Category Archives: Writing News

When I get some writing news, it will go here!

In the Tiger’s EYE!

This past Christmas, the baby got a lot of books as presents. I mean – a lot. This was a good thing, because my husband and I (obviously) love books, and we love reading to the baby, and it was great to see what stories our friends and family wanted to share with our beloved little person.

One book in particular soon marked itself out as a firm favourite, and it has retained that coveted status over the past few months. It is the marvellous I Love You More and More, by Nicky Benson, with amazing illustrations by Jonny Lambert.

One day, as I read this book with my child, I looked at the publisher’s details. Hmm, I thought. Little Tiger Press. I hadn’t heard of them before, but the book had given us so much joy and was so beautifully produced that, in a quiet moment, I looked up Little Tiger’s website. To my delight, I found that they also published Middle Grade and YA books under their Stripes imprint, and I spent some time checking out their backlist.

Wouldn’t it be brilliant, I thought, if I could one day get a book deal with a great little press like this.

Well. Fast forward a bit.

The Eye of the North had been out on submission with UK publishers for quite some time, and I had long given up hope it would find a home. It’s hard, dealing with rejection behind the scenes; I completely understand it’s part of the job, and that every single person whose book is on a shelf knows what it feels like, but that doesn’t make going through it any easier. Plus, I kept reminding myself that I had a deal to publish not one but (gasp!) two books in North America, and that was head-spinny enough for me. I won’t get to see The Eye of the North on Irish shelves, I told myself. But there’ll be time for that with future books.

And then.

And then.

It was a day, much like any other. My husband happened to be working from home. The baby was doing the usual stuff babies do, most of which is loud and/or dangerous. And, in the middle of it all, there was a telephone call for me.

(I don’t like the telephone, I should say at this point. It makes me anxious. But that’s a story for another day.)

I took the phone from my husband. It was my agent, Polly, who said: ‘are you ready for some good news?’

I think I responded with ‘Um?’

‘You have a UK book deal!’ she said, in delight.

To my absolute joy, the deal wasn’t just any old deal – it was an offer to publish from Stripes, the aforementioned imprint of Little Tiger Press, who look after the MG side of things. I was dumbfounded. My mind went straight back to the baby’s favourite book, and how much we all loved it, and how I’d joked with myself that they’d be a great home for me.

And now – I can announce! I’m so full of joy! – they are the UK/Irish/Commonwealth home for my debut novel, The Eye of the North!

I’ll keep you all up to date with things like cover reveals, release dates and any other news, but until then I hope you’ll all join me in shouting a huge RAWWWR of Tiger-y joy. I’m delighted to be joining the Stripes family and I can’t wait to take the next step into this new, uncharted and utterly thrilling territory. Thank you to everyone at Little Tiger/Stripes for their enthusiasm and faith in me and my book.

And now I’m off! Book 2 won’t write itself, you know. *wipes brow*

 

Interview with Maz Evans, author of WHO LET THE GODS OUT

Because I love you all so very much, today’s blog post is epic – in all senses of the word. Yes, dear ones. It’s time for an Author Interview!

applause-1

Photo Credit: Lulu Höller Flickr via Compfight cc

All right, all right, calm down. So, you see, one of the many perks of being a children’s-book-writing type these days is the immense joy of meeting other children’s-book-writing types, even if it’s only online. This is how I met the fascinating and lovely subject of today’s interview, Ms Maz (Mary Alice) Evans, a woman who not only writes books, but teaches others how to do it too in a variety of fun and exciting ways using her wonderful-sounding Story Stew, and is a total hoot to boot. The first book in her new series, entitled WHO LET THE GODS OUT, is forthcoming from Chicken House in February 2017, and so I was honoured that she took the time to talk to me about the book, her writing life, and what powers she would like if she could wake up tomorrow morning as a goddess.

On with the show!

Hi, Maz, and welcome to Clockwatching… Towers! Firstly, let’s hear about your book. What’s the scoop on WHO LET THE GODS OUT?

