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.

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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! 

Stay Motivated & Write Your Book

The New Year always brings out a feeling of potential and new possibilities in people, but this enthusiasm can quickly wane as the realities of returning to work, and real life, kick in. Personally, it’s been a busy start to the year with manuscript edits, new freelance clients, and lots of events organisation, and so my blog has been neglected (unlike Catherine Ryan Howard’s blog which is currently on fire – check it out!!!).

At the moment, although I’m on top of everything, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and so I’m spending lots of time in nature on long walks, rather than online, to counterbalance the stress levels. We’ve survived Blue Monday, but just in case you’re suffering from January writing blues, here’s one of my most popular posts, originally written for Writers & Artists, about staying motivated to write your book.

Enjoy…

“Everyone has a book in them.” How many times have you heard this said? I’m guessing lots. But how many writers have you heard say this? Probably very few, if any.

I don’t subscribe to the notion that everyone’s got a book in them. I do believe that everyone has an idea or ideas – some good, some bad – but a book? That’s a different matter entirely, and I’m sure that anyone actually writing a book will nod his or her head enthusiastically when I say this.

fullsizerender-78? Because writing a book takes a huge amount of time and dedication, grit and determination – especially when you’re starting out. You have to take the germ of an idea and get it down on paper. Not just a bit of paper, either: around 70,000 to 120,000 words worth of paper, depending on your story and your intended readership. And that’s just the start.

When you get to the end of your initial draft, the actual work begins. Your plot has holes, your dialogue isn’t always realistic, and your characters aren’t quite as consistent as you had hoped. As Hemingway famously said, ‘the only kind of writing is rewriting.’ Your initial draft will not be good enough for publication, and it’s in the rewriting that a real book will form. But to get to this stage, you need to first complete your manuscript.

It’ll be a slog, and sometimes, without any guarantee of an agent/publisher/anyone else ever wanting to read it, you might even feel like giving up. But remember why you’re doing this – your love of books, reading and writing, and it’ll help you stay on track. You can have the most supportive partner/family/friends in the world, but the only person who can motivate you to keep going, is you.

So how do you get to the end of your manuscript without losing heart, enthusiasm, or both?

I don’t have a foolproof method – if only! But I can share the things that work for me. And if this helps just one more writer out there, then I’m happy. Here goes…

Top five motivation tips:

Try the NanoWrimo model – this means getting 50,000 words of your novel down on paper in one month. This may sound like a huge challenge – because it is! – but what this approach does is focus you on your book and help you to get your word count down. Immersing yourself with such intensity keeps the writing fresh and exciting, and you quickly learn to forget about editing as you go along. Nanowrimo is traditionally in November, but you don’t have to wait until then to try it out – you can use the basic principle at any time. This format works so well for me that I adopt it for the first draft of every book. I see it as giving me the clay to sculpt. Who cares if it’s rubbish in places? It’s better than getting stuck at 15,000 words. I find the intensity really liberating and I’d recommend anyone – especially those of you who find you over edit or can’t move forward –to give it a try.

Jump scenes – if you’re really stuck on a scene, it’s likely that you have other scenes bouncing around in your head, begging to be written. So write them. You don’t need to write your scenes in order; the truth of the matter is, it’ll probably all change around anyway when you do your first rewrite. And it’ll definitely change by the next draft. I find that approximately 20% of my initial draft (which I think of as a draft zero) is still present in the final version; so don’t get hung up on perfection when it comes to plot. Some people need to plot and plan to get started writing, and if this is you, don’t be surprised if you start to veer off course. And if you do, go with it – you can always fill in the gaps later.

Give Yourself a Breather – this is probably one of the most difficult aspects of writing because you love writing, you love your idea, and you’re hungry to get on. I wouldn’t recommend you stop completely, but taking a break and giving your work enough distance for it to breathe can sometimes help the story to grow in your head. Doing something mundane and repetitive is really useful; like ironing, weeding, or walking – it can help you to figure out where you’re going next, or solve a character issue. Your brain will still be mulling things over so if you’re really stuck, take a break for an hour or so, and then go back. This is the important bit: you must go back and write a little more to get any real benefit. You’ll probably be surprised how much more productive you suddenly are.

