Book battles, motivation, & manuscripts

IMG_8448How is it March already? I can hardly believe it! But I am enjoying the stretch in the evenings and the earlier dawn. I love early mornings and being able to go for a walk at 7am makes a huge difference to my working day – though I’m finding it difficult to get up and out early in this wintry cold. West Cork is looking beautiful, but those hailstone showers! Even the dog doesn’t want to go out.

And so, a few things I’ve been up to… Firstly, I attended the grand final of Battle of the Book, along with fabulous author and friend, Alan Early, and we got to watch six schools fight it out in a quiz about our books. I loved the rainbow of coloured T-shirts used to identify the schools – and I also loved that the contestants knew more about our books than we did! Congratulations to Garristown on their win. Guess what the prize was? A behind the scenes tour of Dublin Airport! (Not jealous at all. Not even a little bit 🙂 )

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I was also really lucky to be able to chat to a roomful of students who graduated from the Suas numeracy and literacy programmes. The pupils were with their teachers, peers, and mentors, and the atmosphere was brilliant as they celebrated their achievements with certificates, photos and goody bags, before getting a tour of UCC. Well done to everyone involved.

image1-3I’m also delighted to tell you about short story I was commissioned to write for Folens Starlight Primary English Programme. The story is called ‘The Trouble with Lightning’ and it’s a fictional tale about a dog during World War 2. It was a lovely project to be involved in and I had no idea that there were going to be gorgeous illustrations too – it’s just been published and I have a copy winging its way to me. I can’t wait to see it in the flesh.

IMG_8445There’s a school that I write to in the UK, sending reading recommendations every few months, and they’ve written back with some of their own. Their choices: Wonder, Cogheart, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Anne Frank’s Diary and The Boy in Striped Pyjamas. I love getting mail as much as I love sending it, so this was a cracking surprise.

Other projects include seven weeks of READON workshops with teens, an article on writing.ie about my writer’s room (which turns out to be several rooms), and a few opportunities I can’t talk about yet – but I’ll keep you posted as soon as I can. I also hear that the script for The Book of Learning film is just about finished. Exciting times indeed!

But the biggest news is, I’m just six chapters away from completing my next WIP, ready to send on to my wonderful agent, Sallyanne Sweeney, for feedback. There’s been a lot going on and I was worried about falling behind with my manuscript, so I had a three-day retreat at Greywood Arts and got myself back on track. It’s a lovely retreat in a fantastic spot, with woods nearby and gorgeous owners and it was exactly what I needed to redress the balance.

IMG_8378I’m currently out of contract, which means I have to polish the manuscript before trying to sell it, so I can’t say much about the story right now. But wish me luck – firstly with getting it finished, and then the edits, and somewhere along the line, the submission! The publishing world is a rollercoaster of crazy so you never know where your writing journey will lead – but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

So, if you’re trying to get published, or you’re out of contract, or you’re on submission and not having much success, I’m sending you a hug, an extra cup of tea, a pat on the back, or whatever it is you need to keep going.

Remember, it’s a love of story, a love of words, that brought you to this point and that’s what will carry you through.

Happy writing! x

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Staying Motivated: Writing Across Genres

IMG_4339I’ve always hated labels and I’ve always loved variety; moments in time, new experiences, the unexpected – that’s what makes me tick. Routine makes me feel like I’m trapped in a bog, struggling my way out. It doesn’t work for everyone, but change makes my soul soar.

And that’s why I write like I read – across a variety of age groups and genres, styles and lengths. Although I’ve been coined a children’s author (which, of course, I am!), it is actually only one part of what I do. I also write essays, short stories, story for radio and flash fiction – for both children and adults. Typically, however, when you write a work of longer fiction, i.e. a novel, the other stuff seems to pale in comparison. But if I had to label myself as something, then I think I’d identify with plain old ‘writer’.

BookofRevengecoverDon’t get me wrong; this is not in any way to belittle the fact that I write for children. Ask any children’s writer and they’ll tell you all about the time(s) they were asked the question – when are you going to write a proper book? It’s so common, the wonderful champion of children’s books and authors, Sarah Webb (who writes novels for both children and adults), even created an event for aspiring children’s writers with this as the very title.

So let me start by clarifying: children’s books are proper books, and for anyone rolling their eyes, answer this… How many people come to reading for pleasure as an adult? Not many. Children’s books are at the very core of reading and readers, whatever age you may be, and I cannot stress enough how important they are. How much I love writing them and proud I am to be part of that community. How much it makes my soul soar to be in front of a room of children enthusing over books.

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However, I also love writing other things. Lots of other things. Why? Because I enjoy the challenge. And also, projects and ideas come to me in different forms. Sometimes an idea might require a poem, other times the story might need flash fiction, and other times only an essay can shape the words I want to say. Some of these things will be published and some will not. But that doesn’t remove from the joy – writers write. That’s what we do.

And I’m certainly not alone. Some of the writers that I adore and admire that write across several age groups and/or genres include Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Nuala O’Connor, Roald Dahl Emma Donoghue, E.B White, Stephen King, Zadie Smith and Joyce Carol Oates.

So why do some writers feel the need to keep switching? I can’t speak for any of these prolific and talented writers, but I am pretty confident that every piece they write comes from the heart. You only need to focus on the quality to realise how much each publication meant to them. And remember, for every piece we see, there’ll be reams of stuff hidden in drawers, discarded, that didn’t quite make the grade.

