How I Write – Joe Murphy

Joe Murphy was born in 1979 in Enniscorthy Co. Wexford. He excelled at writing during his school years, went on to study English Literature in UCD and completed a Masters at the same university in Shakespearean Drama. He has had three books published to critical acclaim, 1798: Tomorrow the Barrow We’ll Cross, Dead Dogs and I Am in Blood.

You stood out for your writing in school. Tell us about this?
To be honest, English was the only thing I was ever any good at. My parents taught me to read almost before I had even enrolled for my first day at primary and books were always a part of my life at home. Any flat surface had a book or magazine on it. I firmly believe that you can’t write unless you read, as widely and as deeply as possible. When I was in school, I sort of took that for granted. I thought everyone’s mother and father had read to them when they were little. I’m a teacher now and realise that that’s not the case. I was very lucky to have developed a love for the written word so early.

How has your writing developed from child to adulthood? Do the same things still interest you?
Writers develop all the time, I think. Youngsters with a flair for language tend to be very wordy and that continues on to the first few things you write. What happens then is you gradually become aware that it’s the quality of the verbs and nouns, not just your grasp of adjectives that deliver the punch. ‘The Road’ I think, is the perfect blend of poetry and prose. When I was younger I was seriously into fantasy, science fiction and horror. And, although I’d like to come across all mature and sophisticated, I really still am. I’d love to write a science fiction or fantasy novel. There’s something about the freedom it affords you and the fact that you can create something really epic without having people look at it through slitted eyes whilst asking how true-to-life it is or whether the research is up to scratch.

What is your writing routine? Do you write every day?
I’d like to say, yes. I don’t though. And to be honest, I am the most happy of distracted writers at present. I’m the very proud father to two amazing sons, Oisin (4) and Fiachra (18 months) and they take up a lot of my spare time. If someone said to me that my next book would be a bestseller and be turned into a Hollywood blockbuster, I’d still put it on the back burner rather than miss the two lads growing up. I think in a world where the things you love can be snatched away from you in a heartbeat, it’s important to decide what matters.

In saying that, I do most of my writing in the summer and when I write, it tends to be in an irritatingly inflexible nine-to-five way. I get up, have breakfast, write, take a break, write, have lunch, write and then finish up around five o’clock, hopefully with around three thousand words under my belt. I’m very lucky to have a job that affords me that kind of free time during the summer, though.

Speaking of teaching, how does it fit with the writing life?
I tend to plan stuff during the school year and write during the summer. What with my two boys and the ever-mounting snowdrift of corrections, the writing window is pretty narrow during term time.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Luckily, never. I prescribe to the Stephen King method of writing. Basically, it’s 99% discipline. As he says himself, “Just get the damn thing finished”. There’s time enough to go back and correct things when it’s a coherent whole. If you labour over every word and page you’ll never finish anything.

Tell us about the three books you have written?
The first book, 1798: Tomorrow the Barrow We’ll Cross, is a labour of love from the pen of a very naïve 28-year-old. I grew up in Enniscorthy and if you cut me, I bleed purple and gold. I haven’t lived in Wexford for years but I still see it as home. I grew up with stories of the 1798 Rising and I was shocked that nobody had written the big, sweeping novel that I thought it deserved. So, I had a go!

Dead Dogs is a murder-mystery set in post-boom, mid-depression, small town Ireland. It’s a sort of Scooby-Doo for adults. It garnered some excellent reviews. The Sunday Times saying I was “an impressive talent.” I was pretty chuffed with that. I think writers are fundamentally worried that what they write won’t be understood or appreciated, so it’s nice when somebody spots something worthwhile in what you do.

I Am in Blood is a very dark novel set in Victorian and present-day Dublin. It traces one young boy’s descent into psychosis and suggests that the roots of this psychosis go further back than you might think. Hilariously, one review stated, “I find it disturbing that a person’s mind can come up with such material.” I took that as a compliment!

You have a fascination with the macabre. Why is this? Is it difficult to write about?
Weirdly, in everyday life, I’m quite happy-go-lucky. I like my sports. I enjoy a drink with friends. One publisher memorably commented that I “looked more like a footballer than a writer”. So, I’m not sure why the macabre comes out in my writing.

I did die, once. Maybe that has something to do with it. I lost my spleen playing football and was bleeding to death for three days without knowing it. When I eventually collapsed an ambulance was rung. On the way to Wexford General, my heart stopped. People always ask me what it was like. The best way can I can describe it is how when you wake up you have no recollection of the instant at which you fell asleep. One minute you’re there, next you’re waking up and there’s a paramedic leaning over you. The moment that you slipped away doesn’t even register.

I think, perhaps, way back in mind, somewhere that moment of darkness has nicked something. It bleeds out when I write. Even when I’m trying not to, there’s a gothic tinge to everything I do. It helps that I studied gothic fiction in university so the tropes and techniques are there to work with.

How did you come to have your first book published?
Perseverance. I finished it and ignored every rejection letter until an editor at Liberties read it and loved the baroque style and the authentic dialogue.

What projects are you working on at the moment?
At the moment, I’m working on two things simultaneously. The first is a sort of Science fiction/fantasy thing. I’m doing it more for my own entertainment as anything. I’ve always wanted to see if I could write a fantasy/sci-fi book. It’s really a vanity project. The second has a bit more substance. It’s a historical murder mystery. Involving what most people might think of as a werewolf. There’s the ol’ gothic coming through again.

What has been your writing highlight in your life so far?
Seeing 1798 in print. Your first book is always something you struggle to get out there. The trouble is, once you’ve done it, you want to be successful at it.

What do you like to read?
Anything and everything. I’m notorious among friends and family that my first reaction when entering a room with a book left in eyeshot, is to pick it up and start reading. Often while ignoring everyone around me. It’s completely rude and an awful habit that refuses to be broken. My favourite authors in no particular order are; Cormac McCarthy, Mervyn Peake, JRR Tolkien, Stephen King, David Peace and Terry Pratchett.

Where do you write?
At home in what is laughingly referred to as ‘The Study’. It’s a small room at the top of the stairs piled high with the flotsam that fetches up through family living. My desk and computer are wedged between an old bean bag, quietly shedding its stuffing, and a pile of ancient vinyl records whose sleeves are yellowing in the light coming through the velux. I like it up there. Its jumble sort of mirrors my mind.

joe murphy 1

You can view Joe Murphy’s author page which has links to purchasing his latest work I am in Blood, published by the O’Brien Press

i am in blood

LadyNicci comment: I first heard Joe being interviewed by Sean Moncrieff on Newstalk and I was struck by how normal and lovely he sounded and yet his writing, as he described it, is very dark. Where does it come from, this touch of the macabre? While Joe describes his near death experience as a possible source, I have to admit to finding really shocking stuff flowing in my own work. I don’t, in general, think about these things, but when I write, bad things happen. Which is maybe why writing is such a release; a form of therapy, wrapping up negative emotions? I loved this interview with Joe – he puts family first, before writing. He squishes himself in among the beanbags and boxes and gets the work done. And he makes it work around his life, balancing his job, with his talent and craft. A true, modern writer.

H0w I write

How I write is a blog post series published on Sundays on The posts aim to give a voice to writers, published, unpublished and everywhere in between, to help and encourage other writers. If you would like to take part email with How I Write in the subject line.

December Girl is now available on Audio. Visit Amazon or Audible or click on the cover below to download.

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