#MGiechat Returns January 8th!

QuinlanIf you love reading or writing middle grade books (books for a readership aged 8-12), and you’re also a twitter user, then our monthly twitter chat #MGiechat is making a comeback and getting a makeover.

This all started in 2015 when I realised that there were no Ireland-based chats on twitter about middle grade books, and decided that I should start one. It ran for 2 years but in 2017, I got overloaded (in a wonderful way!) with writing/editing The Book of Revenge, short story commissions, residencies abroad (Australia and Iceland) as well as freelance, and social media had to take a back seat.

So, consider #MGiechat up and running again! It will run on the first Monday of every month, from 8.30pm to 9.30pm. There’ll be themed chats, interviews and special guests.

Our first chat is on Monday January 8th and we’ll be talking reading and writing aspirations for 2018, along with special guest author, Nigel Quinlan, who is due to release his second book The Cloak of Feathers.

Do come along and say hi. We’re a friendly bunch. See you there?

Writing a First Draft

ERMurray8_deskHappy 2018 to you all! At the start of a new year, people often feel energised and raring to go, so I’m starting the year with a few blog posts that will hopefully help to kickstart your writing, wherever you are on your writing journey. On the first day of the year, I’m starting right at the the beginning… because we all have to start somewhere.

A first draft is exciting, but it can also be daunting. You have an idea and characters ready to burst onto the page, but at the same time, you have an intimidating blank screen glaring at you, daring you to fill it. So, how do you dive in and start getting those ideas down? How do you drag that first draft out of your head and heart and onto the page? Every writer is different, but this is what works for me…

It may seem obvious, but my advice is to just write. Write freely and manically and with abandon. Change character names if needed as you go, ignore the spelling mistakes, don’t edit a thing. Just write, write, write, until you have a decent body of words that can be shaped into a real story later along the line. Don’t worry about making mistakes – just go for it. Turn off that inner editor and inner critic, and make words.

I am now on my fifth book (an adult fiction, not contracted, title TBC) and so far, I have set myself the same goal every time I write a first draft. I aim for between 50,000 and 60,000 words in 30 days. That’s a lot of words in a short space of time, but I find that I get into a rhythm that’s both bewildering and fun – and once I have words there, it’s easier to make them behave. I admit that this method produces a draft that’s terrible. So terrible, in fact, that it’s more of a draft zero – but that’s how I find my story.

When I plot or plan, it kills the story for me and I get bored and lose interest. If I use this frenzied method, I get excited about the story and characters and surprising things happen. I try not to worry about mistakes or plots holes or story arcs, and only a small amount of this initial draft will be in my final book. After all, writing is rewriting! But like an artist mixing paints or a sculptor preparing clay, this gives me something concrete that I can shape, sluice, and colour.

BookofRevengecoverThis method won’t work for everyone, but if you’re finding yourself stuck, unable to get the words from your brain onto the intimidating blank page, it might be worth a try. In 2017, I tried documenting one of my first draft journeys on twitter and my own blog; here’s a glimpse into my first week of writing The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 (published by Mercier Press, Feb 2018).

#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 October 31st & 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

 #1stdraftdiary Day 4: I finally connect with my old way of working. Thanks to a brief conversation with author, Celine Kiernan, I realise that the start has been slow because I know the characters (this is Book 3 of a trilogy after all!!) so I’m automatically editing and criticising, 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 4.30pm, 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

What is your process for writing a first draft? Are you a plotter or do you write organically, like me? I’d love to hear how you work! 

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)

Pictures & Feedback from Readers :)

One of the best things about being an author is meeting readers. I love talking about books and writing, and I love to hear what readers think. My events are about books in general, not just my own, but I do love seeing how The Book of Learning has inspired people to create something else; a piece of art or work of their own.

Here’s a slideshow of some of the great work by St Patrick’s National School via Drumcondra library:

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And some more feedback I’d like to share, this time from Jamie, Realtín, Juli, Jack and Jamie…

  • Today was a good day. Thank you very much.
  • Elizabeth Murray’s talk was very good. We learned a lot.
  • We listened to a chapter from the Book of Learning.
  • We thought it was interesting but a little scary!
  • We then made up a story about a lady called Matilda.
  • Elizabeth told us that she keeps  a notebook for her writing. We think
    that this is a great idea. We met the author Rod Smith last week and he
    keeps a notebook too.
  • We asked Elizabeth lots of questions and she answered them all.
  • We thought she was very interesting and funny.
  • She told us that she takes off her shoes and socks when she writes!
  • We liked her blue hair!

Thank you so much to everyone for your comments and great work! Happy reading!