Writing About Music in Caramel Hearts

I have to write in complete silence. And yet, music plays an important role in my new young adult novel, Caramel Hearts. The main character, Liv Bloom, is obsessed with Johnny Cash, and his music is referred to at crucial moments in the book, usually when tensions are running high. Many people have asked me about this contradiction – not being able to write with music yet writing about it – and so I thought I’d share how and why I incorporated music into my novel.

IMG_5691About Caramel Hearts

Caramel Hearts tells the story of Liv Bloom, a 14 year-old girl with an alcoholic mum, trying to make sense of her world. It’s a gritty coming of age story, with real cake recipes throughout, structuring the story. While Liv’s mum is in recovery, she is looked after by her older sister, Hatty, who should be at university. The sisters are very close, but tension is running high. When Liv stumbles across a cookbook that was handwritten by her mum, she decides to bake the recipes. This takes her on a voyage of discovery, but a series of bad decisions and a school bully land her in lots of trouble. It’s a very real story about family, friendship, modern-day poverty, and the effects of addiction.

Why does music feature?

Liv is a character desperately searching for two things; she wants a closer relationship with her mum and she also wants to fit in with the world around her. She’s living in tough circumstances, both financially and emotionally, and is pretty lost; she’s feeling disconnected with everyone and everything. I think that music is a really powerful medium; it has a language of its own that speaks to people on different levels. Music feels deeply personal and accesses emotions in a way that nothing else can. In short, it’s a connection and an escape all at once. I remember music being very important to me when I was younger, and realised that this connection/escape was exactly what Liv needed. In music, just like in her new baking hobby, she can find solace.

Why choose Johnny Cash?

Johnny Cash might seem like a strange choice for a 14 year-old girl, but Liv is living in poverty and has very little money, so she only has access to the music her mum or Hatty likes. She listens to her mum’s Johnny Cash albums for two reasons: it gives her an emotional release but it also provides a connection with her mum in her absence. Johnny Cash was the perfect choice for Liv’s mum, because she is a troubled soul who can’t let go of the past, and uses it to hide from her current problems. I already know (and love!) Johnny Cash’s music, but I did listen to his music on repeat before writing certain scenes, to make sure that the songs I chose were right for the book. The songs had to reflect the story and tension – they had to emphasise the emotions.

How does the music work in Caramel Hearts?

The music helps to convey tension, mood and emotions; I found that the recipes and music complemented each other perfectly. The music helps convey the nuances of heightened emotions; hurt, disappointment, anger and hope. It’s these nuances that transform a character from words on a page into a real, believable, living being in the reader’s mind. And surprisingly, there was one particular scene that was entirely driven by the choice of song Liv listens to (no spoilers!) so the music element affected the story more than I expected. I didn’t go into much detail about the music – I would find it really difficult to capture it on the page. Instead, I let the song choices speak for themselves.

How about you? Do you write with music on, or do you find it too distracting also? Do you write about music or use music in your writing? I’d love to know what works for you. 

2016 Wrap Up!

2016 was an incredibly mixed year. Professionally, things couldn’t have been better, but there were some personal lows that certainly kept my feet on the ground and made me question many aspects of my life.

The year began with The Book of Learning – Nine Lives Trilogy 1 being chosen as the 2016 Dublin UNESCO City of Literature Citywide Read for Children. An initiative that encourages reading for fun, this is very close to my heart because if it wasn’t for books, my life would be very different indeed. Books were my childhood sanctuary and I can’t extol the value of reading enough – books really can change lives.

As for the UNESCO events from January to April, words can’t explain how amazing an experience this was. Walking into a room where all the children have read and enjoyed your book is just incredible, as was reading in the beautiful National Library of Ireland and the grand finale – a St Patrick’s Big Day Out event in a Georgian house based on 23 Mercury Lane in my book (with real pet rats).

