Book Battles, Writing Projects and Moving Forward!

I feel that I’m always starting my blog posts with apologies recently – for the gaps between/infrequency – but I’ve decided to stop doing that because, hey, aren’t we all only human? And here’s the truth; it’s been crazy busy all year and I’ve had little spare time and during the spare time I’ve managed to eek out, I’ve been trying to stay offline.

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Why? Because as much as I love my friends, readers, fellow writers, and tribe online, I also love my sanity and it’s far too easy to stay connected. And when you juggle multiple projects/jobs and don’t take days off and the weeks/months begin to merge so you’re chained to your diary (otherwise you have no idea what’s coming next), being chained to the internet also becomes increasingly unhealthy.

So what have I been up to? Well, events galore for a start. And writing. And freelance work. And walking in the wild.

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Writing wise, my last book The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 was published in February, and I’m delighted with the reception it’s received. I’m currently working on two novels – one for children and one for an adult readership – and they’re moving along at a pace that’s slower than I’d like but then that’s always the case.

I’ve also been writing personal essays, short stories, and flash, with pieces published in HCE Review, Autonomy, Ropes, and Headstuff, among others. It’s been so enjoyable picking away at smaller pieces while trying to keep up the marathon sprint of novel writing. There have been some collaborations started too, but they’re secret for now… 

But, if you have a bit of time, you can read In The Company of Dreams on Headstuff and The Parting in HCE Review (Volume II Issue III).

As for events, since being published in 2015, I’ve now facilitated over 600 events in school and libraries and festivals, and I’ve loved every single one…

From events in special needs schools (there’ll be more of that in 2019) to Things That Go Bump in The Night interactive storytelling events in theatres with Caroline Busher, from this year’s Battle of the Book reading initiative (via Fingal Libraries) with Alan Early, to European READ ON writer-in-residence initiatives through Cork County Libraries (Dunmanway 2018, moving to Skibbereen in 2019), it’s been a blast.

But there’s lots of travel in-between and as you can imagine there’s as much preparation as there is facilitation and it all takes time. To give you an idea of what’s involved, I’ve added photos throughout this post that show some of the fun!

I’ve also been busy with freelance work wearing various hats, including Big Smoke Writing Factory mentoring, reader reports, and online workshops (shout me there if you want one!), Writing.ie social media, and then my usual poker writing. I also help writer friends with reader reports and edits, because they help me in return and the one thing you can’t get enough of as a writer, is good readers/editors. And then there’s the local school reading initiatives, chats with film companies and scripts writers, and writing to partner schools in the UK…

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Like I said, it’s been busy. And wonderful. And I feel really amazed by the opportunities that have come my way and the people of all ages that I’ve met and had the pleasure of working with. Long may it continue.

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But winter is here. And I’m slowing down. My brain is tired and my asthma is giving warning signs. So, I’m finally ready to listen.

I’m still writing and working, but it’s much more low key and at a slower pace.

It’s time for:

  • getting outside while light, exploring ground both new and familiar
  • lazy afternoons by the fire reading
  • chats with friends who’ve been waiting patiently to catch up for too long
  • live music and singsongs
  • writing at night with scented candles warming the air
  • short stories and poems before breakfast
  • craft fairs and Christmas markets
  • seaweed foraging and making marmalade
  • notebook observations on long walks

So, that’s where I’m at. What about you?

What have you been up to and how are you looking forward to spending your winter? 

 

 

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Your Top 10 Writing FAQS Answered by E.R. Murray (Part 2

launchI was delighted for part one of this blog post to feature over on Swirl and Thread as an #IrishWritersWed guest post; it was originally meant to be a single post but I got a bit (!) carried away and there was so much info, I had to split it into two parts.

So, here’s the second instalment; five more of the questions I’m asked most frequently via events/emails/chats answered…

6)    How do you stay motivated?

Change. Play. Experimentation. Collaboration. Travel – these are all elements that keep me motivated and returning to my desk. I have a low attention span and get bored really easy, so I have to trick myself into doing more by shifting between projects. I’m an avid walker and counteract the long hours of sitting with a minimum of three hours walking a day. It clears the mind and keeps you healthy and pain free (think neck pain, back pain, RSI – common writer issues).