Reward Yourself – no matter how much you love writing, there are going to be tough days. There’ll be knocks, and self doubt, and struggles – and this is all completely normal. As humans, we tend to focus on the negative, especially when we’re doing something we really care about, and so you want to make sure you counterbalance this with lots of positives. Rewards can be small, such as a morning off to see a friend, a new pen or notebook, an evening at the theatre or a ticket to an author event or conference. Whatever it is that puts a smile on your face, reward yourself for small achievements. A book is going to take a long time to write, so keep it joyful to help cope with the challenging times ahead.

Keep learning – no matter how much you have improved on your writing journey, there is always more to know and more ways to challenge yourself. Learning your craft should be a joy, not a bind, and an integral part of your journey to completing your manuscript. Read lots and widely. Attend festivals and author events. Join a writing group for moral support. Talk to other writers on social media. Take a workshop or two. There’s no better motivator than a deadline or a critique. Choose the options that suit you and your personality, and enjoy in moderation – you still need time to write.

These suggestions are easy to add to your working day and they don’t take much effort. Maybe only one or two will work for you, but if you’re stuck in a rut or finding your motivation ebbing, then it’s worth giving them a try.  What do you have to lose? I’d love to hear how you’re getting on – happy writing!

Note: This article was originally written for Writers & Artists 

#1stDraftDiary week 2 (14K-28K words)

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Waterstone’s! 🙂

And so, the first draft continues… Usually I try and write more than 2000 words a day so I can take a day off here and there, but that is stretching my limits at the moment. This first draft is proving harder than the others I’ve done, and I think it’s because it’s been so full on since signing contracts. It’s my fourth book written or edited within 18 months & the last of the constant deadlines – and I’m still doing events and promotion. I’m loving it, but I’m not certain that I can keep it up this time. Maybe I will have to find a new way to work to get this book delivered in time? Here goes…

#1stdraftdiary Day 7: Today is, surprisingly, a breeze, so the seven days up to now must have given me momentum. I make use of it while it’s here! And somehow a giant octopus slips into the story. Word count: 14,000

#1stdraftdiary Day 8: Zero. I organise my events for Belfast Book Festival this week, and answer interview answers. The festival comes first time wise, so has to take priority. When you do children’s events, you’re performing, so you have to be watertight – and events change depending on the age of the children and the group size. I have two events in Belfast with 80 teenagers each event, plus a family fun day hour and an Eason’s event to prepare. This means, planning, preparation, timing, props, practicing for each. It takes time – like anything, when I do an event, I want to do it well. That means enabling the kids to get lots out of the time spent together – and this requires thought. Word count: still 14,000

#1stdraftdiary Day 9: I awake to that niggling, judgmental voice, but beat it away with gusto. I’m starting 2,000 words behind but kind words from Jane Mitchell and CJ Black (thanks lovelies) help me get going. I realise I’ve forgotten Winston in three chapters, so I spend some time adding him in. I reach my word count easily today and still have steam so I continue on and surpass it – 3,900 words in total and doesn’t feel like it at all. One of the really good days. Word count: 17,900

 (And an unplanned intermission…

Ginat's Causeway ERMuray

I also cheated & took a trip to Giant’s Causeway – somewhere I’ve wanted to go since I was seven years old!!!

#1stdraftdiary Day 10 (take 1): Zero. I had to freelance during the ten hour journey to Belfast Book Festival so no words written. Will try again tomorrow.

#1stdraftdiary Day 10 (take 2): Zero. By the time I finished my social media clients and have prepped for & then completed three events today, there is no energy left for words. I decide to pause for the Belfast Book Festival as I have two full days of travel and three days of events. With the best will in the world, I’ll never get through my various freelance stuff, attend events and do my own events as well as my first draft.)

#1stdraftdiary Day 10 (Take 3): Pausing was a good idea – I’m feeling energized by all the great events and festival atmosphere but also pretty tired from the ten hour journey home! As I expected, today was a bit of a slog – but I ploughed through the words and got back on track. Feeling relieved! Word count: 20,002

#1stdraftdiary Day 11: With freelance and other responsibilities today, I don’t even get started on my first draft until 8.30pm and by this time, I can actually feel my brain throbbing. I doubt brain-throb is a good sign but two hours later and my word count hits the spot – just 100 words short. Happy to leave it there. Sometimes, you have to know when to stop pushing. Word count: 21,900