Well now… Gods is the first a four-part comedy adventure series for middle grade. Our hero is Elliot Hooper, a 12-year-old young carer whose troubled life is thrown into further disarray when he collides with the chaotic modern-day immortal community. Accompanied by the haughty teenage Constellation, Virgo, Elliot accidentally releases Thanatos, Daemon of Death and must enlist the Olympians if he is to avert mankind’s doom…

who-let-the-gods-out-packshot

Cover image for Maz Evans’ WHO LET THE GODS OUT (Chicken House, 2017); image courtesy Maz Evans

That sounds amazing! Where did your interest in gods and mythology come from?

When I was eight, I won an award at school – the prize was a book on Greek Mythology. I was hooked. I’m not a woman of religious faith, but I could buy into polytheism – I love that there’s a go-to God for any situation. That said, eight-year-old Maz was pretty peeved that the runner-up got a massive tube of Smarties. On balance, it probably worked out better this way.

Tell us a bit about your journey to becoming an author. Did you always want to write?

For me, writing self-selected because I suck at every other field of human endeavour. I am supremely untalented, but I’ve always written. My career has been rooted in journalism, taking detours through copywriting, scriptwriting and academia, before establishing my own creative writing business, Story Stew. Writing and I are like Liz Taylor and Richard Burton – we’ve always got back together eventually.

WHO LET THE GODS OUT has had a fascinating route to publication. Can you talk a bit about that?

I say in the Gods acknowledgements that it’s had more lives than a recycled cat – it’s a bit of a long story, so settle in…

I wrote the uninspiring prototype, Elliot and The Immortals, back in 2009. I’d just had my second child in 15 months and could feel my brain turning into an Annabel Karmel puree. So in the 3.7 minutes per day when both kids slept, I wrote. I sent it to the literary department of David Higham Associates (I was repped there as a scriptwriter) and waited for my enormous advance. Instead, I got a very encouraging rejection. I responded maturely – with a massive strop and writing very little for five years.

By 2014 life – and publishing – had moved on. Most of my kids were at school, I was running creative writing workshops for schools and festivals and self-publishing was now affordable. So I rewrote Gods and published 500 copies, thinking I had the rest of my life to sell them. After launching it at the Hay Festival in May, all were gone by September. So I printed 2000 more. They went by Easter 2015.

Around then, my scriptwriting agent Nicky Lund enquired if I was still alive. I told her what I’d been up to and she passed Gods to a literary colleague. The gorgeous Veronique Baxter snapped it up, sent it out… and the moment I met Barry Cunningham and Rachel Leyshon from Chicken House, I knew Gods had found its true home.

A funny little twist to the tale that I hope might give heart: Veronique – my brilliant agent… She was the same person who’d turned it down in 2009!

When writing, do you come up with characters, plot or setting first, or do they come as a package?

Who knows! I wish I had a process… For my tuppence, your plot should always evolve from your characters and they pop into my head all the time. Comedy set pieces often spring to mind – I find dialogue and comedy come quite naturally – plot structure, much less so. I find novels infinitely harder than scripts – you have to fill in all the white spaces…

You’re a mum of four (ye gods!) Do you find it tough to manage your career and your family, and do you have any tips for writing while parenting?

Absolutely not. I breeze through as a flawless parent and author – doesn’t everyone…?

HA!!!!!!!!!!

People talk about spinning plates – my life is like a Greek wedding. Every day is a mad, chaotic, shouting scramble of a disaster waiting to happen – and frequently is. I don’t find it tough – I find it nigh on impossible to find a balance. But my family and my writing are my two great loves. I have an incredibly supportive husband, I run my own business and I always have prosecco in the fridge – between those, somehow it happens. [Prosecco in the fridge is a genius move… I’m incorporating that one into my life, stat! SJOH]

What, for you, have been the best and worst parts of the publication journey? How do you stay balanced amid it all?

