Today I am pleased to welcome author, E.R. Murray onto the blog. E.R. Murray is about to publish her second book, Caramel Hearts, with Alma Books. She has come on the blog today to tell us seven secrets about her books and her writing.
- My first book, The Book of Learning came about because I saw a ghost – but I don’t actually believe in ghosts! I didn’t feel like ‘ghost’ was the right word for what I’d seen – nor phantom, ghoul, or spirit. I couldn’t find any words that suited. It wasn’t a scary encounter, but it was really intriguing, especially as it was completely unexpected. It made me think about how much language can constrain us and our thoughts/beliefs, and I began to look into what people around the world, in times ancient and modern, thought might happen to us after we die. Eventually, it led to my own version of reincarnation and past lives seeking out communication with future selves – not that that’s what I believe I saw, but the ghost is where the search for the idea began. (I still don’t know what to call or how to explain the experience that I had!)
- My second book, Caramel Hearts is structured around real cake recipes, but I don’t even like most cakes! Apart from ginger and carrot, I’d rather have a bowl of raw chillies (my favourite food). But I do love baking and watching people’s reactions when they smell, see and taste a fresh, home-baked cake. I love giving away things I’ve baked! Have you ever noticed how people react to homemade cake or bread? It’s a physical, mental and emotional reaction – and it’s always positive. I knew this was the perfect way for my main character, Liv Bloom, to explore her feelings and the recipes almost became a character themselves.
- In the Book of Learning, there is a boat scene where the main character, Ebony Smart, gets caught in a storm at sea. This is based on true events, but it’s exaggerated for effect, of course! The trip I took was to Cape Clear in my husband’s punt – a small, Irish boat with a motor. It was a beautiful clear day and we hiked around the island, but as we left, the fog came down and we couldn’t see more than a metre or so in front of us. We had no choice but to go on. At one point, the engine cut out and the boat was flung a few metres off course by a wave; the engine started up again and my husband knew the seas really well and got us back on course. I was really scared but in reality we weren’t far from home and we were quite safe – and the emotions I went through meant I could write a really convincing boat disaster! I think it’s one of my favourite scenes.
- I love dual settings in books and both Caramel Hearts and The Book of Learning are set in two places - and both contain a mixture of real and fictional places. Caramel Hearts is set in a fictional town in the North-East of England, and also in Greenwich, London, while The Book of Learning is set in Dublin and a fictional village in West Cork, Ireland. In both instances, the two settings contrast each other. This is no accident. I’m intrigued by how people act and react in different environments and really do believe that physical journeys help with emotional journeys – and so I wanted to bring this element out in my stories.
- There is an autobiographical element to Caramel Hearts because I grew up in a family affected by alcoholism – but the characters or situations in this book aren’t based on anyone real. The aim of the book wasn’t to tell my story, but to look at the impact of addiction on a family unit. In this book the addiction is alcohol, but I wanted the story to resonate with anyone dealing with any form of addiction. This meant that I had to draw on some unpleasant memories and explore the emotions involved to make sure my characters’ actions and reactions were realistic. At times, it was really difficult to write.
- I love animals and nature, and ever since reading Kestrel for a Knave – the only book that ever made me cry – I’ve been obsessed with human/animal friendships in books. That’s where I got the inspiration for Winston, Ebony’s best friend, in The Book of Learning. And seeing as I think conservation is so important, I couldn’t resist adding a prehistoric wildcat or two.
- Music is another key feature in Caramel Hearts, while I spend most of my life in silence! I can’t listen to songs with lyrics because I accidentally write them down and any kind of crescendo pulls me out of my concentration. In my book, Liv Bloom has taken over her mum’s vinyl collection while she’s away in recovery, and has developed a love for Johnny Cash. I chose Johnny Cash (or rather, Liv did!) because Liv is a bit of a loner and although she makes mistakes and bad decisions, she’s also strong enough to like and do her own thing when it counts.
Summary for Caramel Hearts
Liv Bloom’s life is even more complicated than that of your average fourteen-year-old: her father walked out on the family when she was young, her mother is in a recovery centre for alcoholics, and her older sister is struggling to step into Mum’s shoes. The only person she can turn to is her best friend Sarah, who gets out of scrapes at school and is a constant source of advice and companionship. One day Liv discovers a book of recipes written in her mum’s handwriting, which sets her off on a journey towards self-discovery and reconciliation – but a theft, a love rivalry and a school bully are just some of the many obstacles on the way.
Structured around real cake recipes, Caramel Hearts is a coming-of-age novel about love, disappointment and hope, and discovering the true value of friends and family, no matter how dysfunctional they are.
About E.R. Murray
E.R. Murray writes novels for children and young adults as well as short fiction. Caramel Hearts (Alma Books) is her first book for young adults. Her middle grade debut The Book of Learning – Nine Lives Trilogy 1 (Mercier Press) was chosen as the 2016 Dublin UNESCO City of Literature Citywide Read for Children, and The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 will be published in September 2016. Elizabeth lives in West Cork, where she fishes, grows her own vegetables and enjoys plenty of adventures with her dog, Franklyn.
You can find out more about Elizabeth on her website, or chat to her on twitter @ERMurray, facebook or instagram.