have lots of friends shortlisted – I’ll be cheering loudly for them all – and I’m really looking forward to catching up with lots of friends.

Until next time… happy reading, happy writing x 

 

Festivals, manuscripts & embracing autumn

I’ve been home since September 1st and Iceland now feels like a lifetime ago. However, my Icelandic residency did exactly what I’d hoped; it gave me time to play around with some new ideas, get some samples of each to my agent, and decide on my next projects. My visit also gave me the chance to write a double spread for the Irish Times on visiting Reykjavik on a budget, which you can read here. 

FullSizeRender (81)I’ve been quiet since getting back as I’ve been working away on these new ideas – the residency has had such a really positive impact. I also spent a wonderful week at the Children’s Books Ireland Conference which is like an early Christmas party for lovers of children’s books; librarians, teachers, booksellers, publishers and authors all come together to celebrate the wonderful world of children’s fiction. It’s such a happy, friendly event and gives a real boost as the seasons change and the nights draw in.

And yes, I did mean ‘projects’; I’m working on two new manuscripts as I find it more interesting and motivating when I’m working on several projects at a time, especially when they’re different. And these projects are extremely different. One novel is the first of a middle grade (potential) series and the other novel is an adult fiction standalone.

I don’t talk about my writing in progress because it kills it dead for me and I rarely know where I’m going in the early stages, so I don’t have anything to say about them except that I’m excited. I’m out of contract now so who knows where they will lead; it’s the beginning of a long journey, but watch this space.

IMG_2825As of Sunday, however, the new manuscripts are on pause until November 1st. There are two reasons behind this; the first is that the proofs for The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 have arrived, and I have to read through very carefully to make sure there are no mistakes because next time I’ll see it, it will be an actual book. This one was the most difficult book to write yet, so I’m feeling really relieved and really happy to see the proofs arrive.

The second reason is that Children’s Book Festival in libraries across the country of Ireland is about to begin. It’s an amazing initiative and I’m thrilled to be taking part again. It’s a real highlight. I’m booked out for the whole month for solo events, joint events with Alan Early and a brand new theatre event with Caroline Busher. I feel really lucky to have these two writers that I really respect as friends and I’m looking forward to spending some time with them, visiting hundreds of children to celebrate stories and creativity.

October is a tiring month and with my freelance commitments, there isn’t much time to write. But it’s such fun and so rewarding, I look forward to it every year. I’ve tried keeping up my writing in previous years and usually end up failing to keep up with my expectations and feeling miserable about it. I’ve decided it’s best to put all my energy into the events. No one wants to be booed off stage by hundreds of children!

timeleapAnother great piece of news is that the Arts Council of Ireland has awarded me a bursary to enable some concentrated writing time. That means I have three months where I can concentrate solely on my books, so I’m going to take some time out over winter – the idea was initially three consecutive months but I’m now thinking three separate months might be best – to really plough into those new books. It’s such an honour to be awarded the bursary, and it really means a lot.

And so, I’m embracing autumn and looking forward to all the fun things in store. There are things already in the pipeline for next year, but I’ll reveal more about those when I know more. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to festival shenanigans, then hunkering down in the West Cork winter, sharing my time between writing and walking (I recently wrote a piece for The Southern Star about the impact of walking on health and creativity you might enjoy), to bring new stories to life.

How’s your own writing/creative project going? And are you enjoying the change in season? What are you looking forward to this winter?

Week 2 in Iceland: Notebooks & flower crowns

This past week has been about exploring. I’ve been hiking the local hills, walking to dairy farms and tiny churches, testing out new flash fiction ideas and completing old stories that I thought I’d abandoned. I’ve also put into practice what I learned on a recent travel-writing workshop (with the incredible Phoebe Smith – if this is something you’re interested in, I’d highly recommend her) and finished my first travel article, a second one on its way. And yes, I’ve got past the fear of the unknown that was so prevalent last week and allotted time to figuring out which new novels I would like to work on. The week was a slow burner. Not my usual outpouring or word count, but it’s been necessary.

IMG_2156 (2)After being under deadline for so long, one of my hopes for this residency was to discover play again. To experiment. I recently realised that I’ve been using notebooks a lot less for capturing ideas, doodles, etc; everything I wrote down had a purpose and was linked to editing my books in some way. The novels combined with my workload left little time for short stories or flash fiction, so at some point, I somehow stopped collecting random ideas. I had intended to remind myself how to play with words and ideas, but when one of my fellow residents suggested weaving flowers, how could I resist? We spent a relaxing few hours in the wilds, and it was exactly what was needed. In fact, it unexpectedly triggered a story that may or may not work out, but that’s the beauty of it.

And so, the notebook is once again in use. I’ve been collecting sounds, scenery, conversations, people’s faces and habits, random thoughts, possible titles. The notebook has travelled to little churches, up hillsides, and to the thermal spa. It has collected facts and whimsies and everything in between. I’ve allowed myself a slower pace to pick up the missing threads again – and it feels really good. Some of my notes are, of course, linked to my new WIPs, but not all – and that for me is the magic ingredient. Allowing myself room to let ideas grow or fail.

IMG_2047Because writing is an odd beast in that unless you have a finished product, or you create goals like daily word count, it’s difficult to see progress. We’re used to progress being measurable – in daily life, in education, in business, in language – and when it isn’t, it can sometimes feel like we’re flailing. Or, indeed, failing. And sometimes we need to remind ourselves that failing is OK, especially if it means shedding an idea that doesn’t work or a voice you can’t get quite right, so you can move on to something better.

It’s difficult to allow the play side to come to the fore, yet it’s a necessary part of the process. Ideas are everywhere and in abundance, but capturing a really great idea and then forging the links and pathways that lead to great characters and story is not a linear journey. There needs to be blips and sidesteps and ravines to fall into. And this comes through play. Even though the progress may not be felt, it’s there.

So although I was struggling at times with the slowness of last week, I’ve come out of it in a positive space. I know what my next definite projects are and the bonus of discovering new flash fiction and completing old stories I’d given up on is a pleasant surprise. And the notebook becoming a habit again has made things soar. Now, it’s time to continue to play while getting deep into the novels. For my children’s manuscript, I want to get some decent word count down, and for the adult manuscript, I want some serious world building in place – deep breath, I’m going in.