Firstly, I haven’t stayed balanced at all – and that has been the worst part. I was prepared for the graft – and wow, do you have to be – but the emotions… they have totally caught me out. The crippling self-doubt, the anxiety, the waiting – oh GOD, the waiting! – the uncertainty – none of this plays well with my personality.

But the best part? Everything else. I’ve always wanted to be a writer and now I am. How many people get to say that? I still can’t quite believe it myself.

If you could be a goddess, what powers would you like?

Flushing the toilet from afar. My children leave our bathroom like a Turner Prize entry. [Well, if it works for Tracey Emin… SJOH]

What’s next on your agenda, writing-wise?

I’m just finishing Book 2 – Book 3 is due later this year and Book 4 next, so that should keep me quiet. I have two adult novels I am desperate to write and a series of kids’ picture books, as well as lots of scripts that are waiting for Mummy to come back. And my tax return. Better get onto that.

Ah, yes, taxes – the eternal leveller! Thank you so much, Maz, for these great answers to some intensely nosy questions. I can’t wait to get my hands on WHO LET THE GODS OUT; it publishes on February 2nd, 2017, and it is the first in a series of four novels about Elliot and his godly chums. You can find out more about Maz and her books on her website, or her publisher’s website, and you can (and should) follow her on Twitter, too.

mary-evans-6-of-15

Mary Alice (Maz) Evans, author of WHO LET THE GODS OUT.

It’s Aliiiiive!

Yes. Hello. I am, in case you may have been wondering, still here and still beavering away; beavering so assiduously, in fact, at so many different things, that I don’t often get time to venture into WordPress-topia, even just to see the sights. My main preoccupation, of course, is currently tootling around on the floor at my feet, chewing on something and leaving a trail of drool which is, frankly, a health hazard – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The baby is now almost one year old (the thought is frightening. Where has the last year gone?) and I’m about to get stuck into the copy-edits for The Eye of the North, which is exciting.

Oh, and by the by, I’ve seen a draft of the cover art for the aforementioned novel. It’s glorious. I can’t wait to share it with you all.

But really I’m here today to do two things: mark the fact that it’s been four years since I started blogging – four years! – and also to jump on the coattails of my very good friend and extremely talented blogger, who goes by the name Fairweather Paddler around these parts, by answering some questions which she posed on her blog (Home Grown Heaven) as part of her recent nomination for a Liebster award.

Not, of course, that she tagged me in said Liebster award post. But why should that stop me answering her fantastic questions?

Alors. Off we go.

What drives you up the wall in people?

I hate it when people refuse to see other points of view. It’s like people are so terrified of being wrong that they can’t bear to accept the idea that other people might know better than they do about certain things. This, in my humblest opinion, is silly.

What is it that draws you to new people the most?

Meep. Well, a few things combined, probably. If they’re making interesting conversation, showing curiosity, open-mindedness and an eagerness to learn more about the world, on top of a sense of humour and an aura of kindness, then I’m suckered.

What was the biggest shock about becoming a parent?

The all-consuming terror. The terror, before your baby arrives, that something will go wrong, and the terror after they arrive that something will happen to them. I really hadn’t expected that. I’m still not used to parcelling it away, leaving it on a high shelf so that I can get on with enjoying my child’s presence, in the moment.

What one thing would you recommend to new parents?

To keep their baby close, particularly when they’re small. Not to listen to advice which says ‘put your baby in a crib/Moses basket/cot, so you can get your life back/have a cup of tea/watch the TV’ – maybe this attitude isn’t prevalent elsewhere, but when my baby was tiny it was something I encountered a lot. My instinct was to keep my baby close, in contact with me, right over my heart, and I think instinct is there for a reason. Keep your little ones close while you can, is my advice.

What’s your go-to store-cupboard-is-empty meal?

Erm. Sandwiches? I don’t know. I normally have pasta in stock at all times, and I’m always swimming in green olives (I have an addiction, don’t judge me), and I normally have either passata, or chopped tomatoes, or tomato puree, or tomato pesto – sometimes all four! – somewhere in my kitchen. So, that makes a tasty, if not very hearty, meal.