Like I said, writers write. That’s what we do.

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For me, writing a book takes a long time and I have limited capacity for intense focus on a single work in progress – about four hours per day maximum. I find that writing shorter pieces alongside the novels helps to keep me motivated. Instead of taking a break when my concentration on a single piece is up, I switch to something else to keep those writing muscles in full flow. To give you an idea of what I’ve been up to, in the last six months, I’ve had the following published:

There are a few more awaiting decisions, a few more binned for now, and more on their way, all at different stages, edging forward like racehorses until one needs to push ahead to the finish line.

arlenI don’t know why a piece nags at me, demanding to be written, and in a certain way. It’s all about the story is all I can really tell you. But I do know that each piece requires focus, time and dedication, and each carries a little of my soul.

Sometimes a short story can take as long as a novel, if not longer, as I often require more time between edits. I also know that every piece comes with its own challenges and frustrations and sense of achievement as the final words/edits fall into place. Each provides me, in its own (sometimes cruel or meandering) way, with joy.

 And so, if you’re finding it difficult to motivate yourself, or you’ve fallen out of love with your current work in progress (it happens), or you feel like you’re banging your head off a brick wall (that frequently happens), then have you considered writing something fresh and new, in a different genre or style or for a different audience?

It might not work but what have you got to lose? I’d love to know how you get on. 

Movement & calm, earth & water: a residency in Iceland

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Home for the month

I’ve been in Iceland for one week, and I’m five days into the retreat. My place here was booked last year, when I realised that I would be coming out of contract with publishers and probably panicking about what’s next. A change of surroundings is, for me, the best way to calm a racing mind, so I thought it would be useful.

Many people think that as an author, you continue to write for the same publisher over and over, with an unending supply of work. While this may happen, it probably means you are continuing to work within a certain genre or you’ve made it as an international bestseller. Usually, you work to a contract and once that contract is up, it’s up.

And so, this is where I’m at… The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 is officially completed. I cannot tell you what a relief this is. The slog was tough but I got there and I’m feeling really proud of that as the challenge was unreal. There’s just the proofing to go and that will be in October. So… what happens next? Basically, it’s back to square one.

Write a book. Edit the book without killing it. Try and sell the book.

Now, this is a daunting time for any author. The reality is, you may never sell a book again. Or even be able to come up with a strong enough idea in the first place. And whatever you do choose to work on, you had better be passionate about it, because it’s about to take up a minimum of one year of your life, before you even try and convince a publisher that they like it enough to buy it.
IMG_1889And so, Iceland has come at the perfect time. I have The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 coming out in February 2018, the freedom to work on what I want, and a fantastic agent to support and guide me. But my brain is restless, my ideas are too plentiful, and although I’m excited, my nerves are frayed.

Is there anyone else out there feeling the same right now? I bet there is. Whether you make stories through words, art, music, dance, theatre, film, animation … I think it’s a cyclical feeling that will never go away. All we can do is embrace it and ride it through. See where it leads.

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Natural hot spring

Thankfully, I have a new landscape to discover, new foods to eat, a language to try and understand (it’s not intuitive to hear/see written down), some cool new housemates to get to know, and lots of time to write. Even though I’m not 100% certain what it is I’m working on next. That’s part of my mission; to make sure the passion for the projects I *think* I want to work on is real. 

Somehow, I’ve found my idea for a commissioned piece of flash fiction; also, a short story I was stuck on is edited & submitted. So it’s a start. And it’s productive. But is it avoiding the question of which novels (I always work on two project simultaneously) to work on next?

I’m also enjoying hiking the hills and relaxing in the natural hot springs every day, and spending lots of time near the lake, appreciating its stillness. Movement and calm, earth and water: the perfect combination for settling a restless mind. Today, a new week begins and I’m determined to break into the novel. If there’s one thing I need, it’s to know what my next focus is – let’s see if Iceland can help coax it out.

What stage are you at right now? And how does it feel? I’d love to hear about your journey too. 

 

 

Thank you everyone!

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That wonderful feeling, when people read your book!

2015 was a busy year and a bit of a rollercoaster, but oh so exciting; not only did my debut The Book of Learning hit the shelves, but it was also named Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read for 2016! This is a huge honour as a new author, and I’m looking forward to the many events that have been planned for next year as a result (I’ll provide more details on those in January).

In the three months since my book has been published, I’ve been lucky enough to meet many readers through the Children’s Book Festival (run by the incredible library service), as well as Dublin Book Festival, Creative Ardagh FrightFest, the CBI Conference and various school events. It’s been a dream come true and there’s nothing like getting feedback on your book – it really is the best feeling ever!

The next book to be published, March 2016

The next book to be published, March 2016

Two more books have already been delivered to their respective publishers, and so there’s plenty more to come. But I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for the part they’ve played in making my first year as a published author so special.

To everyone who bought my book, reviewed my book on goodreads or amazon or their website, attended a launch, sent kind words of encouragement or feedback, gave heartfelt advice or simply a hug when I looked tired, thank you so much. I couldn’t have done it without you.

And for those of you seeking a book deal -whatever you’re writing, keep going. I know you’ll get there, and it will be worth the slog.

 

 

What does it feel like to get published?

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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.

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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.

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.