The UNESCO team – particularly Jackie Lynam who has now become a true and valued friend – was incredible to work with; both professional and human. It was during this time that I lost two close friends and they were so incredibly supportive, I can’t thank them enough – so a huge thank you goes out to everyone involved. (Look out for Dave Rudden’s Knights of the Borrowed Dark events from January to March as the 2017 Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read kicks into action – they’re going to be amazing).

Publication wise, my first young adult book, Caramel Hearts, was released in Ireland and Australia in June, and I was honoured to have Sinead Gleeson launch the book for me. Sinead is an incredible woman whom I admire very much because of her kindness, her honesty and her integrity. Sinead’s writing and interviews always have a profound effect on me and I’m looking forward to more in 2017.

img_6895Later in the year, The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 was published, and this went on to be shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards! This was a wonderful night, shared with many great friends who were also shortlisted and I also got to see my husband in a tux! In addition, The Book of Learning was optioned for dramatic rights by the lovely and enthusiastic Ripple World Pictures – watch this space!

There have been over 100 events in schools and libraries this year, including a rather busy October, spent touring for joint events with Alan Early. The Children’s Book Festival is exciting yet hectic, but Alan really made the month fly by with plenty of laughs – if you haven’t already, you should check out his Arthur Quinn series. It’s brilliant.

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Festivals have been kind to me also this year, including West Cork Literary Festival, Doolin Writers Weekend, Ryedale Book Festival, Mountains to Sea, Belfast Book Festival and Listowel Writers Week – each was a pleasure and a joy and I can’t wait to return.

Festivals provide so much for writers; the chance to get in front of an audience, some income, time to meet with other writers and also attend their events to keep the whole writing side fresh and interesting. Writing festivals are a highlight in any writers’ calendar, so thank you to everyone who works tirelessly to keep them going!

However, on the flip side, some very close friends died this year, and the loss of their smiles, their chat, their talent, is keenly felt. In addition, with so much success comes lots of hard work and I have to admit, even though I’m a born grafter, I found the workload crushing at times. I’ve had to sometimes neglect those close to me and have struggled to maintain friendships without any free time. My husband, my friends and my village have all been so understanding – it’s an incredible thing to have finally found a home.

And so, what has 2016 shown me? To make sure you look after and cherish those close to you, as well as your own health – because that’s what really matters. And so, that’s exactly what I intend to do in 2017. I have many more people to thank for their support and encouragement this year, but that’s a post for New Year.

Happy Christmas all and see you in 2017 x

The Irish Book Awards & Making Dreams Reality

BookofshadowsWriting a book was simply a dream. I’ve always loved books; they’ve been my sanctuary for as long as I can remember. They got me through a traumatic childhood and continued to stick by me through thick and thin over the years. Books helped me dream, learn, imagination, escape, relax, feel secure and so much more. I’m turning 40 next year, so that’s a lot of hard work and support they’ve had to offer.

As for writing, I can’t actually remember a time when I didn’t write. I’m not one of those people with memories of being in the pram or cot; my first recollections are from the age of about six, and of writing poems. So writing was also a constant in my early life – until growing up and work got in the way. Over time, I let careers, ambition and financial concerns soak up my time and attention. I still read, but writing became a guilty secret, hidden away from the world, and eventually it dropped away completely.

But after establishing myself successfully in several careers and still not feeling particularly happy, I looked deep into my heart and asked – when did I last feel truly alive and full of possibility? And the answer was when I lost myself in stories. And so, I finally picked up a pen and started writing again. Poems, flash fiction, stories – eventually these got published. When I let writing back in my life again, I felt more complete. Eventually, I decided to try and realise my deeply buried dream of becoming a published author.

Ireland has a huge role to play in this dream becoming a reality. I moved here from Spain for work, and fell in love with the country and its people. I found the Inkwell workshops run by Vanessa O’Loughlin, and met fellow aspiring writers. The workshops were fantastic and inspiring, but the friendships developed were invaluable. We stayed in touch, supporting each other along the rocky and uncertain path to publication. I felt respected, supported and full of possibility. Ireland became my first true home and I began to realise that maybe being an author was something I could genuinely achieve.