Why blog?

Why not?

To make friends. To connect with people. To feel like I’m making a contribution to the world’s store of knowledge. And to pass the time.

Best place you have travelled to and why?

Malta, which was where I honeymooned. Not necessarily because of the honeymoon aspect, but because it was spectacular, in terms of scenery and culture and language and history and just about everything. I would dearly love to return someday.

Any hidden talents?

If I had, I wouldn’t be telling you about them.

What talent do you wish you had?

Coordination. It would be nice to be able to move with grace and fluidity, instead of like an arthritic hippo. My body is a wonderland and has done many things, and it’s strong and capable and sturdy, but by God. It’d be nice to feel like I was a Cadillac instead of a Humvee, just once.

Where do you find your village?

I have excellent friends. Some of them I see a lot; others only rarely. Some of them I talk to all the time, and others I ‘speak’ to only online. But they are my people, and I couldn’t be without them.

What are you most proud of in life?

The fact that I came through the darkest months of my life after the baby was born and that I’m now out the other side, more or less, and learning every day how to be a better mother. I’m proud that I didn’t crumble when it felt like the whole world had collapsed upon me.

Oh, and I’m proud that I wrote a book, too, and that it’s being published. Have I mentioned that already?

So, there you are. Apologies once again for the irregularity of my updates. I hope this missive finds you all well, and I hope to be back soon with more news of frightfully amazing cover art… To that end, did you know you can now follow me on Instagram, too? Check me out there, where I’ll hopefully be unveiling some teasers for the book jacket as soon as I can. And, until next time, stay awesome – and keep reading.

 

 

 

 

 

*Sigh*. It’s Complicated.

You may remember this post, when I told y’all that my book, The Eye of the North, was all set for publication next February 14.

Yeah.

Well.

Y’see.

Publishing’s a complicated business. There are lots of layers to it, rather like a cake (though publishing’s probably a bit harder to eat, not that I’ve tried). Many people are making decisions, and there are hundreds of variables to take into account (some of them to do with things like ‘marketing’ and ‘sales’, which bring me out in a rash) and dates for publication get shoved around all the time.

And for that reason, the clever folk at Knopf (who know about things like markets, and sales, and all that stuff) have decided to push back the release of The Eye of the North a little, until August 22, 2017. So, it won’t be in your sweaty little mitts next spring, after all. More like next ‘fall’, to use the lovely American term. Which suits, in a way, because the book is a bit wintry, a bit of an ‘end of year’ story, and one that lends itself well to longer, darker evenings tucked in beside the fire.

That doesn’t mean I’m not sad that it’s delayed. And it doesn’t mean I’m not a little embarrassed to have to write this post. But these things do happen, and they happen to better and more established writers than me.

Anyway, it gives me more time to get everyone’s appetites whetted, and to drum up some excitement, and to come up with clever ways to keep everyone interested in my little story. This will include (all in good time) a cover reveal, and maybe a little competition or two to keep things peppy. We’ll see how it goes.

My apologies if (you’re my mother and) you were looking forward to the book being released in February – I hope the delay will make you keener, rather than the opposite. Any further updates I have will be posted here on the blog, and I want to thank everyone who was so congratulatory and kind when I announced the previous publication date. I don’t always have time these days to respond to messages – but I read them all and I’m very grateful for every one. Thank you!

borealis

A suitably borealis-y night sky to get you all in the mood… Image: unsplash.com Photographer: Priscilla Westra

 

Fancy a Date?

Guys, guys, guys. How have you all been?

Life is insane for me at the moment. I miss this blog so much – believe me, I do – but I just never get time to sit into my comfy old blogging seat (grey with dust at this stage) and update you all on what’s happening in my life.

Well, to be fair, not a lot is actually happening, on a day-to-day basis, besides keeping myself and a baby alive, (mostly) clean, and fairly well fed, but that in itself is an achievement.

