A Very Special School Project

Today I have something very special to share.

A lovely young lady contacted me recently to see if I would do an interview for her school project: People Who Inspire Us. Of course, I said yes – what an honour!

I was sent a fantastic list of interview questions (see below) and then she put together a gorgeous display based on my Nine Lives Trilogy.

With her mum’s permission (please note: I have kept anonymity for online security), here are some photos. I regularly get asked why I write. People – THIS is what it’s all about.

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And here’s the thoughtful interview…

  1. What inspired you to write especially in your genre and who were your influences?

I think we take our influences from the world around us, so we’re always digesting stuff that adds to our creativity, without even realising. Art, film, music, people, the natural world; they all have stories to tell and these become part of our self and our understanding. I love travel and this inspires me greatly – the physicality of the journey helps free up the mind and creative thinking, and then the new sights, sounds, smells, tastes – it’s all soakage. In terms of books, Roald Dahl made me think about writing stories differently when I was a kid (they became much more gruesome) and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials really inspired me. I like fiction that’s dark, real, and emotional. But every book I read makes me think about my own work – what I like, what I don’t like, pacing, tone, etc. It’s wonderful.

  1. How do you hope your books will inspire young people and influence them?

I hope my books provide some entertainment and some escapism; but if they make young people think about different viewpoints or ask questions, then that’s also good. I don’t think stories should have a moral or a message, but if they engage readers in a way they hadn’t thought about before, then I think that’s positive. For instance, you might not agree with a character’s behaviour but you can understand why they’re acting that way – and that empathy and understanding is really special.

  1. Growing up did you always want to be a writer?

I always said I wanted to be a teacher or a poet, but in truth, I didn’t think it was possible. It was before the Internet existed, so communication with authors was much more difficult. In fact, I never heard fro or met an author despite writing a few letters, so it felt very far away from my world. I came from a very poor background and so I thought you had to be rich to be an author! But I always loved books and reading and I always wrote. Thankfully, writing feels much more accessible now.

  1. What was the best present you have ever received?

A book is my favourite gift – whether it’s fiction, non-fiction or a notebook to write in. Though my friend did give me a stuffed two-headed duckling as a leaving present and that blew me away!

  1. Could you describe a typical workday when you are teaching a workshop and what do you hope to achieve?

I do a lot of preparation for my workshops – handouts, exercises, ideas, extra reading etc so for every hour workshop, there’s at least 4 hours preparation gone into it. I think it’s really important because every writer and their work should be given the respect they deserve. I believe workshops should encourage you to be brave enough to write what you want to write, not what you think you should write. They should make writing feel accessible, they should make you feel energised and excited about your work, and they should make you want to go away and write more. I don’t subscribe to a finished piece, as often a lot of thought needs to come in between before a piece can improve, but I like to cover lots of nuts and bolts that can help start a piece, improve a piece, and polish a piece. Basically, I aim at what I want out of any workshops I attend.

  1. How do you hope a young reader will relate to Ebony Smart.

Ooh, a tough question, as we all have our own experiences and bring them with us – no two people reading the same book have the same experience, and once it’s out there, you have to let your readers own it – and that means the characters too! I think Ebony’s a brave and feisty character, so I hope that young readers respect her for that. I hope they like her, that they’re in her corner. But I also hope they see that she’s flawed like anyone we meet, because to me, that’s what makes a character real.

Isn’t this project wonderful? (Why not leave her a comment below for encouragement?!)

Varuna: Editing, Inner Critics and Writing Routines

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The ‘war desk’ 

It’s a week since I returned from Australia and my amazing residency at Varuna. I had expected to blog each week about the experience, but I quickly found my stride and instead, the writing took over. Which, to be fair, was the point – but of course, I had to berate myself a little for being slack and not checking in on my blog. The famous inner critic was in full flow.

I’ve learned over time to accept this element of the creative brain – I think the inner critic is the part that makes us strive to improve, so it’s wholly necessary. The problem is, the inner critic is unreliable and you have to learn when to tune in. In this particular instance, I let it ramble on in the background about blogs (blah blah), taking no notice whatsoever of its words. I needed its guidance for my work only.

Last time I checked in, I was waiting for my structural edits and wondering where the rest of the residency would take me. Well, I received my edits and so the other three weeks of my time at Varuna consisted of writing for ten hours a day at my desk, and walking for between two and four hours in the Blue Mountains National Park. It was, after all, a mere ten minutes away and absolutely stunning. And ten hours is a long time to be sat with your characters and inner critic, trying to puzzle out the problems you’ve created.

