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Interview with ER Murray

Tell me a bit about your creative writing practice?

I write across genres and age groups, and I always work on multiple projects at once. Mostly, people know my Nine Lives Trilogy for children – The Book of Learning, The Book of Shadows, and The Book of Revenge - or my YA novel, Caramel Hearts, but I also have many essays, poems and short stories published in journals around the world. I know people are told to find their genre, but I write like I read, and I read voraciously and widely. Novels require a commitment of at least one or two years, and the submission process is really slow, so I like producing shorter work and sending it out into the world. This approach keeps me motivated and thankfully (fingers crossed) I’ve never experienced writer’s block.

I don’t have any set structure as I hate routine, but I think of times in chunks and try to get as much writing done as I can each week. But as I freelance full time (reader reports, mentoring, creative writing workshops, etc), it’s often in snatches, rather than whole days. For me, residencies are a key part of my practice; I like to go somewhere for anywhere between a week and a month to concentrate solely on writing. It’s the only time I feel like I can put my out of office on and fully immerse myself in my creative work.

What inspired you to run this course?

There were two factors really; 1) mine and Tawnya’s teaching styles match really well and 2) the childhood voice is often underestimated and it’s something I’m passionate about. It’s something that can impact all genres, not just writing for young people, and the childhood voice can have so much impact. There’s more than just an omniscient/retrospective voice possible and I love helping people to see more possibilities and bring more edge and experimentation to their work.

What is your experience writing the "childhood voice"?

I think it’s easier to describe what it is not: it’s not forcing a moral or using baby speak. It’s not patronising young people or looking back with a judgemental adult-tinted lens. And it’s not all rosy cheeks and surprise birthday parties. The childhood voice is unique and deeply personal, and can often be very dark.

Can you describe yourself as an educator?

My workshops are oriented around writing rather than feedback – in workshops, we’re playing with ideas and first drafts and it’s not our best work. Feedback is for later stages when work is more developed, and that’s what mentoring and reader reports are for. In my workshops, I want people to think more widely and openly, to expect more of themselves and their work – I provide various tools and a different lens or two, and it’s up to the writer to shape this to something meaningful for them. So I guess I see myself more as a facilitator than an educator?

In terms of style, I’m thorough but fair - and I believe it’s really important to highlight the positives and strong points, as well as what needs improving. I have skin like a rhino, but I’ve worked with editors that only point out negatives and it’s disarming and difficult to navigate - you need to know what’s working, what you are aspiring to create more of.

If you could offer one piece of advice to writers, what would it be?

Don’t give up. Whatever your aim, the only 100% certain way of not achieving it is to stop writing.

What are you currently reading?

I always have several books on the go, so at the minute I’m reading:

· Heroes by Stephen Fry (research purposes - content)

· The Legend of Valentine Sorrow by Caroline Busher (it’s the latest children’s book by a friend and it’s my relaxation read)

· The Grassling by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett (research purposes - style)

· Why the Moon Travels by Oein DeBhairduin (reread because it’s delicious)

Sign up here for ER Murrays workshop on Wednesday

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