I also have multiple projects on the go at once so if one isn’t working or if it feels too intense, I can switch rather than stop. For instance, at the minute I have two novels in progress (one for children and on its second draft, one for adults and mostly on its third draft, but the end third not yet written). I also have three essays and four short stories. I bring one novel to the end of a draft and then set it aside and start on the other – and on off days in-between or when I finish up my daily goals earier than expected, I work on one of the shorter projects. I also have three different colaborations on the go – one with another writer, one with a collagist, and one with an embroider. They might not lead to anything but they’re fun – and that’s important.

IMG_43397)    When did you start writing?

Like reading, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. I used to fill copybooks with long, sprawling epics – all based on my love of myth and fairytale so they were always pretty dark and violent and everyone died at the end. I also used to tell myself stpries at night before I fell asleep – then the next night I’d recap and continue on. I guess that was my first atempt at creating a novel, in a way. I just didn’t write it down.

I had a couple of poems published in my teenage years and then I forgot all about writing because I had studies and student loans to pay and jobs to seek. Then I wanted to travel and work was the best way. I’d grown up poor and I always knew education and hard work were your ticket out of anything; writing seemed too fanciful an option. I’ve been independent my whole life, so I didn’t even consider it as a possibiity. I’d never met an author – surely, they lived in castles? But I never stopped reading.

I returned to writing in my late twenties and dabbled with poems and short fiction for a while. They improved, they got published, and I grew hungry. It wasn’t until I moved to Ireland, met a community of real life writers and emerging writers and wannabe writers that I realised this was something I could actually do. For real. Thankfully, all the hard work in the past gave me the tools I needed to be able to make changes in my life so I could focus on my writing more.

8)    What’s the best thing that’s happened so far in your writing career?

Being chosen as the 2016 Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read was special because lots of people received my book and there was a big buzz around reading for pleasure. Displays, artwork, reviews, alternative cover designs; it was amazing! Someone even made a clay rose, and I was gifted a crochet rat! There was a full window in Hodges Figgis and there was even a The Book of Learning house recreated in Merrion Square with actors, magicians and real rats to pet. It was the stuff of dreams.

But another truly amazing element has been the friends I’ve made. I’ve really found my tribe within the writing community and across all genres and age groups. It’s so supportive, and it’s wonderful to be able to belong, yet have complete freedom and solitude (as a writer requires) when you need it.

IMG_45079)    If you weren’t a writer what you like to be?

I love travel so I’d love to be an explorer. I imagine myself living with tribes in trees in jungles or finding new land in the Antarctic. In truth, I’d get eaten alive by midges in the first scenario, and I hate the cold, so it’s never going to happen, but I can dream! (Or I can write about it).

10) What’s your top tip for aspiring writers?

Stop procrastinating, give yourself the permission to write. Do it now and don’t give up. Don’t wait for the perfect time (it doesn’t exist), the perfect room or the perfect pen; these are just excuses. Just get on with it, read lots, practice and enjoy what you do. There is no point in writing without joy – and there will be challenges along the way but, like anything, overcoming them will feel fantastic. And remember, finding a good idea is nothing like writing an actual book, and the quicker you discover that and see how far you have to go, how much you have to learn, the better.

Happy writing and good luck everyone! 

Festivals, manuscripts & embracing autumn

I’ve been home since September 1st and Iceland now feels like a lifetime ago. However, my Icelandic residency did exactly what I’d hoped; it gave me time to play around with some new ideas, get some samples of each to my agent, and decide on my next projects. My visit also gave me the chance to write a double spread for the Irish Times on visiting Reykjavik on a budget, which you can read here. 

FullSizeRender (81)I’ve been quiet since getting back as I’ve been working away on these new ideas – the residency has had such a really positive impact. I also spent a wonderful week at the Children’s Books Ireland Conference which is like an early Christmas party for lovers of children’s books; librarians, teachers, booksellers, publishers and authors all come together to celebrate the wonderful world of children’s fiction. It’s such a happy, friendly event and gives a real boost as the seasons change and the nights draw in.

And yes, I did mean ‘projects’; I’m working on two new manuscripts as I find it more interesting and motivating when I’m working on several projects at a time, especially when they’re different. And these projects are extremely different. One novel is the first of a middle grade (potential) series and the other novel is an adult fiction standalone.

