2019… A round-up of gratitude!

Like most writers I know, I usually begin a new year with a round-up of the previous, but I actively reduced my time on social media in 2019 to try and recoup some writing time, and so I’m so far behind, I think I’ll just skip to some gratitude.

As 2020 starts with a whisper – swans at the pier and fishermen bringing in their catch, gentle weather, new books to read, unexpected blooms on wintry walks, live music and dog snuggles – I know I have a lot to be thankful for.

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First up: people.

No (wo)man is an island

We don’t always acknowledge how much we need and value the input of others, but I think for writers in particular, social interaction is vitally important and something we need to remember to nurture.

I’m on the road a lot for events (I was away from home for more than 5 months in 2019, but this made up a sizeable portion of my income) and I spend far too much time alone. This past year was particularly hard in that respect, so the people around me have meant more than ever.

So, to my incredible husband, friends near and far, my patient agent Sallyanne Sweeney, writerly friends I turn to for an ear/advice (special shout out to Claire Hennessy, Caroline Busher & Kieran Fanning), my readers, penpals, and everyone else who has inspired me and made my journey/time pass smoothly – thank you. Your input has been invaluable and appreciated.

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Timeleaps, Words Allowed, and a Storytime Express

Many exciting event opportunities came my way in 2019, from the grand finale quiz of Battle of the Book, to a storytelling event on a vintage train (thanks to CBI and An Post), hundreds of events in schools and libraries around Ireland, specialist training for inclusive arts events, READON teen conference panels and writing workshops, plus a week-long tour in Germany for Marburger Lesefest. It was a non-stop whirlwind.

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I love events and there’s nothing better than getting in front of your audience for reminding yourself why you write and untangling yourself from the sometimes-stressful business side of things. So, thank you to everyone who invited me, worked with me (especially co-tutors Alan Early and Dave Lordan), and supported me in bringing my/our events to young audiences.

Pen and Ink and Bum Glue

In terms of writing, I didn’t have any books published this year, and being out of contract has felt fine – I was expecting it to be much harder. But thanks to the reduction in social media, I was pleasantly productive, with two new novels both completed as far as draft 4, plus I had several essays and short stories published in some fantastic magazines and journals including; Banshee, Popshots, Terrain, and Tiny Essays. I also got to co-write a fairy tale with Caroline Busher (currently seeking a home).

These seemingly small victories are actually huge – receiving positive reactions from publications you admire is a boost that helps to;

  • stay on the writing path with integrity and joy
  • counteract the many, many rejections received

Because let’s face it, if the writing isn’t joyful, why bother? Thankfully, this year’s writing has brought me a lot of joy.

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A Room of One’s Own

Other highlights in 2019 included residencies in Costa Rica (1 month) and Portugal (3 weeks). Both provided plenty of physical space and headspace to go deep into my novels, as well as progress some shorter pieces. The rest of the donkey work was completed throughout 2019 on trains or planes and in hotel rooms between events/freelancing deadlines (and at often ridiculous hours), but the residencies were key to planning, structuring, and intense productivity, that enabled the rest to happen organically. So, huge thanks to Mauser Eco House and Foundation Obras Art Residency for their generosity of space and time.

An Interlude

Before I talk about what’s next, I want to pause to say this…

In case the above seems all too sparkly or glamourous or ‘lucky’, at times in 2019, I felt far too lonely. I also felt overworked and underwhelmed and for the first time ever, my health suffered a little. My energy levels a little more. But I had a fantastic year overall and there was nothing I couldn’t deal with and nothing I can’t learn from and change to improve the year ahead.

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My outlook is this: We all create our own opportunities and work ethic, we all use our time in the way we choose, and we all have to make decisions based on our personal lives. Sometimes those decisions are hard, and sometimes it can feel like an uphill struggle or hectic or failure. But perspective is key.

My year was hectic, but it doesn’t mean that if you’re doing more/less/things completely different, you’re more/less/doing things wrongly. There are no rules – especially in creative professions –  only lives to live and lessons to learn and choices to be made.

My advice is this: compare only to yourself and your own parameters. Your own perspective is what matters.

What Next?