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As for the nights, it’s winter in Australia, and the darkness draws in at 5pm. So the evenings were spent reading and chatting with fellow writers, or doing a bit extra editing. But mainly reading as chatting, as I’m not great at night if I’ve been working all day and it usually has a negative impact on the following day if I push too far. But as a result, I edited my entire 80K word manuscript, except for the last three chapters; these I kept for my return as I needed to look at them with fresh eyes.

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Some time out with the lovely readers of Read3rz Re-Vu book club

Writing is not just about trusting your instincts when it comes to plot, characters, and dialogue etc. It’s also about understanding your process and getting the best from yourself – which means balance and working smart. For instance, I was always a morning person, doing my best work at 6am, but recently, I’ve realised this has changed. Whether its practice, or living in the countryside where natural light and weather affect you more, or age, or the fact that I’ve been outside of an office job for seven years now and am finding my own rhythm, something has changed.

It may seem self indulgent to spend time thinking about this, but what’s the point of doing something you love, and working to your own schedule, if you’re going to make it stressful by turning your working day into a battle of your own creation? So while I was on the other side of the world, I decided to take a look at my process and figure out what’s happening. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • I can write at any time, not just morning, but only at night if I haven’t already been working all day
  • Five hours is my preferred amount of time for productive writing (after all, I have to fit work in also)
  • Eight hours writing is my usual limit (unless on deadline), otherwise it impacts negatively the next day
  • My writing hours need to be broken up – I need to do other things in between to maintain focus (gardening, freelance, reading, dog walks, bodhran, chores)
  • I can write as much as I like in a day, but I’m only happy with my achievements if I’ve also spent enough time outdoors
  • If I do shorter bursts of writing, I can listen to music at the same time
  • Socialising is a positive aspect that balances the solitary nature of writing
  • A day off a week is a good thing
  • Sometimes, none of the above works and I need to go with what’s right for that moment

IMG_0980If you looked at your writing routine, what would you find? And can you see where it could be improved (this could be in terms of carving out writing time, or for your sanity and well being)? I guess my main revelation was that my need to exercise and be outdoors is as strong as my need to write. I also need to spend more time with friends. This means looking at my day differently and adopting a new routine. It might not work, but I’m ready to try…

Yesterday, I finally pressed send on my edits. Since returning, I rewrote the final chapters of The Book of Revenge, removed the Epilogue (which may yet return) and reread several times to make sure I was happy. And guess what? It’s still as nerve-wracking as the first book. I don’t think that will ever change.

But now, it’s time to switch off and head to Listowel Writers’ Week where I’m doing a Time Travel event with the wonderful Alan Early, and then a writing workshop based on the five senses. It’s a great festival, so I’m excited! If you’re there, give me a shout on twitter @ERMurray. Otherwise, I’ll see you on the other side, new routine in place.

How about you? Is it time to try a new approach?

Belonging to Your Tribe

fullsizerender-77There may be prehistoric wildcats, an amulet, imaginary worlds, a pet rat, and a mechanical shark submarine in the Nine Lives Trilogy, but behind it all is twelve-year-old Ebony Smart; a girl who just wants to belong.

So, why did I choose to write about belonging?

One reason is that I remember being the new girl in a school playground, looking around me and trying to figure out whom to talk to. And what I could possibly say. Everyone else was in a group or pair, and seemed quite happy with their little tribe. I can remember quite clearly that feeling of being on the outside, looking in through an invisible barrier and not knowing how to cross over it.

I also remember the times my brother and sister didn’t want me to join in their games. They were quite happy with how things were going, and adding me into the equation would feel like an interruption – so they didn’t want my input. At the time I felt crushed, even though I pretended that I didn’t care. Later, I would get my revenge by stopping one of them from joining in – but to be honest, it never felt like a nice thing to do and I felt just as bad as if I’d been left out.

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Some quiet storytelling

Another reason I wanted to look at the theme of belonging is because it’s an important part of our human existence. How could we have survived this long if we hadn’t formed social groups? We all need to belong to a tribe of some kind, so we can feel safe, loved, and respected. For some people, their tribe is their family; but not everyone is lucky enough to have a family for one reason or another. Your tribe might be your friends, your sports team, or a group of people that share your favourite hobby.

It can be difficult to find your tribe, and the dynamics will often shift. There’ll be awkward moments with fallouts, disagreements and upset, but these will usually sort themselves out over time and with a bit of effort. When you belong, it’s just as much about forgiveness and compromise as it is about having fun and enjoying each other’s company. You might have to bite your tongue or apologise sometimes, but your tribe will do the same for you. There’s no right or wrong way to belong – so long as your tribe makes you feel safe, happy, and confident, and you feel like you can be yourself, it’s a good fit.

