Kids getting creative during Covid!

I’ve seen lots of incredible creative work online from kids doing the Covid lockdown, and I wanted to share a couple of brilliant pieces sent to me over the last few weeks.

Firstly, a school in Swords (which I had the pleasure of visiting in 2018) asked their pupils to recreate their favourite book cover – look at this fantastic response by Maedbh of Swords! Isn’t it amazing? I’m really blown away by it. It captures the book cover style and tone brilliantly! Well done Maedbh 🙂

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And secondly, myself and fellow author, Alan Early, were stuck in a broken time machine and we needed help from you; the task, to create a new time machine from the following items: a stuffed two-headed duck, a slipper, a pencil, a caged spike ball, a rose, and some shiny sunglasses. Look at this beauty by Aurora of Lusk that got us home… Everything we need including a gym, fridge & bookshelf, & used all 6 items. #GoAurora 🙂

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#MGieChat is back! Let’s talk kidlit :)

So, the world feels very weird right now and I’m proud to see so many people stepping up to spread positivity, support, and kindness. If we all follow the guidelines and mind ourselves and each other, then we’ll get through this.

A small gesture on my part is that I’m reviving #MGieChat – a space on twitter where children’s writers can come together and share some ideas, some solidarity, and support each other.

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How it works is: I’ll be posting questions labelled eg Q1, Q2, and you respond to those questions with labelled answers, eg A1, A2 and include the #MGieChat hashtag in the tweet so everyone can follow your contribution.

It ends up fast, and fun, with lots of side conversations. Your fingers will feel on fire, but I promise, it’ll add some cheer to your day!

I’m going to be doing four weekly sessions during the current lockdown – March 24, 31, April 7, and 14. Tonight is a general chat to check in on everyone after recent events, and the next three chats will be themed.

#MGieChat is starting tonight, from 7.30pm until 8.30pm, and everyone’s welcome. Just sign into twitter and use the hashtag to follow the conversations and join in.

Hope to see you there!

2019… A round-up of gratitude!

Like most writers I know, I usually begin a new year with a round-up of the previous, but I actively reduced my time on social media in 2019 to try and recoup some writing time, and so I’m so far behind, I think I’ll just skip to some gratitude.

As 2020 starts with a whisper – swans at the pier and fishermen bringing in their catch, gentle weather, new books to read, unexpected blooms on wintry walks, live music and dog snuggles – I know I have a lot to be thankful for.

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First up: people.

No (wo)man is an island

We don’t always acknowledge how much we need and value the input of others, but I think for writers in particular, social interaction is vitally important and something we need to remember to nurture.

I’m on the road a lot for events (I was away from home for more than 5 months in 2019, but this made up a sizeable portion of my income) and I spend far too much time alone. This past year was particularly hard in that respect, so the people around me have meant more than ever.

So, to my incredible husband, friends near and far, my patient agent Sallyanne Sweeney, writerly friends I turn to for an ear/advice (special shout out to Claire Hennessy, Caroline Busher & Kieran Fanning), my readers, penpals, and everyone else who has inspired me and made my journey/time pass smoothly – thank you. Your input has been invaluable and appreciated.

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Timeleaps, Words Allowed, and a Storytime Express

Many exciting event opportunities came my way in 2019, from the grand finale quiz of Battle of the Book, to a storytelling event on a vintage train (thanks to CBI and An Post), hundreds of events in schools and libraries around Ireland, specialist training for inclusive arts events, READON teen conference panels and writing workshops, plus a week-long tour in Germany for Marburger Lesefest. It was a non-stop whirlwind.

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I love events and there’s nothing better than getting in front of your audience for reminding yourself why you write and untangling yourself from the sometimes-stressful business side of things. So, thank you to everyone who invited me, worked with me (especially co-tutors Alan Early and Dave Lordan), and supported me in bringing my/our events to young audiences.

Pen and Ink and Bum Glue

In terms of writing, I didn’t have any books published this year, and being out of contract has felt fine – I was expecting it to be much harder. But thanks to the reduction in social media, I was pleasantly productive, with two new novels both completed as far as draft 4, plus I had several essays and short stories published in some fantastic magazines and journals including; Banshee, Popshots, Terrain, and Tiny Essays. I also got to co-write a fairy tale with Caroline Busher (currently seeking a home).