Some risky decisions, a move to West Cork, a pile of work, and lots of rejection later, my first book deal was signed, followed by another! The Book of Learning – Nine Lives Trilogy 1 was chosen as the Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read for 2016, and it was such an honour to be part of a project that encourages reading for pleasure. After all, what better opportunity to try and pass on the one thing has been a constant in my life?

img_0040-1And now… In case you missed my inane ramblings across social media over the last week (I was in shock, forgive me!), The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 has been shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards in the Children’s Book of the Year (Senior) category. I’m still coming down to earth with a bump as it was completely unexpected. In addition, two of the authors I met way back when are also shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards this year; Cath Ryan Howard (shortlisted in Crime for Distress Signals) and Hazel Gaynor (shortlisted in Popular Fiction for The Girl From the Savoy). And Vanessa, who brought us all together, is shortlisted for her debut, Little Bones writing as Sam Blake.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t write for awards but being shortlisted for something like this is a real honour. Writing is a lonely profession, with lots of uncertainty, meandering pathways and all the emotions. I write because I can’t not write; because my passion for books and story outweighs my passion for anything else. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the way forward, but you stumble on blindly. A shortlist like this is like a beacon; it says, you’re on the right path, keep going, it’ll be OK!

But this isn’t just about me. It’s about all the writers out there who strive every day to create the best stories they can – whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, for adults or children, in whatever genre they prefer. The book community in Ireland is really social and supportive, and yes, people have ambitions and dreams, but they work really hard to achieve them and never forget the human factor.

My category is incredible strong and I am genuinely delighted for everyone on that list because they all deserve a spot with their fantastic books; Claire Hennessy, Deirdre Sullivan, Cecelia Ahern, Dave Rudden and Anna Carey, you are all rock stars and I can’t wait to share the celebrations with you on the big day.

(P.S. If you love books and haven’t voted yet for your favourites, here’s the link)

Why Writing Community Support Matters

fullsizerender-77The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 is officially out in the world! That’s the third book published in 12 months (my Dublin launch was exactly one year to the day of my debut launch) and as you can imagine, it has been a crazily fun but pressured year. I can hardly believe that I have three books hurtling into readers’ hands, as it’s all been so fast – so thank you all for your support! I always say that the writing community is really special, and once again, it’s been proven.

After launching my book, I stayed on in Dublin to attend the Children’s Books Irelandconference and I have to say – what a wonderful weekend it was. The speakers, general organisation, discussions, and enthusiastic audience – it was exactly the tonic I needed after such a hectic schedule. I have genuinely never been so tired in my life and being able to sit back and be inspired by some of the world’s best children’s authors and illustrators was such a treat.

And once again, I was on the receiving end of such kindness from the writing community. So many people came up to offer their congratulations and wish me well, not minding at all that I was a gibbering wreck. We were all there to celebrate everything children’s books and the atmosphere was fantastic – because this is what the book world is about. From writers, to readers to booksellers to librarians to publishers – we’re all in this together for the same reason: a love of books.

I genuinely believe that support from friends within the writing/publishing/book community is a key ingredient for any writer to keep going. It is wonderful to do something that you love but it is also hard work, and a roller coaster. There are many uncertainties – sometimes, as many downs as there are ups – so a strong network of people that understand what you’re trying to achieve and wish you well is essential.

This is relevant for writers in all stages of their career and this is why I will continue championing all of my writing friends. Trying to get that initial publishing deal is really, really difficult and it takes guts and determination – so when someone tells you they write but don’t have a book deal yet, it’s important to listen respectfully; after all, we’ve all been there and you could be talking to the next JK Rowling.

fullsizerender-76When someone signs a deal, try and celebrate their achievement, even if your own writing isn’t quite going to plan. Editing the manuscript for publication is really, really difficult, so there’s an uphill struggle ahead; then there’s the blog tours and launches, as well as marketing. The pressure is on and it’s all new, which can be quite daunting – at times, support and encouragement will be needed.

