Archives for November 2017

November 27, 2017 - Comments Off on Travelling and Writing: It’s All About Story – a guest post by author E. R. Murray

Travelling and Writing: It’s All About Story – a guest post by author E. R. Murray

Today we’re delighted to present this fascinating piece on finding creative inspiration through travel by E. R. Murray, author of the Nine Lives trilogy. Read on for a riveting writerly treat …


Alongside reading and writing books, travel is one of the most important things in my life. Each activity is an inspiration and a compulsion that works seamlessly side by side. I see them as inextricably linked, for they’re all about the stories we seek, the stories we gather and the stories we tell.

As a child, I read voraciously: poetry, myths and legends, novels, real-life tales, encyclopedias, fairy tales, dictionaries, and even the back of cornflake boxes. I used to devour National Geographic magazines from cover to cover, dreaming of where I could go and what I could experience. And then I used to jumble them up with the everyday to make my own adventures. Stories were my world.

Even now, I find it impossible to live without stories. The books I read, the tales I write, the journeys I take, the thoughts that tangle up in my brain: they entwine into a narrative that is, essentially, my life. Without any of these elements, I would feel unable to breathe. Suffocating in the minutiae of the everyday. Don’t get me wrong; I have chosen to live in a beautiful part of the world (West Cork, Ireland) and I adore it. But there’s a part of my personality that always feels restless.

This restlessness is what compels me to travel. Some people love routine; it helps them find their stride and provides them with comfort. For me, routine feels like being stuck in a bog, desperate to move but unable. It’s uncomfortable and frustrating so I try to avoid routine at all costs. Isn’t it wonderful that we’re all so different? That’s what makes our lives, our stories, so vivid.

What I desire above all else is change, surprise and challenge. I love meeting new people, learning about different cultures, seeing fresh sights and exploding my senses with different tastes, smells, sounds. It makes me feel alive and gives me energy. It settles my over-active imagination and provides a sense of calm. And, as a result, I’ve crossed off some of those childhood daydreams …

I’ve eaten deep-fried beetles and tarantula legs in Cambodia, snails and frogs in France. I ran with bulls in Andalucia and skydived above its scorched countryside. I swam with sharks in Australia and stingrays in the Bahamas. I’ve hiked to incredible sky caves in Thailand and along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in Iceland. I’ve helped with rescued elephants and I’ve visited incredible museums and galleries around the world, seeking out the bizarre, magnificent and beautiful. And everywhere, every time, I breathe deeply, making records and notes: hunting and gathering words, details, and ideas.

But even at home, I travel every day – and I don’t even drive! In the wilds of West Cork, I pull on my walking boots and hike the local countryside, looking for new boreens and pathways to explore. I find the physical act of movement as important as the exploration of new things. Motion stirs the body and brain and blows away cobwebs, allowing for solutions and creative sparks. So if, like me, you hate routine, walking is a good way to make every day fresh.I often take chunks of time away from home to travel and concentrate intensely on my writing. This year, I spent month-long writing residencies in Iceland and Australia. On both occasions, rather than travel around the country, I immersed myself in the local area and explored the landscape on foot, just like I would at home. In Australia, I watched bowerbirds try to impress a mate with intricate decorations and in Iceland, I saw the Northern Lights dancing across the sky. Half of my day was spent hiking and observing, and the rest involved reading, writing, thinking up fresh ideas and unravelling problems while creating new ones.

At home or abroad, I’m foraging. Redefining the way I work, the way I write, the things I read and the things I write about. The stories I collect may not end up in a book, especially not in a true to life way, but elements can be splintered and moulded and included; and often, I have no idea this is going to happen. For instance …

  • The pocket watch owned by my character Uncle Cornelius (Nine Lives Trilogy) is an actual pocket watch I bought in Krakow, Poland – it’s brass, engraved and broken. I also based the description of his face on a random man who fell asleep in front of me on a train.
  • A seventeenth-century handwritten recipe book that I was shown in the National Library of Ireland sparked the cookbook idea in Caramel Hearts. The bullying scene is something I witnessed when I was a teenager.
  • The basking shark, Cedric, (Nine Lives Trilogy) is based on a shark that visited us every day for a fortnight when we were fishing in our little punt off the coast of West Cork (the shark was bigger than the boat). The submarine bit came from a visit to the Maritime Museum in Sydney.
  • An award-winning short story I wrote, The Books, They Cry, was based on a chat with a friend about her experience of the Bosnian War, followed by watching lots of documentaries and reading letters written by soldiers.

