Today on WeeBitWordy we interrupt our usual schedule, as I am honored with having the privilege of interviewing author-extraordinaire E. R. Murray! Round of applause everybody! E. R. Murray is the author of The Book of Learning, and has just released her debut YA, Caramel Hearts!
Liv Bloom’s life is even more complicated than that of your average fourteen-year-old: her father walked out on the family when she was young, her mother is in a recovery centre for alcoholics, and her older sister is struggling to step into Mum’s shoes. The only person she can turn to is her best friend Sarah, who gets her out of scrapes at school and is a constant source of advice and companionship. One day Liv discovers a book of recipes written in her mum’s handwriting, which sets her off on a journey towards self-discovery and reconciliation – but a theft, a love rivalry and a school bully are just some of the many obstacles on the way.Structured around real cake recipes, Caramel Hearts
is a coming-of-age novel about love, disappointment and hope, and discovering the true value of friends and family, no matter how dysfunctional they are.
1. When did you first realise that you wanted to become a writer?
Not until I moved to Ireland in 2008, even though the desire was there! I always adored books and I wrote as a child, but growing up pre‐internet, authors seemed like magical, otherworldly beings. You could never meet one. I tried writing to Roald Dahl but he didn’t write back, and I didn’t try to contact an author again after that. I continued to write until I was in my late teens, but money was also an issue. I came from a very poor background so making enough money to get by was something I was always aware of – and it took priority over everything. I concentrated my energies on getting a college, then university, education and I worked full-time throughout to be able to do this. It was tough. I always read, but I forgot all about writing; after education, I concentrated on travel and my career. I only started writing again around my 29th birthday, a year before I moved from Spain to Ireland. I wrote terrible poems and short stories that eventually improved with many rewrites, and started to get published. By the time I moved to Ireland, I had lots of work experience in different fields and I was earning great money, but I felt disenchanted with the whole daily grind. Writing was calling. In Dublin, I attended an Inkwell writing workshop and met lots of writers, both published and aspiring, and began to believe that this was something I could do. I saved money, set myself up as a freelance poker writer, and a year later quit my job to concentrate on my books. The support from other writers in Ireland was the catalyst, and remains to this day, invaluable.
2. How long does it take you to write a book? Did Caramel Hearts take longer
than The Book of Learning?
My experience up to now is that every book is different. The Book of Learning took the longest so far, but it’s the first book I tried to write to a publishable standard and it was also my first attempt at fantasy and world building. Even after several drafts alone and then with my agent, it needed lots of work. Thankfully, my editor at Mercier Press understood what I was trying to do and helped me achieve it. It took about two years in total to write, but five years from the idea to seeing an actual finished book in my hand, because at first I couldn’t place it and then, once you sign, it takes about a year to produce the finished product. I wrote Caramel Hearts after The Book of Learning, but still before I’d signed a book deal. It’s completely different to my trilogy and took less time – about one and a half years – but I was more experienced by this point and there was none of the fantastical elements to wrestle with! For my third novel, The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2, I had only five months to write and re-draft and deliver to my publisher. We then spent another five months on edits, so that was ten months in total. I’m starting the final piece of the trilogy now and that’s also under deadline, but I’m also starting my next WIP; this is out of contract so we’ll see how long that takes! I feel like it would be nice to take my time with this one.
3. What is your work schedule like when you’re writing? How did writing
Caramel Hearts fit in with writing the Nine Lives Trilogy?
I hate routine, but I’m definitely at my best in the early morning, so I try to work on the most creative or most difficult project at around 6a.m. until 10am. Then I switch to another project and another, and freelance later afternoon/early evening. This is easy in the spring, summer and autumn, but tough in the dark winters; I live in the countryside with no streetlights and no central heating, so I try to adapt in the winters to writing a bit later in the morning and then another burst at night, with as much time outdoors as I can manage during the afternoon. Because of signing two book deals, I ended up working on three books in a really short space of time. Juggling Caramel Hearts with The Book of Learning and The Book of Shadows was rather tough. Basically, in 15 months I edited two books and launched them both, and I wrote another book from scratch and edited it to the proofing stage (it’s out in September). I also freelance to earn a living, and then there’s all the events (I’ve done 30 so far in 2016 with more to come) and promotional stuff on social media. Maybe it’s because it’s all new, but it felt like a lot and it really did push my limits. But it was an absolute dream come true, so there was no question of not managing it! Now, I’m reaching a zen stage with most of the overlapping hard work behind me; I can now concentrate on just the one, final book that’s under contract so I’m really enjoying it. And I had an incredible start to the year; The Book of Learning was chosen as the Dublin UNESCO City of Literature Citywide Read for Children so I got to do lots of events and meet lots of readers. It’s been an amazing journey. I wouldn’t change a thing!
4. Caramel Hearts is very different from the Nine Lives Trilogy. What made
you go down such a different path with this one?
Caramel Hearts was the story I needed to write next. The timing of it probably had a lot to do with the style and content, because I wrote Caramel Hearts after The Book of Learning had been rejected by lots of publishers, despite plenty of interest. I wasn’t going to give up – I was determined to be a published author! – but I needed to write something with a different tone. If I’d tried to write something in a similar style to the first book, it wouldn’t have worked. I was too close to the characters and story and the voice wouldn’t have flowed. Maybe it’s because I like change so much, but it felt right to write something more realistic. The age group shift was determined by the storyline; so that was accidental. I wanted to write something set in my native North East of England and I’ve always loved food in fiction; the ideas fused and when the character, Liv Bloom, emerged, she gave the story wings.
5. What inspires you to write?
To be honest, everything. I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration to hit; you’d never complete a novel if you did! Life is full of stories, you just have to look and feel. I’m overrun with ideas – and plenty of good ideas too. I have so many that I have to compartmentalize them in notebooks and storyboards to keep them under control. It helps me to stay focused on current projects. I wish there was more time to write them all!
6. What do you enjoy most about writing?
Everything. I love that initial stage, where you know you’ve found a good idea and your fingers tingle. I love writing the first draft in intense splurges; I always write my first draft in a month, without editing, and find it really freeing. The draft is terrible – I call it a draft zero – but it’s my essential starting point. I also enjoy the editing process; shaving, tweaking, polishing – and it’s wonderful to work with editors that understand what you’re aiming for and help to make it happen. And then, of course, there are the readers. Nothing makes a writer happier than meeting someone who enjoyed your book!
Go check out these other awesome blogs that are helping spread the word about Caramel Hearts!
E.R. Murray writes novels for children and young adults as well as short fiction. Caramel Hearts (Alma Books) is her first book for young adults. Her middle grade debut The Book of Learning – Nine Lives Trilogy 1 (Mercier Press) was chosen as the 2016 Dublin UNESCO City of Literature Citywide Read for Children, andThe Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 will be published in September 2016. Elizabeth lives in West Cork, where she fishes, grows her own vegetables and enjoys plenty of adventures with her dog, Franklyn.
You can find out more about Elizabeth on her website, or chat to her on twitter @ERMurray, facebook or instagram.