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

Joe Prendergast – An Unexpected Treasure

As I said in my last post, summer is upon us and this is a particularly busy time of year here – writing, tourist season, visitors, hay baling, vegetable gardens etc – so I’m temporarily reducing my Green Fingered Writer posts to one a fortnight. As soon as things calm down, I’ll be back to the usual weekly updates.

Written by 9 year old Joe Prendergast's first novel

Written by 9 year old Joe Prendergast

In this post, I’d like to tell you about an amazing little guy I met yesterday while working in the local bookshop in Schull, Whyte Books. (For those of you that aren’t aware, I’m helping out part-time, the perfect antedote to the solitude of writing. And when you see the place, you’ll understand why I love it.)

One of the great things about working in a bookshop is the people you meet. People who love books. People who need books. People who want to talk books. And sometimes, you meet unexpected treasures that stand out and inspire.

This young fellow, Joe Prendergast, is just 9 years old and the proud author of two adventure booksThe Great Fragola Brothers (2012) and The Great Fragola Brothers – The Twisted (2013) – with all proceeds donated to the Clinical Cancer Research Trust at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin.

According to Joe, he had written a few long stories before but never completed them. When he lost his dad to lung cancer last summer, he decided to complete a story as a dedication. But he had no idea where it would lead…

Now, with two books, several readings and television/radio interviews and the final installment of the trilogy underway, Joe Prendergast is in flying form. And as far as I’m concerned, he is to be admired on so many levels. Courage, dedication, determination and guts – this kid has it all. And I can’t wait to read his books. I’m preparing to be amazed. Again.

It was a delight to meet Joe and wonderful to see such a young boy so enthused, so motivated, so excited by writing. He was oozing dedication and joy and this made me stop and think.

How many times do we hear writers bemoaning their workload or complaining about deadlines?

Thankfully, I can honestly say that I rarely hear writers complain.

I have regularly come across panic, fear, self doubt and worry, but these are counterbalanced with joy, wonder, gratitude and celebration; and both the positive and the negative elements are accepted as part of a writer’s life.

I’ve never once heard anyone complain about having to sit at their desk and write. Because, like Joe, we writers love what we do. And we love it with a passion.

So meeting Joe not only made me want to whoop with joy at the thought of fresh talent, it also reminded me of my unwavering faith in the writing community – from writers and publishers to readers – and in the wonder of the written word.

Who inspired you today?

(You can read more about Joe in ‘Starting Early’, over on SJ O’Hart’s blog, Clockwatching…)

Now we can explore the ocean?

The sea – with its wild moods, terrible power and impenetrable beauty – is something that’s always felt special in my life.

I have fond memories of childhood trips to the red-brick seaside village of Whitby, feasting on the best smoked kippers in the world. We’d brave the walks at the wild North Gare and South Gare (I lost a cousin to a freak wave here) and would tackle the cold wind and industrial skyline of Redcar, where the Dundalk sequence in Atonement was filmed. Then there were the yearly trips to Blackpool for pontefract cakes and an evening tucked up in a coach, trawling the infamous light displays of the Golden Mile. Inland, I gorged on Jules Verne and Jonathon Swift, Hemmingway and Sinbad films, dreaming of sailing exotic oceans.

As an adult, I’ve swam with sharks (Australia), stingrays (The Bahamas) and dolphins (Jamaica) – but oddly, I’ve always travelled by air. I’ve snorkeled in some of the world’s most beautiful spots, but still have a list of oceans to explore. Now, I live near the sea and use it as a constant food supply; mackerel, pollock, winkles, cockles, seaweed, razor clams – they’re all part of my regular diet and every day I realise how lucky I am to have this opportunity. The sea is just five minutes walk from my front door and I can see it from my window. I would never have imagined such things were possible.

But what sparked this post was an amazing new feature from googlemaps. We are no longer confined to the earth; now we can explore the oceans. As a young girl, I could only have dreamed of something like this being possible…

Broken homes don’t mean broken lives

Nice clean bear looking for a reading partner

“Why do you write for children?

This was the interesting – and completely unexpected – question that I was confronted with last week. It’s not a shocking question by any means; it’s just that writing for children is what I do, but, like any other career I’ve had, I’ve never thought about why. I’ve never even considered writing for children as an occupation that needs explaining (which probably says a lot right away).

Caught unawares, I was amazed at my reply. Not only could I answer without thinking about it, this was my immediate response:

“I adore children’s literature. A love of reading is the best gift I ever received and I want to foster it in others.”

OK, not the most eloquent, but this answer stuck in my head afterwards because I wondered whether, upon reflection, it was really true. You see, writing’s not like a regular job where you turn up and muddle through – even if it’s a bad day – because you know you’ll get paid. To be a writer, you have to love what you do. Always. Fact.

But do we know why we write? And why we write what we write?

I have many ideas which would make excellent adult books, but every time I sit down to write them, the words automatically transform into children’s fiction. I love every minute spent working on my manuscripts – from the initial concept and free-flow writing, to the research and editing – but I’m sure I’d love every minute of writing adult fiction too. After all, I adore reading it. So why does this happen?

Looking at my response, I was surprised to find that the true, honest reason really was lurking there. Yes, I love children’s literature and yes, falling in love with reading was the best gift I ever received. But the final part of my reply is the crux of the matter.

“I want to foster it in others.”

Whatever a child’s background, situation or level of learning, I want to help them enjoy reading. It’s that simple. I won’t go into detail – ‘misery lit’ is not my thing – but my upbringing was far from usual, not at all pleasant and certainly not something I’d ever wish anyone else to go through.

Yet the brutal truth is; many children throughout the world are trapped in abusive homes or dangerous environments. And even though there is more awareness, leading to more support facilities, the sad fact is that these children are still trapped, their experiences limited.

But a broken home doesn’t have to lead to a broken life: even children in vulnerable situations can be the masters of their own destinies. And as far as I can see, education is the key factor.

This doesn’t necessarily mean sitting in a classroom learning facts. Especially since, for many of these children, that environment won’t suit at all. But if a child can take control of their own learning – can see the value and relevance of it for themselves – then that can make a major difference to their whole lives. This may sound cliche, but it’s true.

I’ve heard people say that everyone can remember one inspirational teacher that set them on their path in life; well I had many. As a child, no matter what was happening around me, books were my haven. They showed me other places, ideas, attitudes and possibilities that no one else was going to share. They opened worlds that were otherwise unavailable.

Old friends and teachers

I was moved by the kindness of the Old Gentleman in The Railway Children and admired the tomboyish Jo March in Little Women. I dreamt about joining the adventures of Robinson Crusoe and Huckleberry Finn. Outraged by the mistreatment of Celie in The Colour Purple, I was also strangely comforted by the idea that not everyone else’s life was easy. I fell in love with Santiago’s passion and determination as he fought to bring his great marlin home. And I loved and hated Scrooge in equal measure.

Whatever I wanted to know, to experience, feel; it was all there, neatly tucked away in a few pages of my own private world. And the beauty of it was, every time I finished a book, it would lead me somewhere else; a recommended read, another book by the same author, a completely different genre which conveyed similar messages.

There is a wealth of current and classic children’s literature out there and I’d love to add to it.

“I adore children’s literature. A love of reading is the best gift I ever received. It saved me and I want to foster it in others.”

Last week, I surprised myself with this answer, and after investigating it further, I’ve surprised myself even more. But the findings were so personal, I was in two minds whether I should even post this at all.

But I always believe we should do everything with honesty and with as much passion as possible. So, that’s why I went ahead with the post. And for that reason also, I will continue to write every day.