I don’t talk about my writing in progress because it kills it dead for me and I rarely know where I’m going in the early stages, so I don’t have anything to say about them except that I’m excited. I’m out of contract now so who knows where they will lead; it’s the beginning of a long journey, but watch this space.

IMG_2825As of Sunday, however, the new manuscripts are on pause until November 1st. There are two reasons behind this; the first is that the proofs for The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 have arrived, and I have to read through very carefully to make sure there are no mistakes because next time I’ll see it, it will be an actual book. This one was the most difficult book to write yet, so I’m feeling really relieved and really happy to see the proofs arrive.

The second reason is that Children’s Book Festival in libraries across the country of Ireland is about to begin. It’s an amazing initiative and I’m thrilled to be taking part again. It’s a real highlight. I’m booked out for the whole month for solo events, joint events with Alan Early and a brand new theatre event with Caroline Busher. I feel really lucky to have these two writers that I really respect as friends and I’m looking forward to spending some time with them, visiting hundreds of children to celebrate stories and creativity.

October is a tiring month and with my freelance commitments, there isn’t much time to write. But it’s such fun and so rewarding, I look forward to it every year. I’ve tried keeping up my writing in previous years and usually end up failing to keep up with my expectations and feeling miserable about it. I’ve decided it’s best to put all my energy into the events. No one wants to be booed off stage by hundreds of children!

timeleapAnother great piece of news is that the Arts Council of Ireland has awarded me a bursary to enable some concentrated writing time. That means I have three months where I can concentrate solely on my books, so I’m going to take some time out over winter – the idea was initially three consecutive months but I’m now thinking three separate months might be best – to really plough into those new books. It’s such an honour to be awarded the bursary, and it really means a lot.

And so, I’m embracing autumn and looking forward to all the fun things in store. There are things already in the pipeline for next year, but I’ll reveal more about those when I know more. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to festival shenanigans, then hunkering down in the West Cork winter, sharing my time between writing and walking (I recently wrote a piece for The Southern Star about the impact of walking on health and creativity you might enjoy), to bring new stories to life.

How’s your own writing/creative project going? And are you enjoying the change in season? What are you looking forward to this winter?

Brain splurge & a burning question…

It’s been quiet on the blogging front because it’s been hectic – so apologies to all.

Schull, West Cork

View from near my home

It ended up easier than I expected to adjust to the cold weather in Ireland after my Cambodia trip; partly because my husband is a great hunter gatherer and has us stockpiled with fuel for this winter and next, but also because – despite the constant hail stone – there have been plenty of blue skies. And everything feels easier when there’s a blue sky.

So, what have I been up to? Actually, quite a bit. In the last two weeks, I’ve completed and delivered the final edits of The Book of Learning (Nine Lives Trilogy Book 1), so next time I see it, it’ll be a proof copy (which means it’s almost a real book).

There’s been plenty of excitement while my cover was being designed – and bang! Now I have a cover! I absolutely love everything about it, and I’ll let you see it as soon as I can, I promise.

I’ve also been accepted on a three-week writers retreat in France later in the year, invited to participate in an exciting new Cork publication (more details to follow) and invited to speak on a panel in Cork on April 25th (again, more info later).

And, breathe…

When it comes to writing books, there’s no rest for the wicked. When you get signed up for a trilogy, there’s lots of work involved in kicking the first book into shape and then…you have to write Book 2! Aargh! Well, I’m happy to report, the day after Book 1 was delivered, I had a rest, then I glued my butt to the chair and started on Book 2.

Three days in and 8000 words have magically appeared on the page – and I’m delighted, because I was starting to get a little scared.

I always write my first drafts completely free form (I think Niamh Boyce uses this approach too, amongst others). Any planning kills the excitement for me and anyway, it’s the only time you get to play before the editing begins. I enjoy editing, but I like the freedom of the first draft. It’s exhilarating and I look forward to the exploration, watching the ideas form a story.

As everyone knows, writing doesn’t pay the bills, so the work front – I don’t include writing as work – has been hectic too. As well as my usual freelancing gigs, I’ve taken on more Reader Reports for the Inkwell Group, as well as Blogging and Beyond courses. I love both of these roles.