Not once did I know that any of these things would be relevant to a story. I didn’t set out to find any answers – I simply set out to explore and enjoy, and this, in turn, infused my work. So by living the life that makes sense to me, I grew. And so did my stories.

So if are interested by the fresh and unexplored, new cultures and experiences, then immerse yourself in that life. Read widely and ferociously, seek out art and myths, try new things, even if they make you feel a bit uncomfortable; soak up all there is around you and beyond and then let your imagination wander on the page, building your own worlds and tales through the stories only you can tell.


About E. R. Murray

E.R. Murray lives in West Cork, Ireland, where she fishes, grows her own vegetables and lives for adventures and words. Elizabeth is an award-winning writer of novels for children and young adults. She also has short fiction and poetry published in literary journals across Ireland, the UK and Australia, as well as numerous shortlists in fiction competitions including Aesthetica Creative Works, Francis McManus and Penguin/Irish Times. Her debut novel, The Book of Learning – Nine Lives Trilogy 1 was the 2016 Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read for Children, while The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 was shortlisted for the 2016 Irish Book awards. She has also performed in the live writing installation Train: Ciudades Parallelas at Cork Midsummer festival and co-created/performed Things That Go Bump in the Night, an interactive storytelling event. Her residencies include Varuna (Australia), Gullkistan (Iceland) and la Muse (France).


Twitter: @ERMurray 

Facebook: ERMurrayAuthor




November 13, 2017 - Comments Off on Telling Tales: exceptional re-imaginings to relish as winter sets in

Telling Tales: exceptional re-imaginings to relish as winter sets in

From the deep, dark woods of the Brothers Grimm, to the shard-sharp magic of Norse myth, one of the defining characteristics of traditional tales, legends and myths is how they lend themselves so marvellously to re-workings by every generation of writers. They are timeless, and also timely, for there’s no better reading companion to curl up with on a wintry evening than an atmospheric, illustrated re-telling, so here are some of our favourites …


Blackberry Blue by Jamila Gavin

Steeped in the enchanting landscape and language of European fairy tales, these six stories, stunningly illustrated by Richard Collingridge, make for an utterly enthralling, inclusive reading experience. In her preface, author Jamila Gavin explains that she sought to expand the scope of European folklore: ‘I wanted to create stories which extended the European image, so that more diverse children could look at the heroes and heroines and say, “That could be me”’, and so Jamila’s fabulous heroes and heroines have skin ‘as black as midnight’, or the colour of ‘polished bronze’. Among the cast of characters is Blackberry Blue, who emerges from brambles in the Cinderella-esque title story, and then there’s Abu, who battles to save his sister from the clutches of a Pied Piper type rogue in The Purple Lady. Magnificently menacing, and mesmerisingly magical, these tales are a triumph.


Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland, illustrated by Jeffrey Alan Love

In his foreword to this soon-to-be-classic collection of stories based on the Scandinavian myth cycle, Carnegie Medal-winning author Kevin Crossley-Holland explains that ‘Norse myths are brilliant, fast-moving, ice-bright stories’, and the retellings within this gorgeously produced tome more than meet that description. There are action-packed adventures featuring warring gods and goddesses, and an abundance of ancient magic, all framed by timeless truths (‘Fair words often conceal weaselly thinking’; ‘Be generous, be spirited, and you’ll lead a happy life’). And the frost-crisp language is given an additional dimension by Jeffrey Alan Love’s sublime illustrations.


The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell

What an inspired combination of author, illustrator and story, and no surprise that this deliciously dark interweaving of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty was awarded the 2016 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal. Brimming with wit and wonder, this spellbinding story sees a young queen set out to rescue an enchanted princess from the depths of the Sleeping Kingdom. After replacing her fine robes with a suit of chainmail, the queen ventures into a mountain with her ‘tough and hardy’ dwarf companions, making unexpected discoveries along the way. This cleverly quirky quest has much to satisfy readers of every age.


Tinder by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts

Always thought-provoking, and often brutal, this brilliant book about love, loss and the horrors of war was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s The Tinderbox (remember those dogs with the monstrously massive eyes … ?). After defying Death, war-traumatised solider Otto is drawn down a dark path of danger, a path along which he meets all manner of variously mysterious and terrifying beings, from the pure-hearted Safire, to the petrifying Lady of the Nail, and then there’s the wolves … This powerful allegory for older readers is the perfect partnership of words and illustration, and makes for an exquisitely immersive experience.