But if you’ve ever felt lonely or left out like Ebony Smart, guess what? There’s probably someone else nearby feeling the exact same way. So why not seek them out and make your own tribe? Or, if you already belong, let them join in and see what they can add to your tribe? There are no invisible barriers – only the ones we create for ourselves.

(Note: post originally written for Girls Heart Books)

The Book of Shadows is here – & you’re invited!

It’s my third book in a 12-month period, and yet holding that initial copy of an actual physical book for the first time never gets old. I’m in the middle of writing the final part of the trilogy, and it feels like a very long time since I thought about/edited/looked at The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2… and yet, when I received this in the post from my publishers, the very first copy I’ve seen, it all came flooding back.

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And so, once again, it’s launch time! The lovely and very generous Sarah Webb is launching The Book of Shadows in Eason’s O’Connell St, Dublin at 6.30pm on Thursday, September 15th – if you’re nearby and you’re free, I’d love you to be there. If we’ve chatted via social media but haven’t yet chatted in person, so come up and introduce yourself – please don’t be shy!

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If you’re battling away at your own manuscript, please keep going and stay strong. The Book of Learning, the first in my Nine Lives Trilogy, was rejected many times and I even shelved it, thinking it was the book that got me my agent. I revived it a couple of years later and it got snapped up, and ended up being chosen as the 2016 Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read for Children.

So believe in yourself, keep going, and trust your instinct. With hard work, determination and a damn good manuscript, you’ll get there.

Dublin UNESCO January Roundup!

FullSizeRender (18)And so, the Dublin UNESCO Citywide Reading Campaign has begun! As an author, these past few weeks have proved to be a really exciting time, and as a debut author, I’m still pinching myself.

Up to now there has been a photo shoot in the National Library of Ireland, and events in seven Dublin City Public Libraries – Raheny, Donaghmede, Central Library, Charleville Mall, Walkinstown, Dolphins Barn, and Marino – as well as a visit to Scoil Chiarain Special Needs School in Glasnevin. The library staff have been warm, welcoming and supportive, and the response from both teachers and pupils has been incredibly positive. Jackie from UNESCO has been a godsend, making sure the packed schedule runs smoothly, and all in all, I’m feeling really grateful to everyone involved – especially the readers.

As The Book of Learning has only been out for a few months, usually when I do events, I’m introducing myself and hoping people might like my book as I read. Imagine how different it feels walking into a room with between 30 and 60 pupils at a time engrossed in the book and full of questions! That’s more than 400 readers up to now – and you should hear how smart their questions are! Here are some of my favourites so far:

  • IMG_4142Did you ever nearly have a nervous breakdown writing a book?
  • Who is your favourite baddie?
  • If you weren’t a writer, what would you like to be?
  • If you could write a book with any other author, who would it be?
  • If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would you meet?
  • If you had a Book of Learning, what do you think you would see?

IMG_4130Reading is so important to me, and being part of a campaign that encourages reading for fun is an absolute honour. So far, the atmosphere is exactly what I hoped for; a space where we can all celebrate books and reading. We talk about what the books and authors we love and why, and what reading means to us. We reveal a few secrets, explore ideas, share our passions and laugh plenty. There are quizzes, illustration demonstrations, and games thrown into the mix – it’s all about fun and looking at books and reading from a fresh perspective.

There are lots more events coming up over the next two months, including a book trail in the National Library of Ireland, an illustration workshop with the wonderful Oisin McGann in Hugh Lane Gallery, and a really special event as part of the Big Day Out St Patrick’s Festival in March. Check out www.dublincityofliterature.ie for more details!

I’d like to leave you with a couple of surprises that I wasn’t expecting. The first is the sighting of posters on Dublin Bus – don’t they look amazing?

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And the second is the fantastic window display in Hodges Figgis Bookshop that blew me away. It’s every writer’s dream to see something like this!

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I do hope to see you at some of the events over the coming months – remember to visit www.dublincityofliterature.ie for more details on what’s happening and how you can book your space. And don’t forget to come and say hi!

Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read Launch

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of launching the Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read at the gorgeous National Library in Dublin – one of the city’s landmarks that feature in The Book of Learning.

I was joined by six faithful readers; Erica, Lucy, Matthew, Mia, Maia, and Abby. There was a photo shoot, a reading, and an interview for News2Day on RTE2, followed by much tea and cake. Here are a few of my favourite shots from the day…

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.

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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!)