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.

New Writing by E.R. Murray on Terrain.org

Terrain.org, a journal of built and natural environments, is one of my favourite journals that deals with how the environment impacts our lives and how we impact it in turn – its content is so varied but always fresh, exciting and of an exceptional standard. So I’m truly delighted to have a piece of flash fiction, Discrimen, recently included.

Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built + Natural Environments logo

Set in West Cork, Discrimen is a tale of loss, love, and hope. It’s a short read, and free – so please share with people you think might enjoy it! 

Publishing fiction, non-fiction, poetry, interview and letters, Terrain.org is a real treasure trove, so have a good look around – and do share any of your favourite pieces you discover in the comments below.

And if you’re looking to submit your own work, you can do so here:
https://www.terrain.org/submit/

Happy reading, happy writing! x

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Staying Motivated: Writing Across Genres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dublin launch reminder – The Book of Revenge!

Just a quick reminder that if you’re in Dublin this Thursday (Feb 15th), please join us in Grafton Street Dubray Books at 6.30pm to send The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 out into the world.

It’ll be helped by an intro from Sinead Gleeson, and Caroline Busher is going to do a quick interrogation interview too!  Everyone welcome! After drinks in Neary’s!

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Publication day: The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3

BookofRevengecoverIt’s official – publication day for The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 is here! It’s a week earlier than I expected and the nerves have kicked in… let’s hope you all love Ebony Smart’s biggest adventure yet!

So, does publication day feel any different when it’s your fourth book? The answer is no! It’s just as exciting, nerve-wracking, strange, unbelievable, wild and bizarre as every other time. It’s also a whimper, rather than a bang, as all the build-up is towards the launch. But seeing people reading the book, pictures of it on shelves, in hands, on TBR piles is a crazy good feeling. So keep the pictures coming!

I haven’t even seen a copy yet, but hopefully they’ll arrive today! It’s such a great experience, holding your book in your hand for the first time. Until I do, it still feels like an unruly manuscript that has to be kicked into shape!

And so, here’s to the final piece of the Nine Lives Trilogy – off you go, out into the world, The Book of Revenge!