In truth, who knows? I’m trying to be a little more open and a little less planned this year. Writing wise, I aim to finish both of my WIP novels, as well as an essay collection, ready for submission. There will definitely be more events with young readers. Plus, a week at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre (courtesy of CBI) and a return to Portugal in June.

But above all – more people and gratitude.

What do you want more of in 2020?

 

Why Writing Community Support Matters

fullsizerender-77The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 is officially out in the world! That’s the third book published in 12 months (my Dublin launch was exactly one year to the day of my debut launch) and as you can imagine, it has been a crazily fun but pressured year. I can hardly believe that I have three books hurtling into readers’ hands, as it’s all been so fast – so thank you all for your support! I always say that the writing community is really special, and once again, it’s been proven.

After launching my book, I stayed on in Dublin to attend the Children’s Books Irelandconference and I have to say – what a wonderful weekend it was. The speakers, general organisation, discussions, and enthusiastic audience – it was exactly the tonic I needed after such a hectic schedule. I have genuinely never been so tired in my life and being able to sit back and be inspired by some of the world’s best children’s authors and illustrators was such a treat.

And once again, I was on the receiving end of such kindness from the writing community. So many people came up to offer their congratulations and wish me well, not minding at all that I was a gibbering wreck. We were all there to celebrate everything children’s books and the atmosphere was fantastic – because this is what the book world is about. From writers, to readers to booksellers to librarians to publishers – we’re all in this together for the same reason: a love of books.

I genuinely believe that support from friends within the writing/publishing/book community is a key ingredient for any writer to keep going. It is wonderful to do something that you love but it is also hard work, and a roller coaster. There are many uncertainties – sometimes, as many downs as there are ups – so a strong network of people that understand what you’re trying to achieve and wish you well is essential.

This is relevant for writers in all stages of their career and this is why I will continue championing all of my writing friends. Trying to get that initial publishing deal is really, really difficult and it takes guts and determination – so when someone tells you they write but don’t have a book deal yet, it’s important to listen respectfully; after all, we’ve all been there and you could be talking to the next JK Rowling.

fullsizerender-76When someone signs a deal, try and celebrate their achievement, even if your own writing isn’t quite going to plan. Editing the manuscript for publication is really, really difficult, so there’s an uphill struggle ahead; then there’s the blog tours and launches, as well as marketing. The pressure is on and it’s all new, which can be quite daunting – at times, support and encouragement will be needed.

Even when books hit the shelves, there are further challenges to meet: coverage, sales, getting stocked, earning enough cash. And even after winning a prize, there are no guarantees. The writing world is always unstable, so if someone tells you they’re tired or struggling, it doesn’t mean that they’ve forgotten their achievements or successes – it just means that they’re human.

Writing is a job that never ends and is also difficult to measure in anything other than sales and prizes and how much you earned as an advance or whether you got a movie deal. As a result, most writers feel anxious a lot of the time, looking sideways to see what achievements they should aim for next and noticing opportunities they have missed. And yet many people don’t talk about this side because they are so appreciative of being published, they don’t want to seem disrespectful or ungrateful.

Yes, these things are important and I thoroughly applaud ambition, but at the very core, writing and being a writer has to be about books. About our stories and characters. About writing the very best book that we can and being proud to hold it up and say – I did this! It’s about staying focused on our writing, our own journey, and writing really good books while (hopefully) inspiring others along the way.

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the murk and lose sight of why you’re writing, butif we all continue to stick together and support each other, then we’ll always find our way back. And more wonderful books will be written. What could be better?

(Note: originally posted on Writing.ie)

#1stdraftdiary Week 4 (36,500 – 50K)

IMG_5818Returning to #1stdraftdiary after a break, I feel completely disconnected. I had a wonderful time at West Cork Literary Festival and also a week in the UK – but what about my characters? What’s happening in the plot? I had zero idea about what was happening before, now I have less than zero –how is that possible?

Another issue is that after delivering four books in a 20-month period, I can feel myself burning out. I’m tired, and those 6am starts aren’t cutting it any more – they’re more of a battle than a pleasure, and that’s not how I want the writing process to feel. My neck is constantly sore, threatening to lock again, so I have to mind myself. I also have to give this final book of the Nine Lives Trilogy the respect it deserves and so – time for a new routine!

