#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.

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It’s Time to Talk & #CoverKidsBooks

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Picture Colm Mahady / Fennells – Copyright 2016 Fennell Photography.

I’ve always loved children’s books and now, as a children’s author about to start writing my fourth book, I read more of it than ever. But I’m finding that even though I devour books at a phenomenal rate, the recommendations keep coming in and my TBR pile continues to grow. Every day I discover a new author or story I’ve yet to explore. I’m immersed in the world of children’s books and still I find it difficult to keep up; so how about the young readers out there?  What support are they getting when it comes to making reading choices? And is it enough?

The Importance of Children’s Books

Children’s literature – the entire range of books for young readers, from the youngest picture book to the oldest YA, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry – is growing every year. We’re living in a golden age for children’s books, with increasing demand. Reading is a vital part of a child’s development, impacting more than just the formative years; the books we read when young formulate future reading habits and lifelong attitudes.

I always talk to readers about books being magical doorways, and writer, Shane Hegarty’s description of the reading experience is one that truly resonates. He says, “Children’s books are time machines. Space ships. They are portals to other worlds. They transport readers into other lives, other perspectives. And they can make you feel part of something bigger, even if you are very much alone. There is something about the impact a story can have on young readers that is really something special. Just watch how they re-read and re-read the same books, over and over.”

There’s no denying that reading for pleasure has a lifelong impact and yet, despite our awareness of this, research conducted by Imogen Russell Williams reveals;children’s books typically get 3% of newspaper review space, despite accounting for over 30% of sales.’ I asked Hegarty, experienced as both a journalist and a children’s author,  to share his opinion on why this current imbalance situation has arisen.

“I would guess that newspapers have been slow to catch up on the interest in children’s books because of inherent bias among editors, journalists, who generally believe that they and their readers want to read reviews of books they themselves might buy. Because children don’t read newspapers (and, let’s be honest, listen to each other rather than critics) they’re not targeted through content. Of course, adults read children’s books but I’m not sure it’s seen as anything other than a curious niche interest. A huge amount of children’s culture is overlooked by the mainstream press.”

As a result of this imbalance, a campaign called #CoverKidsBooks is now calling for answers and asking important questions.

What is #CoverKidsBooks?

“Book reviews and other media coverage should be guiding the public, helping them discover the riches of contemporary children’s books.  Are they?” – Middle Grade Strikes Back

Started in the UK but gathering recognition on a more global scale, #CoverKidsBooks is a campaign that looks at the discrepancy between the number of children’s books published and purchased, and the amount of coverage received in the national press. The campaign takes a positive approach, celebrating the coverage received and calling for more. It’s all about readers and ensuring that as many young people as possible can find the books out there for them; not just the top sellers.

As S.F. Said (@SFSaid), one of the founders of the #CoverKidsBooks campaign, stated during our #MGiechat on the topic (transcript here): “It’s about EVERY part of the beautiful jungle. Picture books, MG, YA, non-fiction, poetry: we love it all! Children’s books need their own space, but they also need to be part of the wider conversation, so all #CoverKidsBooks wants to do is enable the conversation and open a space for all those voices – the more the better!”

Why Do We Need to #CoverKidsBooks?

Writer Sinead O’Hart (@SJOHart) sums this up perfectly on her blog; “We need to #CoverKidsBooks on the radio, on social media, in traditional media, on the television, and get it going as a topic of conversation. An adult looking for a gift should know straight away where to find advice and recommendations. A child looking for their next read should have no problem finding just the right book for their needs, and should be able to access a library (with knowledgeable staff) and/or a bookshop (also with knowledgeable staff) without trouble.”

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RTE2 Swipe Club – a great show in Ireland. More please!

With more than 8000 children’s book published every year, bookshelves can be crowded and prove intimidating to parents unfamiliar with what’s there. In addition, teachers, librarians, and anyone involved in the care of children need help locating a wider range of books that can suit all their young readers’ needs.

Hegarty explains how this can be done; “Through encouraging good journalists and critics to treat children’s culture seriously and to interrogate it as they might anything else. Through writing those pieces ourselves. Through talking about it with the passion and intelligence of the current campaign.” And yet, Hegarty also raises another important question.

