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)

#1stdraftdiary Week 4 (36,500 – 50K)

IMG_5818Returning to #1stdraftdiary after a break, I feel completely disconnected. I had a wonderful time at West Cork Literary Festival and also a week in the UK – but what about my characters? What’s happening in the plot? I had zero idea about what was happening before, now I have less than zero –how is that possible?

Another issue is that after delivering four books in a 20-month period, I can feel myself burning out. I’m tired, and those 6am starts aren’t cutting it any more – they’re more of a battle than a pleasure, and that’s not how I want the writing process to feel. My neck is constantly sore, threatening to lock again, so I have to mind myself. I also have to give this final book of the Nine Lives Trilogy the respect it deserves and so – time for a new routine!

I’m not sure it’ll work but I feel energised by outdoors and exercise and so I’ve decided to spend my mornings walking the dog before going to the gym and swimming & walking home again. The idea is that this will help with my back/neck but also give me more energy. We’ll see! Anyway, time to dive back in… wish me luck!!!

#1stdraftdiary Day 22: I spend the day writing fillers, adding to disjointed scenes and get from 36,500 to 37,600 in an hour! Maybe the break has been good? I continue on and pause at 40,300. Thankfully, I’m back in the zone – and I still have more left in me. I’m cautious of overdoing it and leaving myself bereft of words for tomorrow, but the pull is too strong and I continue until 43K. In fact, something unusual has happened; my brain is starting to plot and plan. Maybe it’s because it’s my fourth book, or maybe it’s because I have to wrap up the trilogy and all its threads? Who knows! This has never happened this early in a draft before – but I’m going with it. Must do what is best for the book!  Word count: 43,000

#1stdraftdiary Day 23:  Even after yesterday’s marathon, I still have words!! Hooray! This is a complete surprise, so I write as soon as I can. As I expected, I run out of steam quite quickly but a realisation hits: I know where to start The Book of Revenge (I had three options!) and so, although this has never happened before, I’m ready to start draft 2. I’m going to listen to my instinct and start it alongside the first draft; I want at least 50K words of cul-de-sacs before I feel fully ready to let go. I still have ideas to find! I move onto draft 2 and write the first chapter. Magic! Word count: 46,200 (Draft: 1112 words)

#1stdraftdiary Day 24:  Within two hours, I reach my word count (48,200) for the day but I have a hunger to continue on. I can feel draft 2 is calling me – much earlier than it would usually – but I think knowing my characters and some of the issues I have to tie up is making this happen. I push on throughout the day to 52,100 – a mammoth word count for the day that leaves me feeling a little low (this always happens when I write too much) but also elated because that’s it – I’m there. There is no point continuing to 60K, as the story is calling – This book has t be delivered to my publishers October 31st and I’m fully booked for the month of October for the children’s book festival, so I have to crack on and do this! Which means, straight into draft 2; this will be more like most people’s first draft. No ore word vomit – it’s time to think, plan, plot, smooth, shape. Wish me luck! Word count: 52,100

And so… this is the quickest first draft I’ve ever done, but also the most disjointed. I’d say it hasn’t really helped me find the story very much like it usually would because of all the breaks, but I have enough to work with. It’s all change; my routine has changed (it’s working up to now) and I’m not leaving any time between drafts this time around (I will for draft 3) – but I guess that’s all part of the fun.

Check out #1stdraftdiary on twitter to see everyone else’s achievements & to cheer people on – and if you’re working on your own first draft, join in!

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!)

Interview on Middle Grade Strikes Back

E R Murray interviews Kieran Fanning

The Black Lotus by Kieran Fanning – ninjas & adventure. Recommend!

A wonderful site, Middle Grade Strikes Back is dedicated to all things middle grade books – and I’m delighted to have been interviewed by the lovely (fellow author) Kieran Fanning!

For those of you who are new to this term, middle grade refers to books for children aged 8-12. It’s an industry term, and you’ll find that although most middle grade authors don’t particularly like the term, it’s useful because it helps publishers, librarians and booksellers categorise the books so it reaches the correct readership.

Thanks so much to Kieran for the great questions – and if you haven’t read Kieran’s great debut (see picture), I highly recommend it. In the meantime, you can read my interview about writing and #TheBookofLearning here!!

What does it feel like to get published?

Book of Learning launch

Cheesy grin award goes to me as Sarah Webb launches The Book of Learning

Being a debut author is incredible. If you write, there’s nothing quite like seeing your book on the shelves, or (even better) in someone’s hands as they sit, engrossed in your story. My book has been on the shelves for just two weeks now, and it’s been crazy busy, but oh so exciting. On occasion, I still have to pinch myself to believe it’s real.