It’s not what you lot signed up for, though, is it? No. No, it is not. You signed up for hot-off-the-presses insights into the publishing industry, sizzling updates from the coalface of writing, incisive commentary on the cutthroat world of children’s literature. Right? And, finally, I have something sort of like that to share, so I’m here to tell you about it for as long as baby’s nap lasts. In other words, not long.

Onwards!

So. First things first. My little book – you may remember it, it’s called The Eye of the North – now has its own Goodreads page. How exciting! It also has its own page on Amazon.com, which is thrilling also. If you’d like to, you know, go and pre-order it or mark it as ‘to read’, I’d be… well. I’d be tongue-tied with gratitude, frankly. There’s a wonderful blurb all about it on both those fine websites, which should whet the most arid of appetites, and I’m being compared to the great Karen Foxlee, which is just… mind-boggling, and it all feels so insanely real now.

happy sun

Squee! Photo Credit: MsSaraKelly via Compfight cc

I can also reveal the date my book will (hopefully) be published – February 14th, 2017. Yes, that’s right. Valentine’s Day. All those years I sat fruitlessly by the front door of my parents’ house waiting for cards from admirers to drop through can suck it, frankly. Next Valentine’s Day, my book is going to be published.

In America and Canada. In hardcover! By Knopf/Random House Children’s Books.

(As you might have guessed from the italics, I’m rather excited).

No Valentine’s card (well, all right, excepting one from my husband and/or baby) can compare with that.

I will hopefully have a cover to share with you all very soon, and when I get the go-ahead from on high I’ll splash it all over the place… I mean, tastefully and unobtrusively draw attention to it. And after that, all I have to do is wait for the big day!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must be off. I have excited bouncing to do and a baby’s lunch to make. Ta-ta for now, but I hope there’ll be loads more exciting news very soon!

 

 

So, Don’t All Unfollow Me at Once…

…but I have a little bit of news.

It won’t have escaped anyone’s attention that I have been less assiduous about my blogging schedule over the past few months, and particularly so over the past number of weeks. This isn’t because I don’t want to blog anymore, or because I’ve run out of things to say, but because my life has taken an unexpected and amazing turn.

A few weeks ago, dear readers, my little family expanded by one. My husband and I were delighted, relieved and overwhelmed to welcome our tiny baby to our lives, a baby who has already transformed our home and taken over our hearts and who we love with everything we have. We kept knowledge of the baby’s arrival very quiet, not because we weren’t proud and delighted and excited, but because I was superstitious and nervous and almost scared to get too happy, in case this beautiful thing would be taken away as quickly and miraculously as it had arrived. For I had been told, often and by several doctors, that I would never conceive or carry a child; my body was inadequate, incapable and barren. I would need help, if I was to have any chance. It was vanishingly unlikely to happen naturally, or so we believed, and my husband and I had given up all hope. But we proved them all wrong.

Beyond all our dreams, we were blessed and we have continued to be blessed, and our beautiful child is currently in a carrycot, awaiting an evening feed.

Photo Credit: Estevam Romera via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Estevam Romera via Compfight cc

Anyone who has had a child will agree that when they arrive, your life is taken over completely by getting used to their routine, settling into a new way of life, and resetting your family’s body clock in order to accommodate a 24-hour schedule which sees you awake (and not minding at all) between 1.30 and 4.30 in the morning, napping during the afternoons, and keeping a watchful eye out for hunger cues and signs of nappy-related distress. This does mean that stuff like work, blogging, washing, getting dressed in matching clothes and generally functioning as an adult is a bit challenging, and so I’m here to tell you that things will be a little patchy around here for the next while. I’ll be checking in, and I’ll post when I can, and there will be the occasional book review, and I’ll keep you updated with bookish news (on that note, there’s nothing to share at the moment; the glacial wheels of publishing continue to turn, incrementally, and the slow processes which underpin the book trade are still taking place – not that you’d know), but there won’t be a regular blogging schedule.