#1stdraftdiary Day 12: I make writing the main focus today, before anything else, like it should be. The only interruption is a live radio interview at 12.15pm – and I’m only 500 words behind my word count at this point. I love radio, it’s a really nice way to chat about books, and so afterwards I’m excited and a little giddy so I switch to admin for a while, chasing up invoices and writing more. By 2pm, I’ve hit 24,400 words. I’ve passed my expectation and have plenty left in me. A medium-sized freelance project (40x 500 word articles with a two week deadline) comes in, so I decide to really go for it today and get ahead if I can. I also became a Patron of Reading today, so I’m celebrating . Word count: 26,400

#1stdraftdiary Day 13: Zilch. Today was spent travelling 3 hours to Cork city for two x1 hour school events in Waterstone’s (they treated me 5 star – such darlings), then a meeting, then a three hour journey home. The events went really well – the pupils were fantastic. Interested, excited, inquisitive – big thumbs up! Word count: still at 26,400.

#1stdraftdiary Day 14: And so, the day was marred by the shock result in the UK, but I decided to use it to my advantage and write the call to arms scene that I need before a battle. I rely on nature today to keep my head straight – the sea, birds, flora, vegtable garden. In the end, I write fast and the words are not completely awful. I stop the moment I reach the word count, leaving not just a chapter, but a sentence, unfinished. Word count: 28,000

Summary: word count on track, amazing schools events and a festival thrown in – but I’m feeling at the end of my energy reserves and I’m finding this difficult to admit. Let’s hope I can keep it up.

#1stdraftdiary – Week 1 (0-14,000)

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Mood lighting 🙂

This is an easier week than usual, because I’ve taken a week’s leave from freelancing. I have a chest infection that’s slowing me down a little, and it’s just two weeks since I delivered the proofs of The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2. Also, I’m just back from Listowel Writers’ Week, as well as my Caramel Hearts launch in Dublin, so my energy is low – but time doesn’t stand still and it’s time to get cracking on The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3! It’s due to publishers on October 31st & I’ll need it to be on at least draft 3 or 4 by then. Here goes…

#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 September 30th & 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

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7,200 words!!!

#1stdraftdiary Day 4: I finally connect with my old way of working. Thanks to a brief conversation with Celine Kiernan on twitter, I realise that the start has been slow because I know the characters (this is book 3 after all!!) so I’m automatically editing and criticizing, 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 4.30, 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

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#1stdraftdiary Day 6: A great day in terms of word count: I catch up and get ahead of myself. However, I had to cancel a street party with a friend, and also abandon the dog to my husband for the day to make it. I’m finding that #1stdraftdiary is revealing plenty to me about the way I work and also, all the ups and downs. I hadn’t actually realised what a daily rollercoaster it is! I’m also receiving messages from other writers saying the project is inspiring them to get started / making them feel better about their own process / interesting to read. That makes it even more worthwhile. However, I may have overdone it as my mood plummets once the writing stops and that inner voice I’ve been silencing comes out in full force… (You didn’t walk, you lazy so and so. You didn’t give the dog enough attention. Did you do anything nice for anyone else today? Why haven’t you joined this, done that – who are you trying to kid? Etc etc until I distract myself with Western films). Word count: 12,700

#1stdraftdiary Day 7: The promise of an afternoon walk with my husband and dog in one of my favourite spots, Glengarriff woods, gets me up and at it early today, with my word count achieved by 12.30pm. And that’s it on until tomorrow – just a couple of interviews to finish and this blog post, and I’m done for this week! Word count: 14,100

Other achievements this week (like I say, it’s a quiet week):

  • 3 miles walk daily (except Day 5)
  • Newspaper pitches x2 – both accepted
  • Essay notes: 8 pages A4 (happy about this – wasn’t expecting it to sneak in!)
  • Updated invoices, chased unpaid invoices, updated expenses (phew! Relief!)
  • One online interview completed and sent
  • Hay bales brought in (251 in total)
  • Planted fennel, lettuce, kale, carrots, parsnips, beetroot, spinach, mint, sage, rosemary – almost cleared a wild patch but saw bees feeding on the buttercups and felt I should leave it until winter.
  • Travel for Belfast organised (this consists of a walk, a bus, and two trains each way – takes a bit of thought)
  • #1stdraftdiary project started
  • 2 blog posts written/posted
  • Social media for writing.ie

Summary: word count on track, enjoyment of writing process back up to speed, that feeling of being a fraud still niggling but being ignored – looking forward to a new week that includes four nights & three/four events (schools, bookshop & fun day marquee) at Belfast Book Festival.