“We’ve got to ask, in the age of the internet, how important newspaper reviews really are. I’ll play devil’s advocate here. Do we want newspaper reviews because we think it’s a service to readers, or because having grown up with print as a measure of validation they make us feel better about ourselves? Do we want children’s books properly critiqued, or do we just want them to be “promoted”?

To me, the answer is simple: the reason for seeking out coverage has to be about the reader. It has to be about giving children access to books and not seen as another marketing tool to boost book sales. It has to be honest, not bought. And the positive impact of #CoverKidsBooks so far shows that this can be done.

How Successfully is Ireland Covering Kids Books?

“In an Irish context, I think we have it better than in the UK,’ says Hegarty. “In general, you are far more likely to see an Irish writer (from any genre) on one of the big TV chat shows, or hear them on national radio. Eoin Colfer just did a Gay Byrne’s The Meaning of Life. Louise O’Neill and Derek Landy have both been on the Late Late recently. How many children’s authors other than David Walliams would could even dream of being on, say, Graham Norton? Much print media here also treats writers seriously, gives them space. And they regularly give a good slot to children’s writers as much as the more traditional “literary fiction” authors. It’s a smaller country, with a smaller pool of guests for radio/tv shows to scrap over. Frankly, that’s to our advantage.”

However, Hegarty also acknowledges that review space is an issue, with book review space “at a premium in Irish papers. There’s also the question of what sort of books are reviewed, with literary fiction and doorstopper non-fiction seeming to get preference. Children’s books tend to get the round-up treatment, although their nature means they sometimes offer editors useful colour illustrations to otherwise drab books pages. And they are good at reviewing homegrown books. I know from my past experience in The Irish Times that the experience and enthusiasm of a reviewer such as Robert Dunbar is seen as invaluable.”

There are certainly plenty of people in Ireland working hard to encourage reading for pleasure and make sure that children have the access they need to the widest possible range of children’s books. As writer, Sarah Webb (@sarahwebbishere), recipient of the2015 Children’s Books Ireland (CBI) Award for outstanding contribution to children’s books in Ireland, points out, “Irish schools use a wide range of children’s books in their classrooms and this is to be encouraged and nurtured. We are also building new libraries in Ireland which is so vital to building young readers.”

Hegarty highlights the important work done by “librarians, teachers, parents, readers of all ages, writers, booksellers, festival organisers. If we step away from media alone for a moment, children’s books have clearly never been in a better place. In Ireland, it’s especially so given how many writers there are now. A kid can go into a bookshop or library in Ireland now, sit in a big, colourful kids section and read a book on almost any topic – many utterly taboo only 10/20 years ago – for as long as they want to before someone turns the light out.”

I have experienced first hand the excellent initiatives in place thanks to Children’s Books Ireland (@KidsBooksIrel), including the innovative SwipeTV children’s book club on RTE2, our national station. I was lucky enough to have The Book of Learning featured on April 20th episode, with live reviews from young readers – and I received a flurry of emails from children from all over the country during the week after it aired – so there’s no doubt in my mind that media coverage has a positive impact. Write,r Niamh Garvey (@msniamhgarvey), also gives a nod to the CBI publications. She says, “I love, love, love the Inis guide to kids books, it is great for introducing you to titles, all teachers should have it.” High praise indeed and very much deserved.

So What Needs to Improve?

It’s clear that we have a decent foundation, but of course, this is just the beginning. The fact that so many people are sitting up and taking notice of the #CoverKidsBooks campaign is proof that there’s room for improvement. As Sarah Webb says “In 20 years time I hope I’m still around to report the coverage of children’s books has improved from the green shoots of 2016.

In a Middle Grade Strikes Back interview with librarians, the lack of diversity was highlighted as one major issue that needs urgent attention. “Coverage of children’s books is ridiculously limited and this is very damaging to literacy. Currently the lack of coverage of great and diverse books means that developing readers are mainly being guided towards mass marketed books.  That is not to say that there is not a place for mass marketed books, but it should not be the only choice.”

How you can get involved

As S.F. Said says, ‘every single person out there who cares about children’s books can make a difference to #CoverKidsBooks. The more voices that are heard, the more likely that media will listen & give kids’ books the attention they deserve!’

