Born in England but settling happily on a farm in Schull, young adult writer E.R. MURRAY talks working with children in Cambodia and gathering seaweed on THE COASTS OF WEST CORK …
English-born Elizabeth Rose Murray spent many years exploring the world before falling for Ireland’s charms. A social media specialist by trade, it was the act of building a life here that inspired her to write.
The Book of Learning, published last year, is the first instalment of her magical Nine Lives Trilogy and has already gained a sea of loyal followers. It has been chosen as the Dublin UNESCO Citywide Read for children, events of which will take place from this January to March. Hot on its heels is Elizabeth’s first YA novel Caramel Hearts, a tender coming of age story, temptingly dotted with real cake recipes.
On rural life in Schull
My home is my most favourite I’ve ever lived in; it’s a mobile home on my husband’s family farm. We have electricity and a wood burning stove, terrible phone reception but excellent internet, with a garden and lots of fields for growing vegetables. We grow everything for our own consumption; potatoes, beetroot, carrots, parsnips, lettuce, beans, cabbages, kale, onions, tomatoes, chillies, etc. There is no road through the farm so it’s extremely quiet, even during Regatta Week in the height of summer when the village is filled with tourists. At the end of our lane, there is a pier. Our boat is pulled up during the winter, but from spring through to autumn, we fish for mackerel and pollock in our punt, and we forage for winkles, clams and seaweed year round.
The local pub, Hackett’s, is my favourite haunt. It’s friendly, has lots of live music and an eclectic crowd. They do great lunches and you can take your dog – what more do you need? I also have a café that I love using as an office when I need a change of scenery – a lovely little place on the corner of Main Street called Newman’s West. No one notices you on table 10 upstairs, so you get left alone to work. The staff are lovely, they serve wonderful loose leaf Earl Grey, and the sandwiches are divine.
On her little home office
My work space is small but it’s my sanctuary. My husband and I turned a single room in our mobile home into an office so I could write in peace. It’s painted sky blue to combat the frequently dreary days, and is always immaculately tidy because I can’t work in chaos. I have an ideas board on the wall that I made myself, where I stash postcards, newspaper clippings, maps and scribbled ideas for later use. I always have a variety of scented candles, so I can choose a scent to suit my mood – Black Cherry, Cinnamon or Wild Fig are my favourites. I also have original art on my walls, paintings from friends mainly.
On her most cherished travel experience
Working with children at the Singing Kites school in Tanop, Cambodia, last year really struck a chord. Free thinking and creativity aren’t recognised or encouraged over there, and poverty means that learning languages, particularly English, is the main priority as it opens up work opportunities. I worked across the school with every age group, but focused on creative writing with groups of teenagers for the whole month. It was a real challenge for them, but in the end we came up with two group poems.
I was also privileged to visit some of the children’s home and meet their families, many of whom were Khmer Rouge survivors. It made me feel both humble and grateful. If you go to Cambodia tomorrow, get out into the countryside to Tanop, and volunteer at Singing Kites. Take a bike ride with the girls through the fields, join in with the local traditional musicians, drink a fresh coconut and spend a day with the groundsmen touring the local temples.
On the place of her birth
I have lived away from Southbank in Middlesbrough for longer than I lived there, and I hardly ever visit. I didn’t have a happy childhood there and I had to leave and cut ties to deal with this in my own way, but sometimes I wonder if I did too good a job. The place has plenty to offer, but it took me a long time to learn that it was my personal family circumstances and not the place itself that caused such bad memories. But on the occasions I have returned, I have a couple of friends I can’t wait to see and I always try to visit the Transporter Bridge. It’s an iconic symbol of the area and beautifully constructed.
Ireland is the first place that I’ve ever called home, and I’ve moved around plenty – I’d been living in Andalucia, Spain, for five years before I was head hunted for a job in Dublin. I fell in love with Ireland as soon as I arrived. I find people here kind, funny, and gentle, and I also love the strong sense of tradition that prevails. It was moving to Ireland that made me realise I could actually be an author – there is such a supportive and accessible writing community here, it’s incredible. I also met my husband who is an absolute angel and I’ve never been so happy. I guess the way I respond to my environment is why I feel that setting is so important to any story.
The Book of Learning (€9.99, Mercier Press) is available nationwide. Caramel Hearts (€11.99, Alma books) is due for release this March.
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