Editing or commenting on someone else’s work is useful for your own; it helps you to focus as you write, naturally avoiding mistakes you would make earlier in your career. And as we all need the support of other writers as we stumble our way along, it’s great to know you’re also helping by providing some support in return.

It’s also rewarding to watch people pick up on social media learn to love it, and then make it work for them. Blogging has opened many doors for me, and I hope it does the same for my students.

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The obligatory dog photo

But you’ll be pleased to know, it hasn’t all been work. We’ve managed to get our potatoes in the ground now – the ridges were waiting for ages but it was too wet – and I’ve been clearing other vegetable beds. In the hailstone. Which was pretty refreshing, actually.

There have been endless dog walks and library visits, and I’ve been watching a plethora of westerns (I love westerns) as well as enjoying some fantastic reads/rereads…

I was completely surprised by The Miniaturist and I’ve loved reconnecting with The General in the Piers Torday trilogy. And if, like me (and Barbara Scully, it seems) you’re obsessed with Antarctica, I’d highly recommend Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence & Emperor Penguins by Gavin Francis.

The online world has been lots of fun lately too, with an incredible buzz and energy around the #YAie & MiddleGradeStrikeBack chats on twitter. There’s a thriving community of writers for children and Young Adults here, and it feels like there’s change – and plenty of excitement – in the air. I feel so pleased to be a part of it, and can’t wait to see how things develop. The World Book Day TeenFest tonight looks interesting – see you there?

And so, now I’ve finally managed to get the blog updated with a brain splurge of drivel that won’t matter to anyone but me, I’d better get back to it.

But I’ll leave you with my burning question…

Hands up, who loves westerns? 🙂

The Folk You Meet: Words & Whey

Living in West Cork, I meet a plethora of interesting folk and the latest to join the village is a rather interesting young woman who writes the What A Whey to Go blog. A kindred spirit in terms of being willing to take big risks for a passion, desire or gut instinct (whatever you want to call it), I am both excited and intrigued by her presence and her current journey.

We’ve only spoken a handful of times and have literally just exchanged numbers for a future coffee date, but after reading the blog of this ‘London corporate escapee turned apprentice cheese maker’, (love it!) I’m surprised to learn there are many similarities between us.

Perfect place to visit in West Cork

A picture perfect village on the edge of the Atlantic

From her decision to leave her well paid job in London publishing (mine was a well paid Dublin job in online poker) to follow her cheese-making dream (mine, of course, is to be a published author) to the sudden move to the same village, it seems a truly fortuitous coincidence that our paths have connected. We’ve made similar decisions, completely unawares, and ended up here.

Inspired by Pauline’s blog, I decided it was about time I dared to take a look back at my own journey. It’s almost three years since I made that dizzying decision to take the leap, so has it turned out to be what I hoped? Have I accomplished what I set out to do? Here’s the truth…

I have not secured a publishing deal (yet). There I said it. In my first year here, I completed a book, received excellent feedback from publishers with plenty of interest, but no deal. It was a hard truth to swallow at the time.

Now I can  see the benefits. That may seem like a ‘yeah right, she’s just saying that to save face’ kind of thing to say, but it’s true. Of course, a book deal would have been amazing – and I still have complete faith in that book – but along the way I learned a hell of a lot about myself as a writer, the world of publishing, my writing habits and my stamina.

Thankfully, part of that learning curve involved a deletion of the arrogance that initially fuelled me, and I also figured out pretty quickly that weeping into my porridge wasn’t going to get me anywhere.

So I went away and wrote another book, a couple more 50-60K first drafts, a series of poems/short stories/flash pieces, and a couple of picture books. Far from dampening my spirits, the failure only made me more determined, and now, as my next book goes on submission, (it’s taken another two years to get here) I feel a certain amount of peace knowing that

1) the chance for publication is once again close and

2) if it doesn’t make it this time, I have another book in me. And another, until I achieve my dream.

Irish sunsets, West Cork

Clouds really do have silver linings!

