Author finds a sense of place and love in West Cork

Posted on: 8th February, 2016

Category: Arts & Entertainment

Contributor: Mary O'Brien

According to Children’s Books Ireland, ER Murray has written a “…a gripping page turner, ‘The Book of Learning’ will keep readers enthralled and guessing until the final page when some answers are given – and as it is part of a trilogy, the pace and plot will leave them wanting more.”

The first in the Nine Lives Trilogy, The Book of Learning is a story of mystery and adventure set between West Cork and Dublin, which will appeal to girls and boys of nine years and older. It is the chosen book for the 2016 Citywide Reading for Children campaign, which aims to encourage children to read for pleasure.

Author Elizabeth (ER) Murray lives just outside the village of Schull in West Cork. Her second book ‘Caramel Hearts’ is due for publication in March, and the second in the Nine Lives Trilogy – ‘The Book of Shadows’ is currently being edited.

“Signing two book deals at the same time was a dream come true,” she tells Mary O’Brien “but it has meant double the pressure and deadlines for a first time writer. As a result, 2015 was a really busy year, but I’ve risen to the challenge and learned a lot, and I can’t wait to enjoy everything 2016 brings.”

Originally from Middlesbrough in the UK, Elizabeth moved to Schull in 2010. It’s the longest this lover of adventures has ever stayed in any one place, possibly due to the fact that, as well as falling for the West Cork landscape, Elizabeth fell for a local man.

“When I was working in Dublin, I wanted to get away somewhere to write so I picked somewhere on the bus route, by the sea, and ended up in Schull…and I married a Schull man! I knew within two minutes of getting off the bus that I wanted to move here.”

bookoflearning“To me West Cork is more of a feeling than a place,” says Elizabeth. The landscape blows me away every single day. The people are really welcoming and fun; it’s such a mixture of locals and blow-ins for a small village, with so many accents, so many creatives and so many different walks of life. People aren’t driven by time or deadlines. I feel very grounded here.”

The Book of Learning features many well-known Dublin landmarks such as the National Library, Glasnevin Cemetery, The Botanic Gardens, The Natural History Museum and St. Stephen’s Green. Elizabeth created a place in the book called Oddley Cove to represent West Cork. “The landscape in the book is based on West Cork,” explains Elizabeth. “I mentioned Gunpoint and I have an island in it called Gallow’s island, which is a mixture of Long island and Cape Clear. I just took the feel of the place — there is a woods in the book based on the one at Lough Ine. There are lots of little elements from all over West Cork and because odd things are happening there, I called it Oddley Cove.”

Coming from a disadvantaged background, Elizabeth worked her way through University, acquiring a Degree in Latin and Classical History and a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) qualifying her as a Primary and Special Needs teacher. “I had a teacher in Primary School who was amazing, very strict but he always encouraged me to go to college and get an education and it stuck with me even though I was only seven,” she says. “I’ve always been a very driven and determined person.”

After teaching for six years, Elizabeth decided to travel, moving to Spain before coming to Ireland.

“I hate routine so I’ve always moved around,” she explains. “Schull is the longest I’ve lived anywhere.”

“I’d written bits and pieces as a child but I really started to write after taking an Inkwell writers course in Dublin with Vanessa O’Loughlin,” says Elizabeth.

“I wanted to write a memoir about my father, who I met for the first time when I was 13. He died a couple of years later. My father was Romany gypsy but ran away from the gypsy culture and built an empire of arcades in the 60 and 70s so he was quite well off. He sold it all, went to live in a mobile home and grew his own vegetables. I was intrigued. During the time I met him, he bought land in the Gambia, converted to Islam and married a Gambian woman. He was a very creative man and lived a completely different lifestyle from the one I grew up in – one of five children in a single parent family living in a poor Council Estate.

“I wanted to write about him but hit a complete blank. So I toyed around with another idea. At the time I lived in a flat in Dublin near the National Concert Hall and I saw a ghost, which I didn’t believe in…but I kept seeing this figure around the flat. It got me thinking about what is a ghost and where do these things come from and initiated this idea about the nine lives. I had the character names and the characters started forming but I didn’t have an idea until it just kind of hit me. The apartment in the book is based on the one I lived in in Dublin. It’s almost like you can hear stories whispering from the cobbles sometimes in Dublin.”

Elizabeth’s stories are always character-led. “I have tried to plot and plan a story but it just kills it, makes it boring. I love prologues so I usually have a prologue in my head and I always know the end but I don’t necessarily know anything else. I think the story might be going one way but then the characters lead me another way.”

“The Book of Learning has some big questions in it about death and reincarnation. It’s a story about a girl who’s trying to find her place in the world like so many of us,” says Elizabeth.

“The Grandpa dies on the first page, which is loosely based on my lack of relationship with my father, based on that sense of absence and connection. The Ebony Smart character is based around what I’d have liked my childhood to be like. She has lots of animals and grows up in West Cork.”

“I love a good a good story,” says Elizabeth “but I think unless you have a really strong setting and really believable characters it doesn’t work. My favourite book of all time is Wuthering Heights. I must have read it about 18 times.”

Elizabeth’s next book ‘Caramel Hearts’ is set in the North East of England and is a story about a 14-year-old girl with an alcoholic mum who runs away.

“I’ve always had a big imagination,” says Elizabeth animatedly “As a kid I’d go to bed and tell myself a story and pick it up again the next day. I’ve always read voraciously. I grew up in a really poor council estate but everyone was joined the swimming pool and the library.

Writing or editing books or doing events never feels like work to Elizabeth. “I particularly love meeting the readers and seeing people get excited about reading. Most writers have a job as well, as you have to pay the bills and put food on the table, and sometimes it can be difficult to start freelance work after writing or editing for several hours. But writing books is what I love and it’s something I need to do, so I’ll never stop.”

The Book of Learning by ER Murray is available in local bookshops.


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