These seemingly small victories are actually huge – receiving positive reactions from publications you admire is a boost that helps to;

  • stay on the writing path with integrity and joy
  • counteract the many, many rejections received

Because let’s face it, if the writing isn’t joyful, why bother? Thankfully, this year’s writing has brought me a lot of joy.

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A Room of One’s Own

Other highlights in 2019 included residencies in Costa Rica (1 month) and Portugal (3 weeks). Both provided plenty of physical space and headspace to go deep into my novels, as well as progress some shorter pieces. The rest of the donkey work was completed throughout 2019 on trains or planes and in hotel rooms between events/freelancing deadlines (and at often ridiculous hours), but the residencies were key to planning, structuring, and intense productivity, that enabled the rest to happen organically. So, huge thanks to Mauser Eco House and Foundation Obras Art Residency for their generosity of space and time.

An Interlude

Before I talk about what’s next, I want to pause to say this…

In case the above seems all too sparkly or glamourous or ‘lucky’, at times in 2019, I felt far too lonely. I also felt overworked and underwhelmed and for the first time ever, my health suffered a little. My energy levels a little more. But I had a fantastic year overall and there was nothing I couldn’t deal with and nothing I can’t learn from and change to improve the year ahead.

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My outlook is this: We all create our own opportunities and work ethic, we all use our time in the way we choose, and we all have to make decisions based on our personal lives. Sometimes those decisions are hard, and sometimes it can feel like an uphill struggle or hectic or failure. But perspective is key.

My year was hectic, but it doesn’t mean that if you’re doing more/less/things completely different, you’re more/less/doing things wrongly. There are no rules – especially in creative professions –  only lives to live and lessons to learn and choices to be made.

My advice is this: compare only to yourself and your own parameters. Your own perspective is what matters.

What Next?

In truth, who knows? I’m trying to be a little more open and a little less planned this year. Writing wise, I aim to finish both of my WIP novels, as well as an essay collection, ready for submission. There will definitely be more events with young readers. Plus, a week at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre (courtesy of CBI) and a return to Portugal in June.

But above all – more people and gratitude.

What do you want more of in 2020?

 

New Writing By E.R. Murray on Tiny Essays

I’m really excited about having this new non-fiction piece: I Think of Grief as a Dying Star published over on Tiny Essays.

Since the site came to my attention (thanks to awesome writerly human, Claire Hennessy) I’ve been really enjoying the bite-sized non-fiction pieces. So much so, that I specifically began this piece with the website in mind, which is something I rarely do.

I Think of Grief as a Dying Star is a mini essay that I wrote (from idea to multiple drafts to finished piece) while on residency at Mauser Eco House in Costa Rica.

I like to try and complete one fresh piece of work while on a residency, that reminds me specifically of that time and space. I’d been itching to write about grief for a while, and there was something about the jungle sounds at night and the wide, dark Costa Rican skies that set this piece in motion.

I hope you like the piece and show Tiny Essays lots of support! And if you want to see more photos of my time at Mauser Eco House, you can check out my Instagram page.

An old friend returns…

I have been on a writing residency in Costa Rica, and I’m still gathering my thoughts on my time there, so that’s a post that will follow soon. In the meantime, I wanted to share with you a gift from my husband.

I’ve toyed with the idea of a typewriter for many years, but I decided it was impractical. Too heavy, ribbons too difficult to find, too noisy, and also awkward to type on. And yet, having this typewriter feels like an old friend has returned.

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You see, I learned to type on one of these. Not because of my age and the technology that was available, but because we were poor.

My original typewriter was gifted to me by my father, just after we met in my early teens. He picked it up from a car boot sale and it had three keys missing, so the letters S, R, and W stabbed you when you used them. I remember the pads of my fingertips being badly bruised. The typewriter also caused a lot of contention because it was so loud. But I learned to type on it, nevertheless.