Since being published, people have asked me if things have changed. In some ways, yes, they most certainly have. For instance, I now have a physical book and so I can do things like attend the Tyrone Guthrie centre to write, and I can facilitate school and library events and take part in conferences as a speaker. I finally feel validated as a writer, and in my own heart and mind I know that all the hard work was worth it.

But I’m only human and in some ways, no, things haven’t changed. Old fears have simply been replaced by news ones – like, what if people don’t like the book? What if I struggle writing book two? What if no one comes to my launch and I have to read to myself in a mirror (this was an actual recurring dream)? Etc. Etc.

These are just niggles, and the good stuff outweighs the wobbles BY FAR, but the niggles are still there, and I think it’s important to say this because there’s bound to be people out there creating a book, an album, a work of art – people that are feeling this way too. We’re a society intent on achievement, on success, and we’re driven by results. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but there’s one major lesson that writing with the aim to get published has taught me… and that’s to enjoy the journey.

the book of learning australia

That weird moment when your book starts travelling more than you! (This is Melbourne)

So, what do the first two weeks of being a published author feel like? For me, it’s been the best experience ever, because everyone – friends, family, fellow writers, readers – has been so supportive and so kind, it’s truly humbling. But when I say it’s been hectic, I mean hectic – just how I like it, but a bit of a shock to the system!

As well as my next two books to deliver by November (different books, different genres, different publishers), and my freelancing work, there have been two launches to organise and a heap of publicity to get through, including an online book tour that continues through to December. I’ve been doing radio and newspaper interviews, and I’ve got quite a few library and school visits on the horizon. You can read the exciting list of upcoming events here.

Recently, I was at the incredible Children’s Books Ireland conference as an attendee, and as a speaker in their New Voices event. This involved reading to an audience of children’s book lovers (librarians, teachers, readers, writers, booksellers) in an incredibly supportive and warm environment. I also got to listen to some incredible speakers and immerse myself in children’s books for a whole weekend. *Sigh*

Writing is a solitary career, so I can understand why many writers shy away from this side of things, but to be honest, I love it – and I can’t wait for more! And yet, there will always be small worries and fears. But I think it’s possible to celebrate this huge achievement, to remain fizzing with happiness, confidence, and energy, and embrace the fears. They have a rightful place; it’s all part of the rollercoaster of being a writer or doing anything creative. And if we don’t have fears, how will we challenge ourselves, improve and grow?

I say, take the rough with the smooth. Accept the fears and keep going. And above all, enjoy the journey. I know I am.

#MGiechat: Let’s talk middle grade books & authors!

One of my own personal favourites of 2015

One of my own personal favourites of 2015

If you love reading or writing middle grade books (books for a readership aged 8-12), and you’re also a twitter user, then there’s a new twitter chat starting tonight at 7pm – 8pm that may well be of interest to you – #MGiechat.

Now, I’m a staunch believer that children’s books aren’t just for children, and seeing as you need to be 13 to have a twitter account, this chat is aimed at the adults among us who still believe in the magic of storytelling and recognise the value of middle grade books.

The initial #MGiechat tonight is a meet and greet, so people can say hi, introduce themselves, talk about their favourite middle grade books and authors, and set some parameters for future chats – How often? What time? What topic? Does the chat need it’s own blog or can I wedge it onto my website?

This all came about because I recently realised that most of my chats on twitter about middle grade books were on #ukmgchat – a wonderful chat (don’t worry, I’m not abandoning you guys), but where was the equivalent in Ireland?

It wasn’t until the wonderful Michelle Moloney King (of #YAie brilliance) pointed out that I could start a chat here in Ireland, that I even considered it. So, consider the gap filled! Hopefully tonight will be the first of many, so do come along and say hi. We’re a friendly bunch.

If you’re new to twitter chats, here’s how: open twitter, search for the hashtag #MGiechat in the search bar, and click on the All option to see all the chats. Keep refreshing the page to stay up to date. You’ll see all tweets that include that hashtag – just RT, reply & tweet as usual.

Hope to see you there!

Full Cover: The Book of Learning

I’m currently visiting London on book business but here’s a very short post to update you all… this is the full cover for The Book of Learning 🙂 I hope you like it!

BookofLearningFullCover-1

I’m delighted with all the hard work Mercier Press have put into the book; they’ve been so supportive and amazing, and have worked with me closely every step of the way which feels really special. I met a bookseller in London a few days ago that was raving about how wonderful Mercier are, and I have to agree!