Welcome to #1stDraftDiary !

FullSizeRender (52)People regularly ask me how I write a first draft in a month, and I mumble my way through a barely comprehensible answer but in truth, I don’t really know. I just do it. And so, this inability to answer what should be an easy enough question has inspired a new social media project –#1stdraftdiary  – that I hope you’ll find interesting.

You see, when I write, and I get to the end, I forget all the work that went into it, the challenges and difficulties, the highs and moments of clarity; they all fade into a big fuzz. I don’t remember all the revisions or the edits, and by the time it’s actually finished – as in, been through the editing process, the copy edits, the proofs – I remember nothing of what went on to get it to that point. All I am certain of is that the first draft was written in a month, because this is the approach that works for me.

And so, I decided to try something new (to me anyway): a record of writing a first draft in a month, in real time. Check out the hashtag #1stdraftdiary on twitter to see what I mean (you don’t have to have a twitter account to follow the hashtag)!

Now, this is by no means a competitive project. There’s far too much of that around already and as authors we have enough to strive for/fail at/beat ourselves up about; it’s simply an experiment, a reaction to a question I repeatedly get asked and have no proper way of responding to.

#1stdraftdiary is an honest record of word counts and feelings and barriers and challenges, and hopefully it will amount to something that will reveal to me, not just other interested parties, what writers can go through as they write. All writers are different, so it’s just one lone ranger going for it, but it might help trigger or kick start something for someone else, or consolidate something in their own writing process. Who knows? I certainly don’t. After all, I can’t even explain my own writing process!

On twitter, I’m keeping the #1stdraftdiary chat writing specific, but I’m also going to blog on here and writing.ie about some of the other stuff that goes on behind the scenes during the day/week and how writing fits into my overall schedule.

It feels a little revealing and may turn out a big horrible mess with my usual process failing me but hey –that’s all part of it. As writers, we’ve got to be brave, right?

I hope you’ll interact with me as I bare my poor writing soul – and if you like the idea and you’re starting a WIP, why not join in too? I’d love to see how other people work too!

Real Places, Fantastical Worlds

When I started writing The Book of Learning (Nine Lives Trilogy 1), I was new to Dublin and infatuated with exploring this beautiful, friendly city. The parks, museums, theatres, cathedrals; there was so much to see. As I immersed myself in my new surroundings, the characters of Ebony Smart and Icarus Bean – who had been lingering in my head for some time – became so noisy and infuriating, that I had to start writing about them.

I always write my first draft in one month, and whenever I get stuck I take a walk. Wandering the streets of Dublin, the plot of The Book of Learning began to unravel, and the valuable role of this city emerged. When you’re writing about fantastical worlds, the details must be realistic so the reader will believe in your characters and your settings and I soon realised that Dublin’s hideaways and historical buildings suited my storyline and characters perfectly.

My Lower Hatch Street apartment transformed into 23 Mercury Lane, a Georgian house full of mystery and unusual events. The Botanic Gardens morphed into the secret Headquarters for the Order of Nine Lives and its villainous judge. The pond in St Stephen’s Green became a magical underground lair, and other landmark buildings like The National Library and The Natural History Museum provided the perfect backdrop for many weird and wonderful scenes.

west cork scenery

Days like this have to be taken advantage of – Schull

But this was only half of the story solved. I’d always planned for The Book of Learning to be set in two different locations, so when I visited Schull in West Cork for a writing break, everything fell into place. I needed a seaside setting, with hills and islands – but I also needed woodland. So, rather than basing this section of my book on one particular village, I took the essence of West Cork and combined different parts of the area to make my own fictional village – Oddley Cove.

Gallows Island is based on Long Island, with added cliffs and a cave. Gun Point is the name of a real place (though I have moved it geographically), and the channel is my version of Roaring Water Bay. There’s a scene in my book that involves a stormy boat trip, and this is based on real events; while I was visiting Cape Clear, we were caught in bad weather returning home, only I exaggerated events to make them much more exciting.

Hopefully when you read #TheBookofLearning you’ll recognise some of the places. And when you’re wandering your own streets, wherever they may be, let your imagination wander – you never know where it might lead!

(Note: This piece was originally written for the Eason Edition blog – direct link not included because the competition has passed, but go have a look what else is on there!)