I’m not sure it’ll work but I feel energised by outdoors and exercise and so I’ve decided to spend my mornings walking the dog before going to the gym and swimming & walking home again. The idea is that this will help with my back/neck but also give me more energy. We’ll see! Anyway, time to dive back in… wish me luck!!!

#1stdraftdiary Day 22: I spend the day writing fillers, adding to disjointed scenes and get from 36,500 to 37,600 in an hour! Maybe the break has been good? I continue on and pause at 40,300. Thankfully, I’m back in the zone – and I still have more left in me. I’m cautious of overdoing it and leaving myself bereft of words for tomorrow, but the pull is too strong and I continue until 43K. In fact, something unusual has happened; my brain is starting to plot and plan. Maybe it’s because it’s my fourth book, or maybe it’s because I have to wrap up the trilogy and all its threads? Who knows! This has never happened this early in a draft before – but I’m going with it. Must do what is best for the book!  Word count: 43,000

#1stdraftdiary Day 23:  Even after yesterday’s marathon, I still have words!! Hooray! This is a complete surprise, so I write as soon as I can. As I expected, I run out of steam quite quickly but a realisation hits: I know where to start The Book of Revenge (I had three options!) and so, although this has never happened before, I’m ready to start draft 2. I’m going to listen to my instinct and start it alongside the first draft; I want at least 50K words of cul-de-sacs before I feel fully ready to let go. I still have ideas to find! I move onto draft 2 and write the first chapter. Magic! Word count: 46,200 (Draft: 1112 words)

#1stdraftdiary Day 24:  Within two hours, I reach my word count (48,200) for the day but I have a hunger to continue on. I can feel draft 2 is calling me – much earlier than it would usually – but I think knowing my characters and some of the issues I have to tie up is making this happen. I push on throughout the day to 52,100 – a mammoth word count for the day that leaves me feeling a little low (this always happens when I write too much) but also elated because that’s it – I’m there. There is no point continuing to 60K, as the story is calling – This book has t be delivered to my publishers October 31st and I’m fully booked for the month of October for the children’s book festival, so I have to crack on and do this! Which means, straight into draft 2; this will be more like most people’s first draft. No ore word vomit – it’s time to think, plan, plot, smooth, shape. Wish me luck! Word count: 52,100

And so… this is the quickest first draft I’ve ever done, but also the most disjointed. I’d say it hasn’t really helped me find the story very much like it usually would because of all the breaks, but I have enough to work with. It’s all change; my routine has changed (it’s working up to now) and I’m not leaving any time between drafts this time around (I will for draft 3) – but I guess that’s all part of the fun.

Check out #1stdraftdiary on twitter to see everyone else’s achievements & to cheer people on – and if you’re working on your own first draft, join in!

#1stdraftdiary Week 3 (28K to 36.5K)

IMG_5818One of the most amazing things, and something I didn’t expect, is the amount of people joining in with #1stdraftdiary. Although I’ve been finding my own journey this time around to be disjointed and frustrating, I’m loving the response it’s getting from others. From people thanking me for being honest about the process and making them feel better, to lots of writers joining in to kick start their own work or understand their own process, it’s been phenomenal. And so, if you head to #1stdraftdiary on twitter and click on the Live tab, you can see what everyone is up to and offer your support. And if you’re writing a first draft, why not join in? In the meantime, here are my #1stdraftdiary days 15 to 21.

#1stdraftdiary Day 15 (June 25th): although I prefer to write first, it’s not always possible, especially when you have a number of freelance clients waiting for work or a garden that needs rescuing. I manage 2000K words of freelance, some intense weeding of the vegetable patch and herb garden (before everything dies), a dog walk, and some article pitches sent before I can sit down to write. I see it as creating an air of calm for writing; I can’t write when I have lots of things hanging over me. Despite starting late, I get my word count up to 29,400 in a very short space of time and eventually hit the 30K target. Can’t extol the virtues of switching off internet enough! Word count: 30,000