It’s strange how things work out. I had no ambition of being a writer back then. I thought it was impossible, only for rich people, and so it didn’t enter my head. Even though books were my sanctuary and I spent every day writing and drawing, being a writer was something that seemed completely inaccessible. I knew I had to focus on getting an education if I was to have any kind of chance. And yet, I practiced day after day, to learn how to type.

I’m glad that I escaped the trappings of class and found a way to words and books. And I’m also glad that I can facilitate workshops for young people and help make writing accessible – I don’t want anyone to ever feel like anything is out of their reach because of the situation they were born into. It is a reality for many, but it can be beaten.

I have no idea what happened to the original typewriter, but I’m looking forward to some adventures* with this new one! I have a few project ideas brewing, but I’m also open to ideas (suggestions welcome in the comments below)! For now, I’m happy to reacquaint myself with the weight and sound of tapping keys.

(*Adventure number one: relearn how to thread the ribbon!)

My next workshop for young people is Words Allowed at West Cork Literary Festival, and I’m co-tutoring with Dave Lordan. It covers a wide range, including poetry, journalling, fiction, editing, drama, and it’s a lot of fun. If you have a teen you think would enjoy it, you can find more details here.

Book battles, motivation, & manuscripts

IMG_8448How is it March already? I can hardly believe it! But I am enjoying the stretch in the evenings and the earlier dawn. I love early mornings and being able to go for a walk at 7am makes a huge difference to my working day – though I’m finding it difficult to get up and out early in this wintry cold. West Cork is looking beautiful, but those hailstone showers! Even the dog doesn’t want to go out.

And so, a few things I’ve been up to… Firstly, I attended the grand final of Battle of the Book, along with fabulous author and friend, Alan Early, and we got to watch six schools fight it out in a quiz about our books. I loved the rainbow of coloured T-shirts used to identify the schools – and I also loved that the contestants knew more about our books than we did! Congratulations to Garristown on their win. Guess what the prize was? A behind the scenes tour of Dublin Airport! (Not jealous at all. Not even a little bit 🙂 )

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I was also really lucky to be able to chat to a roomful of students who graduated from the Suas numeracy and literacy programmes. The pupils were with their teachers, peers, and mentors, and the atmosphere was brilliant as they celebrated their achievements with certificates, photos and goody bags, before getting a tour of UCC. Well done to everyone involved.

image1-3I’m also delighted to tell you about short story I was commissioned to write for Folens Starlight Primary English Programme. The story is called ‘The Trouble with Lightning’ and it’s a fictional tale about a dog during World War 2. It was a lovely project to be involved in and I had no idea that there were going to be gorgeous illustrations too – it’s just been published and I have a copy winging its way to me. I can’t wait to see it in the flesh.

IMG_8445There’s a school that I write to in the UK, sending reading recommendations every few months, and they’ve written back with some of their own. Their choices: Wonder, Cogheart, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Anne Frank’s Diary and The Boy in Striped Pyjamas. I love getting mail as much as I love sending it, so this was a cracking surprise.

Other projects include seven weeks of READON workshops with teens, an article on writing.ie about my writer’s room (which turns out to be several rooms), and a few opportunities I can’t talk about yet – but I’ll keep you posted as soon as I can. I also hear that the script for The Book of Learning film is just about finished. Exciting times indeed!

But the biggest news is, I’m just six chapters away from completing my next WIP, ready to send on to my wonderful agent, Sallyanne Sweeney, for feedback. There’s been a lot going on and I was worried about falling behind with my manuscript, so I had a three-day retreat at Greywood Arts and got myself back on track. It’s a lovely retreat in a fantastic spot, with woods nearby and gorgeous owners and it was exactly what I needed to redress the balance.

IMG_8378I’m currently out of contract, which means I have to polish the manuscript before trying to sell it, so I can’t say much about the story right now. But wish me luck – firstly with getting it finished, and then the edits, and somewhere along the line, the submission! The publishing world is a rollercoaster of crazy so you never know where your writing journey will lead – but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

So, if you’re trying to get published, or you’re out of contract, or you’re on submission and not having much success, I’m sending you a hug, an extra cup of tea, a pat on the back, or whatever it is you need to keep going.

Remember, it’s a love of story, a love of words, that brought you to this point and that’s what will carry you through.

Happy writing! x

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.