Being a debut author is exciting, terrifying, and tinged with a certain amount of disbelief – is this really happening? It takes a lot of work, a lot of time, and plenty of rollercoaster emotions to get from the germ of an idea to an actual physical book. Since signing my book deals, I get asked a heap of questions about where ideas come from, the writing process, and how to get published. So here’s a short run down of how it all happened for me: the what, where, when, how and why of The Book of Learning.
What: The Book of Learning is a middle grade (8-12 year old readers) urban fantasy about belonging. It’s full of mystery, adventure, and magical Dublin landmark settings – and it’s not just for kids! I love reading children’s fiction and when Harry Potter was published, we saw lots of adults reading J.K.Rowling’s books in public. Personally, I’d like to see more of that. Here’s the blurb…
Sometimes, it takes more than one lifetime to put things right.
After the death of her beloved grandpa, Ebony Smart’s world is turned upside down. Sent to Dublin to live with an aunt she didn’t know existed, she soon discovers that her new home, 23 Mercury Lane, is full of secrets.
Learning that she is part of an ancient order of people who have the power to reincarnate, Ebony quickly discovers that a terrible evil threatens their existence. With just her pet rat, Winston, and a mysterious book to help her, she must figure out why her people are disappearing and how to save their souls, including her own, before time runs out.
Where: The book is set where it was written; between West Cork and Dublin. I was living in a Georgian apartment in Lower Hatch Street, Dublin, when I started writing the story, and that became the spooky 23 Mercury Lane in my book. Even though I don’t particularly believe in ghosts, I definitely saw a ghost several times in that apartment, and I’m certain it helped shape the book without me even realising it at the time. I used to cut through St Stephen’s Green every day, and there was a fabulous sculpture in there – it has since been removed – that became the secret entrance to an underground hideout. Other landmark sites and buildings began to edge their way in; Glasnevin Cemetery, The National Library, The Natural History Museum, and The Botanic Gardens.
However, I always planned for The Book of Learning to be set in two different locations, mainly because I love city and country life equally, and wanted this contrast in my book. I went to Schull to write and the atmosphere suited my requirements perfectly – so perfectly, in fact, that I moved there within a year of visiting. I chose to create a fictional village, however, as I needed certain things like woods and cliffs that Schull did not have. But to me, West Cork is more of a feeling; every village and island has its own magic, so I amalgamated the lot to create Oddley Cove.
When: This idea started in 2009, around the time I moved to Dublin and gave up on a memoir I was trying to write about my father – the memoir was a non-starter because my father was Romany gypsy, and I couldn’t find any official information on him at all. The character names came to me first – Ebony Smart and Icarus Bean – and as I explored my new city, they became very belligerent, and so I had to start writing about them. I went to an Inkwell Writers workshop where I met Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin and lots of (now author) friends such as Maria Duffy, Laura Jane Cassidy, and Hazel Gaynor.
A year, and many writing workshops with authors such as Jonathan Stroud, Sarah Webb, and Conor Kostick later, The Book of Learning secured me my agent, Sallyanne Sweeney (via Vanessa who championed this book from the first day she read the draft). The book took at least another year to complete ready for submission, and the submission process was much slower than I expected. There’s lots of waiting in publishing, and it can be tough – I coped by working on a new book. After a few near misses, The Book of Learning was signed in October 2014 by Mercier, and after a couple of rounds of edits, it was published on September 2nd 2015.
How: There is no magical formula to writing a book that is publishable; you just have to keep at it. You have to write, rewrite and then rewrite some more. When people hear I live in West Cork, they often say – ‘ah, great for inspiration.’ Living in West Cork is truly great in many ways, but in truth, if you’re waiting for inspiration, you’ll never write a book. You have to go to your desk daily and write – even if you don’t feel like it. It takes a lot of discipline and self-belief, and not everything you write will be good. In fact, it’s rare that the first book you write will be good enough to publish, even after a lot of hard work and multiple rewrites. But remember; all your writing is valuable, even if it ends up abandoned or shelved. It helps you to improve and find your voice. In short, writing a good book takes a lot of work, and plenty of frustration – but also a lot of joy. You really can’t keep writing unless you love it.
Why: I didn’t set out to write a middle grade book, even though I knew the character Ebony Smart was young. At first, I thought she was a teenager, but as the story unfolded, it became evident that she was a very definite twelve years old. Once I realised it was a children’s book, I was delighted. I’ve always loved books, and reading was an integral part of my childhood. As an adult, I continue to read children’s books, from picture books to novels. It’s an incredibly exciting time for children’s books – both as a reader and a writer. There are some very brave and exciting books being published, and if I can be part of that; if I can help to foster a love of reading in even just one more person, then I feel like I’m succeeding in my role as an author.
(c) ER Murray
About The Book of Learning
After the death of her beloved grandfather on her twelfth birthday, Ebony Smart’s world is turned upside down. Orphaned for a second time, she is sent to Dublin to live with her weird Aunt Ruby, with only her pet rat, Winston, for company. With every window nailed shut and a mysterious locked room, 23 Mercury Lane is brimming with secrets. Warned against entering by a voice in the shadows, Ebony is fearful for her future, but has no idea how much her life is about to change.
Aunt Ruby informs Ebony that she is part of the Order of Nine Lives – a special tribe of people who reincarnate. She claims Ebony has one week to break a terrible curse or else die – and if she fails, the future of the Order of Nine Lives, and her family, is at risk. With so much at stake, Ebony discovers it’s difficult to trust – especially when there’s somebody else trying to race her to the finish.
Does she have what it takes to succeed when nothing is what it seems?
The Book of Learning is in bookshops now, or pick up your copy online here!