#1stdraftdiary Day 16: I was going to take a day off writing to clear some freelance work but the words are calling. I manage 300 words in a cheeky 20 minute stint and eventually finish the day at 31,500, as well as 2000K words of freelance and two guest blog posts. I set up a corker of an opening for the next morning. But first, I have a birthday party to go to! I’m chuffed that I added 1500 words on a supposed day off; it just goes to show that once you get in the swing working at this pace, it’s hard not to write! Word count: 31,500

#1stdraftdiary Day 17: Day off! I need some creative so I treat the day like a holiday and let it lead me wherever it desires. A meander through film, books, poetry, and countryside lanes with a paddle in the sea. Word count: 31,500

Bookofshadows#1stdraftdiary Day 18: Just half an hour in and I reach 31,900 words, before adding another 700 words in a short space of time. Write when you can! It builds up! Freelance load is heavy today also, so two fast but short dog walks keep me sane. Aiming at 2K words a day, I should be on 36K words and I end up reaching 32,600. BUT: some unexpected final tweaks to The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 arrive in my inbox – a plethora of small and fiddly details that need immediate attention. Word count: 32,600

(I decide to take a pause until July 3rd because as well as the urgent edits, I have a trip to Dublin for an Arts Council event on making applications in the Irish Writers Centre – it’s a 16 hour round trip & an overnight stay for a 1.5 hour session but MUCH NEEDED!)

#1stdraftdiary Day 19 (July 3rd): I’m back to it this week before another little pause on the horizon. I’ve never written a 1st draft so disjointed before but you have to prioritize. Today: five freelance articles, 2 residency/bursary applications & 2 interviews so it’s late when I get started. I know it’s going to be almost pointless at this level of tiredness but I start at 32,700 and finishing at 33,500. That’s only 800 words but that was all I could manage today. Word count: 33,500

#1stdraftdiary Day 20: – hit the target of 2000 but it feels like filler and not really connected to what the story needs to be. Another cul-de-sac. Word count: 35,500

#1stdraftdiary Day 21: (July 5th) 1000 words. It’s usually frustrating when you don’t get many words done, but today I’m super happy as I actually thought at one point that I’d get zero done! This is the final day before I take another, longer break – I have to go on a visit to the UK to say farewell to my sister who is moving to Australia for good, and I have a massive freelance project I have to finish first otherwise I won’t get paid. When I return I’m interviewing Carol Drinkwater at West Cork Literary Festival the next day, before doing three events of my own, and so the 1st draft will have to wait until it can have the time and respect it deserves. And so, I pause on 36.5K until July 21st. Word count: 36,500

Conclusion: This has been the most disjointed first draft ever – I have never had to stop and start like this before – but when you are juggling, prioritization is necessary and I just have to live with it. Events need just as much preparation and focus, so Im prioritizing chronologically. Am I worried? Unsettled perhaps, but then, isn’t that always the way?

It seems the result is the same – I’m writing myself into a lot of cul-de-sacs so when I step away I can see where I’m not to go. The only difference is, this time, I’m not getting that buzz, that intensity that I love, because of all the gaps. This doesn’t feel great on an emotional level, but the important thing is: it’s moving forward. The process is still working it just feels different. So long as the manuscript is the best that it can be by the time I deliver it on October 31st to my publishers, all is well. By then, these weird feelings will be forgotten about anyway, so time to turn off that inner critic (she’s particularly rampant right now).

I will start again on July 21st with a view to get my draft finished by the end of the month – that gives me exactly 9 days (the right number of days to have completed this draft in my usual 30 day timeframe) to write 20-24K words (it will come to a natural halt – or at least, it usually does). Wish me luck! I’m going to need it. But in the meantime, I’ll be cheering everyone else on with their #1stdraftdiary. Come and join me?

