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!)

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.

An update – this is getting real!

E.R Murray - The Book of Learning

They’re real!

I’ve been a little slow updating this blog lately, and for that, I apologise. This debut author thing seems to be taking up rather a lot of time! As soon as I signed my first deal with Mercier Press, I knew the hard work would begin. And when I signed my second deal with Alma Books, I knew I’d just upped the stakes somewhat. But the truth is, it’s incredible and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Yesterday, was the moment every aspiring author dreams of; I saw the first ever physical book with my name on it. Well, piles upon piles of them, if truth be told, as I signed several hundred to be unleashed on the world. It was one of the most exciting days of my life. Imagine… I’ve always loved books. They’ve been a part of my life forever, and now, there are some emblazoned with my name. It’s incredible, but I’m still soaking it all in.

The Book of Learning by E.R. Murray

Adding personal notes to review copies

Other little things that mean a lot are happening. Such as my first newspaper interview in The Southern Star. My first review from a 13 year old boy who loved the book. Congratulations from my neighbours in the village. Email requests and PMs asking where the book is available. Radio interviews are starting to roll in, and the review copies have left the building. I’ve got my launch lists underway and a little surprise for readers too (to be revealed shortly).

Meanwhile, I’m at my computer like clockwork, completing the edits for my next book (due out in March) and writing the second book of my trilogy. And all the while I’m pinching myself. Seriously – is this real?

This is what the five years of hard work has been for. And now, with review copies arriving on people’s doormats, and publication day (Sept 2nd) just around the corner, it’s about to get very real indeed. It is the most exciting yet most terrifying bit – hearing what people think. There’s no going back – it’s out there. Thankfully, I can bury my head in my future books and hope for the best.

For those of you aspiring to be in this position, remember – it’s a fine line between wanting a book deal and signing a book deal. You can be teetering on that line for a long time and it’s frustrating and terrifying and exciting all at once – but you have to just keep going. For what it’s worth, here’s a post I wrote on not giving up.

thai decoration gardens

It’s All Happening – A Second Book Deal (this time, Young Adult)!

irish farm dog

He’s playing it cool, but he’s dead chuffed for me really…

I’m so excited about this news, I hardly know where to start …

I can now officially announce that I have signed another book deal, this time with the gorgeous UK publisher, Alma Books. It’s for a Young Adult book called Caramel Hearts, and it will be hitting the shelves in May/June 2016.

In April of this year, Alma Books announced their new children’s and YA list in The Bookseller, and I’m truly delighted to be part of this exciting development.

So, now there’s even more work to do, but lots of celebrating too.

And if you’re out there, working away on your manuscript revisions, keep going. I honestly believe you’ll get there with plenty of determination – and just as much grit.

It’s official… a three-book deal!

green fingered writer

Even when the power cuts out, keep going!

I’m going to keep this brief because I’m still letting it sink in, and it’s hard to type when you’re giddy. I can finally say the words I’ve been longing to say for so long…

I’ve signed a book deal!

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve signed with Mercier Press for my middle grade fantasy trilogy, the Order of Nine Lives, with the first book due for publication in summer 2015.

This means an extraordinary amount to me, so much that I can’t put it into words. So I’d just like to say thank you so much to everyone who has taken an interest and supported me so far – your belief has been invaluable.

I’ll keep most of my writing news to this blog or my Author page on Facebook, so that’s where you need to look for updates.

It’s early days and there’s work to be done, but for now, it’s time to celebrate.

And for those of you chasing dreams – keep going. I’m no different to anyone else – with hard work, determination and courage, you’ll get there.