Even when books hit the shelves, there are further challenges to meet: coverage, sales, getting stocked, earning enough cash. And even after winning a prize, there are no guarantees. The writing world is always unstable, so if someone tells you they’re tired or struggling, it doesn’t mean that they’ve forgotten their achievements or successes – it just means that they’re human.

Writing is a job that never ends and is also difficult to measure in anything other than sales and prizes and how much you earned as an advance or whether you got a movie deal. As a result, most writers feel anxious a lot of the time, looking sideways to see what achievements they should aim for next and noticing opportunities they have missed. And yet many people don’t talk about this side because they are so appreciative of being published, they don’t want to seem disrespectful or ungrateful.

Yes, these things are important and I thoroughly applaud ambition, but at the very core, writing and being a writer has to be about books. About our stories and characters. About writing the very best book that we can and being proud to hold it up and say – I did this! It’s about staying focused on our writing, our own journey, and writing really good books while (hopefully) inspiring others along the way.

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the murk and lose sight of why you’re writing, butif we all continue to stick together and support each other, then we’ll always find our way back. And more wonderful books will be written. What could be better?

(Note: originally posted on Writing.ie)

The Book of Shadows is here – & you’re invited!

It’s my third book in a 12-month period, and yet holding that initial copy of an actual physical book for the first time never gets old. I’m in the middle of writing the final part of the trilogy, and it feels like a very long time since I thought about/edited/looked at The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2… and yet, when I received this in the post from my publishers, the very first copy I’ve seen, it all came flooding back.

Book of Shadows ER Murray

And so, once again, it’s launch time! The lovely and very generous Sarah Webb is launching The Book of Shadows in Eason’s O’Connell St, Dublin at 6.30pm on Thursday, September 15th – if you’re nearby and you’re free, I’d love you to be there. If we’ve chatted via social media but haven’t yet chatted in person, so come up and introduce yourself – please don’t be shy!

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If you’re battling away at your own manuscript, please keep going and stay strong. The Book of Learning, the first in my Nine Lives Trilogy, was rejected many times and I even shelved it, thinking it was the book that got me my agent. I revived it a couple of years later and it got snapped up, and ended up being chosen as the 2016 Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read for Children.

So believe in yourself, keep going, and trust your instinct. With hard work, determination and a damn good manuscript, you’ll get there.

Caramel Hearts is Published!

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Caramel Hearts – published today!!!

I can hardly believe it; today is publication day for Caramel Hearts, which means that my second book is hitting the shelves! It is separate to the trilogy and for an older audience, so here’s a bit of info before I tell you how it all happened …

Can a book full of secrets unlock the past?

Liv Bloom’s life is even more complicated than that of your average fourteen-year-old: her father walked out on the family when she was young, her mother is in a recovery centre for alcoholics, and her older sister is struggling to step into Mum’s shoes. The only person she can turn to is her best friend Sarah, who gets out of scrapes at school and is a constant source of advice and companionship. One day Liv discovers a book of recipes written in her mum’s handwriting, which sets her off on a journey towards self-discovery and reconciliation – but a theft, a love rivalry and a school bully are just some of the many obstacles on the way.

Structured around real cake recipes, Caramel Hearts is a coming-of-age novel about love, disappointment and hope, and discovering the true value of friends and family, no matter how dysfunctional they are.

The journey of this book was fraught with uncertainty. I wrote it because my first book hadn’t been signed, and I needed to write something else. Something that wasn’t like my rejected book – not fantasy, or middle grade, or anything like The Book of Learning! I’d put so much into that first book and needed to move into a different headspace.

There was no guarantee that Caramel Hearts would be any good, and even though I now had a wonderfully supportive agent, the way forward felt pretty bleak at times. But I knew that being an author was what I really, really wanted and what I really, really cared about, so there was no way I was giving up. The decision to shelve The Book of Learning and start all over again was a difficult one, but a new book gave me something to concentrate and focus on, rather than the recent rejections.