#1stDraftDiary week 2 (14K-28K words)

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Waterstone’s! 🙂

And so, the first draft continues… Usually I try and write more than 2000 words a day so I can take a day off here and there, but that is stretching my limits at the moment. This first draft is proving harder than the others I’ve done, and I think it’s because it’s been so full on since signing contracts. It’s my fourth book written or edited within 18 months & the last of the constant deadlines – and I’m still doing events and promotion. I’m loving it, but I’m not certain that I can keep it up this time. Maybe I will have to find a new way to work to get this book delivered in time? Here goes…

#1stdraftdiary Day 7: Today is, surprisingly, a breeze, so the seven days up to now must have given me momentum. I make use of it while it’s here! And somehow a giant octopus slips into the story. Word count: 14,000

#1stdraftdiary Day 8: Zero. I organise my events for Belfast Book Festival this week, and answer interview answers. The festival comes first time wise, so has to take priority. When you do children’s events, you’re performing, so you have to be watertight – and events change depending on the age of the children and the group size. I have two events in Belfast with 80 teenagers each event, plus a family fun day hour and an Eason’s event to prepare. This means, planning, preparation, timing, props, practicing for each. It takes time – like anything, when I do an event, I want to do it well. That means enabling the kids to get lots out of the time spent together – and this requires thought. Word count: still 14,000

#1stdraftdiary Day 9: I awake to that niggling, judgmental voice, but beat it away with gusto. I’m starting 2,000 words behind but kind words from Jane Mitchell and CJ Black (thanks lovelies) help me get going. I realise I’ve forgotten Winston in three chapters, so I spend some time adding him in. I reach my word count easily today and still have steam so I continue on and surpass it – 3,900 words in total and doesn’t feel like it at all. One of the really good days. Word count: 17,900

 (And an unplanned intermission…

Ginat's Causeway ERMuray

I also cheated & took a trip to Giant’s Causeway – somewhere I’ve wanted to go since I was seven years old!!!

#1stdraftdiary Day 10 (take 1): Zero. I had to freelance during the ten hour journey to Belfast Book Festival so no words written. Will try again tomorrow.

#1stdraftdiary Day 10 (take 2): Zero. By the time I finished my social media clients and have prepped for & then completed three events today, there is no energy left for words. I decide to pause for the Belfast Book Festival as I have two full days of travel and three days of events. With the best will in the world, I’ll never get through my various freelance stuff, attend events and do my own events as well as my first draft.)

#1stdraftdiary Day 10 (Take 3): Pausing was a good idea – I’m feeling energized by all the great events and festival atmosphere but also pretty tired from the ten hour journey home! As I expected, today was a bit of a slog – but I ploughed through the words and got back on track. Feeling relieved! Word count: 20,002

#1stdraftdiary Day 11: With freelance and other responsibilities today, I don’t even get started on my first draft until 8.30pm and by this time, I can actually feel my brain throbbing. I doubt brain-throb is a good sign but two hours later and my word count hits the spot – just 100 words short. Happy to leave it there. Sometimes, you have to know when to stop pushing. Word count: 21,900

#1stdraftdiary Day 12: I make writing the main focus today, before anything else, like it should be. The only interruption is a live radio interview at 12.15pm – and I’m only 500 words behind my word count at this point. I love radio, it’s a really nice way to chat about books, and so afterwards I’m excited and a little giddy so I switch to admin for a while, chasing up invoices and writing more. By 2pm, I’ve hit 24,400 words. I’ve passed my expectation and have plenty left in me. A medium-sized freelance project (40x 500 word articles with a two week deadline) comes in, so I decide to really go for it today and get ahead if I can. I also became a Patron of Reading today, so I’m celebrating . Word count: 26,400

#1stdraftdiary Day 13: Zilch. Today was spent travelling 3 hours to Cork city for two x1 hour school events in Waterstone’s (they treated me 5 star – such darlings), then a meeting, then a three hour journey home. The events went really well – the pupils were fantastic. Interested, excited, inquisitive – big thumbs up! Word count: still at 26,400.

#1stdraftdiary Day 14: And so, the day was marred by the shock result in the UK, but I decided to use it to my advantage and write the call to arms scene that I need before a battle. I rely on nature today to keep my head straight – the sea, birds, flora, vegtable garden. In the end, I write fast and the words are not completely awful. I stop the moment I reach the word count, leaving not just a chapter, but a sentence, unfinished. Word count: 28,000

Summary: word count on track, amazing schools events and a festival thrown in – but I’m feeling at the end of my energy reserves and I’m finding this difficult to admit. Let’s hope I can keep it up.

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!