In short, writers, illustrators, publishers, agents, booksellers, librarians, teachers, families, bloggers, readers are all vital to the campaign’s success. This means everyone who cares about children’s books talking about them in a public forum, sharing knowledge and skills to help young readers gain access to the bigger, wider world of magical doorways/time machines/portals that are out there.

You can read more about the #CoverKidsBooks campaign/research and follow the updates/get involved here.

This article was originally written for writing.ie 

Dublin UNESCO February Roundup

And so, the Citywide Read journey continues! There have been more amazing events, plenty of laughs, and a few surprises along the way…

IMG_4214Libraries visited in February were the National Library of Ireland, Ballyfermot, Inchicore, Coolock, Ballymun, Ringsend, Rathmines, and Pearse St. Author and illustrator Oisin McGann did an illustration workshop in the Hugh Lane Gallery based on The Book of Learning, and I heard that it was fabulous (not that I expected anything less). In addition, we had a lovely event in Waterways Ireland Visitor Centre where two groups of sodden children arrived through the doors on a wild, wet day, and listened to some readings of equally wild and windy sea scenes (thanks go to Ifty Finn for organising).

IMG_4296Our book trail and Illustration session in the National Library of Ireland also had a great turn out. Part of The Book of Learning is set in this iconic building, so we purposely scheduled the event out of hours so the kids could hear a piece read in the stunning Reading Room (they’d usually be too young). The idea worked; the tiny desks and vast, domed room created the perfect backdrop -so, huge thanks go to Brid O’Sullivan for making that happen! Amazingly, some of the attendees had been to a previous UNESCO Citywide Read event and wanted to come again! How lovely is that?

A few of the wonderful surprises I received this time include a massive group hug, a pitch perfect David Attenborough impression (I was asked what I’d like to be reincarnated as, and I chose Mr Attenborough, of course!) and some rat jokes.

Events you can still attend…

There are still a few events coming up in March, including an open event in Cabra Library (March 8th at 3.30pm) and a really special event as part of the Big Day Out St Patrick’s Festival on March 20th, when a Georgian building on Merrion Square will be transformed into 23 Mercury Lane from my book! Check out www.dublincityofliterature.ie for more details and I hope to see you there!

I’d like to leave you with a few extra photos…IMG_4216 FullSizeRender (26)

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The Book of Learning – 2016 Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read

BookofLearningFullCover-1Being a debut author has been crazily exciting so far, and now I have some incredible news to share… The Book of Learning is the chosen book for the 2016 Citywide Reading for Children campaign. The Citywide Read is run by Dublin UNESCO City of Literature and Dublin City Council’s Libraries Service, in partnership with Mercier Press and runs from January to March 2016.

So what does this mean? You can read the press release here, but In a nutshell, it’s a scheme that encourages children to read for fun. I’ll be facilitating events across Dublin City libraries throughout January, February and March 2016, and the children of Dublin, along with their parents, will be encouraged to read my book and to visit their local Dublin City library to enjoy the events taking place. It can be summed up as follows:

Children encouraged to read for fun + visit libraries = a very happy author!!!!

Planning starts now, and I cant wait to reveal more in the near future 🙂

Publication Day: The Book of Learning

E.R Murray - The Book of LearningIn 2009, I started a story about a girl called Ebony Smart. Today, that story, The Book of Learning, hits the bookshops – and I can hardly believe it’s real.

I didn’t work on The Book of Learning every day of those six years. It took around one year to write and another to perfect, but that’s how long it’s taken to see the book in print.

So a huge thank you to everyone at Mercier Press for making it happen, and to everyone who has supported me along the way.

For me, this is such a huge day.

Share it with me by taking an extra hour for yourself, to do something you love.

Win a Limited Edition Copy of The Book of Learning

I have some very exciting news for readers in Ireland…

A few days ahead of publication day (Sept 2nd), you have the chance to win a special Limited Edition version of The Book of Learning over at Eason’s!

These Limited Edition covers are SILVER, they’re SHINY, and they’re just GORGEOUS (see below)!

To be in with a chance to win, read my blog post over on Eason’s and then answer the question – good luck everyone!

Limited Edition The Book of Learning by ER Murray Limited Edition The Book of Learning by E.R. Murray Limited Edition The Book of Learning Silver