I hope y’all will understand.

I won’t be sharing photos of my baby online, nor will I be sharing the name my husband and I chose, nor the gender of our child, for privacy reasons. I’m taking this opportunity to ask anyone who knows me in real life to keep any photographs they may have of our child, and any information about our baby (including names) private. However, anyone who wishes may email me if they’re curious and – if they’re willing to wait for an answer, and to be bound by these conditions! – I’ll privately share some information about our new arrival.

Life is changed, changed utterly, and it’s wonderful. It will take me some time to find a new balance, but I’m sure I’ll get there eventually. I hope you’ll stick around for the next phase of my journey, and that you’ll be here to share the ups and downs of my writing life as my publication date draws nearer, and that you’ll bear with me as things get a little fragmented and chaotic around here.

But that was ever the case in Clockwatching… towers – things have always been a little unpredictable in this neck of the woods. This is simply another turn in the road, the sharpest and most exciting one yet, and I can’t wait to see what’s coming.

So, it’s ‘farewell’ for now. It’s a sincere ‘thank you’ for your support and interest so far. It’s a ‘stay tuned!’ for future news, and it’s a huge ‘hello’ from the tiny bundle which has brought such joy (and sleeplessness) to my life, and my husband’s, over the past number of weeks.

And it’s this.

 

 

Interview with E.R. Murray, author of ‘The Book of Learning’!

What a blogging coup I have for you today: an interview with the fabulous E.R. Murray, author of the recently published The Book of Learning (Mercier Press)! A fabulous Middle Grade fantasy about Ebony Smart, a young girl who discovers a family secret – one with the power to change her life (or lives?) completely – and a mystery which risks destroying the existence of everyone and everything she loves, The Book of Learning is a fast-paced adventure against time itself. Armed only with her own savvy, and with her pet rat Winston along for the ride, Ebony must race to find the answers she seeks before her family (including herself) is wiped from existence…

Give it up for E.R. Murray, everyone!

Image: inkwellwriters.ie

Image: inkwellwriters.ie

SOH: First things first: Ebony discovers during the course of her adventure that there are people in her family with the power to reincarnate. Where did your interest in reincarnation come from? Do you find it a spooky idea, or an exciting one?

ERM: It might sound a bit morbid, but I’ve always been fascinated with death – the possibilities of what might happen, as well as the ways in which people deal with death. I’ve always been fascinated by different cultures too, and I love hearing about unusual beliefs, behaviours and rituals. One of my favourite reads as a child was National Geographic! I guess The Book of Learning is an amalgamation of these two interests – though it wasn’t my intention. I just wanted to write a good story.

Reincarnation is such an exciting concept – and so alien to the society we live in. I grew up in an atheist family in a multi-cultural neighbourhood, so I was surrounded by various religions – Islam, Sikhism, Christianity in various forms, and Judaism – from an early age. At school, we would always celebrate various festivals and beliefs throughout the year, so thinking from lots of different viewpoints was a natural part of everyday life.

I remember we did a project about reincarnation when I was about ten years old. I thought it was incredible how so many people around the world, from ancient times to modern, could believe in this concept – and in so many different ways. I don’t believe I will be reincarnated – but it might be fun if I was proved wrong!

(P.S. There’s a great book called Sum by David Eagleman that contains 40 tiny stories, each offering a different scenario for what might happen after we die – I highly recommend giving it a read!).

SOH: Did Ebony herself, or her mysterious powers, emerge first in your imagination when writing The Book of Learning, or was she always inextricably linked to her other-worldly ability?

ERM: The character of Ebony definitely came first. Her voice – and that of Icarus Bean – was very strong, and the fantasy adventure grew around them and with them, rather than me trying to make their characters fit a story I wanted to tell.

I’d just moved to Dublin when these characters began to form, and as I explored the city, they grew rather noisy in my head and I had to start writing about them. Dublin was the perfect backdrop, and the city started to infiltrate my story too; it became its own character, in a way.