I know it’s possible and over the last couple of years I’ve seen some wonderful friends (both real life and online) go through similar emotional rollercoasters and eventually secure book deals – Laura J Cassidy, Louise Phillips, Susan Lanigan, Maria DuffyHazel Gaynor (to name but a few).

From the bottom of my heart, I couldn’t be more delighted for them and every time I hear of another signing, my heart leaps for joy. Because they deserve it, because it makes it all real and tangible.

So what does all this have to do with Pauline? Simple: I’m delighted to have met yet another intriguing, vivacious and gutsy person, someone who understands what it’s like to want something so badly that they’re willing to take risks. It’s always a joy to meet someone that reminds you of why you’re here and how far you’ve come; that although the end goal is what you’re aiming for, it’s the whole journey that counts.

If, like me, you’re still chasing your dream, keep chasing. I believe with enough dedication to your craft, determination to improve and a little bit of luck, you’ll get there. Enjoy the journey – it’s going to be wonderful.

Innovation & Quality: Writing for Children with WritersWebTV

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The brains behind the operation…

I recently watched the inaugural live online writing workshop ‘Finding the magic: Writing for Children’ – an innovative world first from WritersWebTV, presented by Vanessa O’Loughlin of writing.ie.

Although I wasn’t sure what to expect, I’ve had lots of wonderful experiences linked to Vanessaincluding finding my agent (Sallyanne Sweeney), the place I now call home and as a result, my husband! – so I was pretty certain that it would be a quality affair.

Although it’s not usually easy, I was willing to write off a day of writing to immerse myself in advice from talented authors and industry professionals. The list was impressive, with the likes of Michael Emberley, Marie Louise Fitzpatrick, Norton Vergien, Oisin McGann and Meg Rosoff on hand to share their knowledge of the industry and writing tips, answer questions and set short writing tasks.

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Attend the workshop from anywhere in the world? A great idea!

Even though some parts of the workshop weren’t relevant to me – I already have an agent, for instance – I dipped in and out, garnering bits of knowledge that made me stop, think and at times, rethink my own approach. I also found myself enjoying snippets of advice that I could relate to, stuff that left me nodding and smile knowingly.

The set up was impressive and multi-faceted, featuring the host Vanessa, an in-house audience and an interactive online global audience with a two-way communication stream via twitter, facebook and email. Despite the fact that the workshop was online, it maintained an inclusive and personal feel and I feel the positive feedback they’re receiving is well deserved.

Covering everything from animation to publishing, illustration to collaboration, finding an agent to finding your voice, this was something I had never experienced before and didn’t really believe could actually be done – at least, not to this standard.

I don’t want to spoil it for you – those of you who missed it and are serious about your writing career can buy it online & watch it for yourself – but here are a few of my favourite bits I’d like to share, to give you a taster…

  • The sign of good writing is to take a feeling and put it down on paper convincingly – being able to create suspense is important and make sure it’s not boring for the child.” Michael Emberley
  • Write, rework, return to your work – time lapse enables mistakes to jump out at you. It took me 14 years to write one of my books and get it right – it was turned down by same publisher 3 times, and taken on the fourth occasion. Not rushing is vitally important.” Marie Louise Fitzpatrick
  • A good agent will understand the market, will know gaps in a publisher’s list and have good contacts within the publishing industry. They’ll also help you work on your book, matching your script to the right editor. If you’re lucky enough to get an agent, it’s important you feel the agent understands your book – they have your vision.” Polly Nolan
  • You don’t need a lot of description but you do need the right words – but trust in your reader and leave some things to their imagination. What you leave out as important as what you leave in.” Meg Rosoff
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Social Media: providing a two-way stream during the workshop

This is just a taste of what was on offer, but if you can imagine an entire day – from 10am till 4pm – of such gems, with the chance to interact via twitter, facebook and email and have your questions answered by industry professionals, then you’ll understand why I’m highly recommending the next few workshops.

  • Getting to the Heart of it: Writing Women’s Fiction Tuesday, October 15th
  • Crime Pays: Writing Crime Fiction Wednesday, October 30th
  • Getting Published Saturday, November 9th

I’d love to know who else tuned in to the first workshop and what you thought of it. And who’s tuning in next time? Even if you don’t write in those genres, you may pick up something useful as the information is always transferable and as writers, we can always improve.