When I started typing the first sentence of Caramel Hearts, did I believe it was ever going to get published? I hoped so, but the knockbacks – all part of the process but still difficult to deal with, especially in the early days – can be distracting, especially when you’re getting good feedback but still no deal. And yet, despite the upset and frustration, I couldn’t not write.

It was at this point, at this moment of realisation that I decided to stop focusing on the end result, on getting that elusive book deal, and instead, on enjoying the process. Coincidentally, this is also when things really began to fall into place. I found that I enjoyed turning up to my desk every day much more when I wasn’t worrying about whether I was good enough or ever going to be good enough. The words flowed. The edits flowed.

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Plenty of *research* needed! #Baking #Cakes

It took a year to write and edit Caramel Hearts with the help of my agent. But when it went on submission, it felt different to last time; instead of excitement, I felt fear. What if I got close to getting signed again but it still didn’t happen?

I remember asking myself – OK, if you truly want this, how many books are you willing to write that will be potentially never be published? When will you stop?

The answer was: I would write as many books as needed and I’d never stop. I had written a whole other book after the first one was rejected, and I would do it again. And again.

And so, that’s exactly what I did. I sat and wrote another first draft of a different story, to distract myself and continue improving my craft. I also reread my The Book of Learning manuscript and still felt it was good enough. I removed the word ‘very’ as a token gesture and it went back out on submission. The fear doubled.

It turns out that I needn’t have worried. A month later, The Book of Learning was signed in a three-book deal and a couple of months after that, Caramel Hearts was also signed. Two book deals within six months, four books in total signed and three of those books to be published in my first year as an author – a dream come true!

And so, here we are: publication day of my second book, Caramel Hearts. It’s a change in age group and genre, but a book I really believe in and I hope you enjoy it.

I’ll be celebrating my ‘book birthday’ all day long on twitter and facebook, so please do join me – there’ll be a few chances to win copies of the book too, so spread the word.

Hope to see you there! Thank you for celebrating my book birthday with me! 🙂 

Summer, New Neighbours & May 19th Caramel Hearts Party (online)!

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Shiny, shiny books!

Summer is here. The swallows have returned and the cuckoos are calling – it’s a beautiful time of year. I have lettuces and cabbages thriving in the garden, the tomato plants are starting to flower in the tunnel, and I have an array of seeds – hairy basil, kale, sprouts, chillies and peppers – starting to poke their heads through.

And even better, copies of my second book, Caramel Hearts, have arrived. Actual. Physical. Copies. It feels really fast but very exciting, and I’m still convincing myself that it’s real. That this is all actually happening.

However, before I sound like I’m on top of everything, please note: I have completely lost the art of conversation. I’m way behind the usual vegetable planting and I’m struggling to find some time to catch up. I haven’t seen most of my friends in a long, long, time (sorry everyone). And our grass has got so out of control, we’ve had to move some cows in to fix it for us. They’re very gentle neighbours, and as well as fantastic gardeners (the vegetables are protected), they double as great alarm clocks!

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My favourite thing about this time of year is that the days are long. It’s light until almost 10pm, and dawn breaks before 6am. When you live somewhere with no streetlights for miles, this means freedom! Lots of extra daylight hours for walking, gardening – and maybe, dare I say it, finally catching up with friends? – as well as all the usual writing and freelancing time. This morning, I even edited outside, in the sun, and then had a paddle in the bracing Atlantic. What more could I ask for?

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Happy tomatoes 🙂

When you do these things during the day in winter, you lose most of your best working hours – I’m a person who thrives on light and finds it difficult to write when it’s dark – but if you don’t, you go stir crazy! And yet, despite the long winter, and my aversion to writing in the dark, I’ve managed to get this far.

This far meaning Caramel Hearts is completed and *almost* here (publication date May 19th) and The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives II is also completed; I’m just finishing up the proofs. My busiest months for festivals and events have passed (there are many more though, with Wexford next – check out my events page) and I’m about to start the final book in the Nine Lives Trilogy. Phew!