After a while, I realised I wanted the story to be about reincarnation, and I had the term ‘Nine Lives’ in my head – but I expected that to be the title of the book. It was only when I was so far into the story that I realised I was writing a trilogy.

Image: ermurray.com

Image: ermurray.com

SOH: I love that Ebony has such a deep connection with her dearly beloved grandpa. Grandparents are such an important part of a child’s family, and can play a vital role in a child’s life both in reality and in books. Which fictional grandpa (or grandparent! Grandmas are important, too) is your favourite, besides Grandpa Smart?

ERM: My favourite of all time has to be Grandpa Joe from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I love the way he spins tales, and is full of fun and adventure. I also loved Mr Tom Oakley from Goodnight Mr Tom, who isn’t technically a grandpa, but certainly has all the qualities. I also think Oisin McGann’s Mad Grandad character is brilliant – though I didn’t get to read about him until I was an adult. My grandparents were all dead before I was born, and I would have loved to have granddads like these!

SOH: Pick five adjectives to describe your heroine, Ebony Smart.

ERM: Feisty, brave, determined, stubborn, trusting.

SOH: Who would you cast as your characters if there was to be a movie of The Book of Learning?

ERM: Ooh, this question is fun! OK, here goes…

Christina Ricci would have made an excellent Ebony Smart, but we’d need a time machine. Is that allowed? Icarus Bean would be played by Robert Downey Jnr. He’d do scary really well (and it’s nothing to do with the fact that I’d love to meet him. Honest). I’d pick Timothy Spall for Uncle Cornelius, and Meryl Streep for Aunt Ruby. Ezra Miller would perform a memorable Zach Stone and as for Winston, the rat? I’m not too hot on ratty thespians but I’m open to suggestions!

SOH: Give us an insight into your busy life, and how you fit your writing around your other commitments. Do you have any ‘rituals’, or do you simply write with the flow of your Muse, or none of the above?

ERM: I’m at my most alert and most creative in the morning – give me a 5am start over a 2am splurge any day! As I’m juggling lots of writing deadlines and freelance projects, I simply prioritise and give the best part of my day to whatever the most pressing project might be. Then I move onto the next most important project of the day, and another, until I have the day’s to-do list completed. I’m extremely organised, and I compartmentalise my projects into blocks of time, so I can be flexible – there are a lot more interruptions in the countryside than you might think. Escapee cows, for instance!

A typical day for me right now is 9-13 hours at the computer, six or seven days a week. That’s four hours writing or editing one book, then the rest freelancing and promotional stuff – blog posts, interviews, etc, – that I slot in as they come up. I do try and take one day off a week as I think downtime is unbelievably invaluable – it’s when you unravel plot issues and character inconsistencies. But this is proving more and more difficult at the moment as I’m launching one book, editing another, and writing another – all by Nov 1st – on top of my freelancing.

The only ritual I have, really, is to make sure I get a decent amount of exercise every day. I have a big dog that happily reminds me it’s time to do our usual 3-mile walk by sticking his wet nose on me when he decides I’ve been at the computer too long! Sometimes we do the walk twice. I also swim, go to the gym, and do yoga. It’s to balance all the sitting time and helps clear the mind.

I also take chunks of time off for travel when I can, and I have lots of working holidays when things pile up – the beauty of my writing and freelance work is that I just need my computer and internet access. I find that a change of scenery is important if I’m to keep up the momentum.

SOH: You have another book, a YA novel, which is being published next year (Caramel Hearts). How on earth do you manage to work on two novels at the same time, or do you find it easy to separate them out?

ERM: I tend to work on one book until I get it as far as I can, then I swap to the other. I work quickly, but very intensely. When you write, you need a break from the text so you can distance yourself and spot mistakes, plot holes, inconsistencies etc. Swapping from one project to another enables this in a shorter space of time, so I find it really productive.

It is possible that I may end up in the situation very soon where I need to work on both novels in the same day. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen, but if it does, I guess I’ll just get on with it and look back and chuckle about it later.

SOH: Do you have a preference for writing (or reading) MG over YA, or do you enjoy books for both age groups equally? What do you find so irresistible about books for younger readers and teens?

ERM: I love writing and reading both age groups equally. I read widely and also love literary fiction, travel writing, short stories, poetry, and horror, but I think it’s a particularly exciting time for middle grade and young adult books. Right now, there are so many brave and talented authors writing incredible books – think Jon Walter, Louise O’Neill, Patrick Ness, Melvin Burgess, Malorie Blackman, Neil Gaiman, Roddy Doyle, Jandy Nelson, Claire Furniss… the list is endless! I think back to what we had available as teens, and it was either classics or horror (or both). There wasn’t this wealth of literature that focused on our age group, our dreams, and our problems. And the best bit is – you don’t need to be of middle grade or young adult age to read it!

SOH: What are your top five favourite books? (They don’t *have* to be YA or MG ;))

ERM: Five? Not 500? This is a tough one! OK, I’m going to be controversial and mix this up a bit … (You know that’s a cruel question, right?)

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman – Perfection from start to finish (I know it’s a trilogy but, ssh, no one noticed).

Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte – the powerful emotion and incredible use of landscape, the mastery of different narrators – I adore this book. It’s the book I’ve read most in my lifetime.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman. If there’s a book I wish I’d written, this is it. Actually, anything by Neil Gaiman – from his kids’ books to his graphics novels to his short stories – is 100% incredible so I’m adding them all. I know that’s cheating (again) but I’ve decided it’s allowed.

My Name’s Not Friday by Jon Walter. Only published this year, this is an incredible tale with so much passion and emotion and heartache. You’ll never, ever, forget the protagonist Samuel!

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami – I love Murakami’s style, his sparse dialogue, his bizarre ideas. You have to completely suspend belief and every time you finish this book, it’s like you’re breathing again for the first time.

Let me know when I can add another 495 books to the list!

SOH: Clearly, you love to write, but do you find that any aspects of the writing process are painful or difficult? What was your favourite aspect of writing The Book of Learning, and your least favourite?

ERM: Waiting. Publishing involves so much waiting. From sending your work to an agent or publisher, to waiting to sign a contract, to waiting for editorial comments, to waiting to see an actual physical book, to waiting to read reviews and see what people think. I’m so impatient, so this has been the steepest learning curve of all!

When it comes to The Book of Learning, I guess my favourite bit of the process was that initial draft, when the story began to emerge – closely followed by the final draft, when I knew I’d nailed it. I always write my first drafts in a month; I call them draft zeros because I don’t edit a thing. Even if a character’s name changes, or the setting, I don’t go back and alter it – I immerse myself in the story completely and see what happens. It makes me feel like an explorer. If I try and plot or plan, it kills it for me. Of course, this means I have lots of drafts by the time I get to the finished product. And so, when you complete that final draft – it’s amazing. You draw a line under all that hard work.

As for my least favourite bit, that’s easy. The waiting.

The eyes have it! Elizabeth and her book, just hanging out. Photo: courtesy of E.R. Murray

The eyes have it! Elizabeth and her book, just hanging out.
Photo: courtesy of E.R. Murray

SOH: What advice would you give to any aspiring author – particularly a young author – wishing to follow in your footsteps?

ERM: Read widely and endlessly. Write, rewrite, and then rewrite some more. Go to writing workshops and festivals, soak up advice, and listen to other writers. Take on board any useful feedback you might get. Keep going and whatever you do – this is the most important bit – don’t give up.

SOH: If you were to be reincarnated yourself, how would you like to come back to life?

ERM: Can I come back as a writer again? I love it!

Thanks, Elizabeth, for a great interview and for writing such a stupendous book. The Book of Learning is available now through all good bookshops and/or direct from Mercier Press – check it out and let me know what you think! You can check out more about Elizabeth and her books on her website, and/or follow her on Twitter (she’s very nice!)