But first: I’m going to celebrate Caramel Hearts. I’m going to enjoy releasing it into the world (even though it’s a little bit terrifying)!

Publication day is a strange entity. It means that your books are officially ‘out there’ but other than that, it’s a bit of a damp squib. The buzz is all around the launch, which comes later. However, I’ve decided that I’m going to follow the advice of the lovely Mariam Kobras and make publication day more of a ‘thing’. It’s easy to get caught up in deadlines and forget to celebrate, but you only release your book once and so I’ve decided to ‘cop on’ as they say in these parts and enjoy it.

So, on May 19th I’m having an all day long virtual ‘publication day party’ on twitter, facebook and this blog – and you’re invited! It’ll start around 8am and I’d love you to stop by and join in. It’s a bit of fun, a way to get some conversation about the book started, and a chance to win some goodies!

Hope to see you there 🙂 

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Dublin UNESCO January Roundup!

FullSizeRender (18)And so, the Dublin UNESCO Citywide Reading Campaign has begun! As an author, these past few weeks have proved to be a really exciting time, and as a debut author, I’m still pinching myself.

Up to now there has been a photo shoot in the National Library of Ireland, and events in seven Dublin City Public Libraries – Raheny, Donaghmede, Central Library, Charleville Mall, Walkinstown, Dolphins Barn, and Marino – as well as a visit to Scoil Chiarain Special Needs School in Glasnevin. The library staff have been warm, welcoming and supportive, and the response from both teachers and pupils has been incredibly positive. Jackie from UNESCO has been a godsend, making sure the packed schedule runs smoothly, and all in all, I’m feeling really grateful to everyone involved – especially the readers.

As The Book of Learning has only been out for a few months, usually when I do events, I’m introducing myself and hoping people might like my book as I read. Imagine how different it feels walking into a room with between 30 and 60 pupils at a time engrossed in the book and full of questions! That’s more than 400 readers up to now – and you should hear how smart their questions are! Here are some of my favourites so far:

  • IMG_4142Did you ever nearly have a nervous breakdown writing a book?
  • Who is your favourite baddie?
  • If you weren’t a writer, what would you like to be?
  • If you could write a book with any other author, who would it be?
  • If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would you meet?
  • If you had a Book of Learning, what do you think you would see?

IMG_4130Reading is so important to me, and being part of a campaign that encourages reading for fun is an absolute honour. So far, the atmosphere is exactly what I hoped for; a space where we can all celebrate books and reading. We talk about what the books and authors we love and why, and what reading means to us. We reveal a few secrets, explore ideas, share our passions and laugh plenty. There are quizzes, illustration demonstrations, and games thrown into the mix – it’s all about fun and looking at books and reading from a fresh perspective.

There are lots more events coming up over the next two months, including a book trail in the National Library of Ireland, an illustration workshop with the wonderful Oisin McGann in Hugh Lane Gallery, and a really special event as part of the Big Day Out St Patrick’s Festival in March. Check out www.dublincityofliterature.ie for more details!

I’d like to leave you with a couple of surprises that I wasn’t expecting. The first is the sighting of posters on Dublin Bus – don’t they look amazing?

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And the second is the fantastic window display in Hodges Figgis Bookshop that blew me away. It’s every writer’s dream to see something like this!

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I do hope to see you at some of the events over the coming months – remember to visit www.dublincityofliterature.ie for more details on what’s happening and how you can book your space. And don’t forget to come and say hi!

Cover Reveal: Caramel Hearts

I’m delighted to reveal the cover of my next book, Caramel Hearts; it’s my young adult debut, published by Alma Books in March 2016.

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This novel is about a girl with an alcoholic mum – there are real cake recipes throughout, and given the name, I was terrified the cover would end up pink, glittery and full of cupcakes. This wouldn’t have suited suited the story, characters, or the author – but there’s an art and agenda to cover design, often driven by sales, so sometimes the story and the cover don’t match.

Thankfully, I’m delighted with this design by Jem Butcher – I hope you love it as much as I do!