Q&A with author of Caramel Hearts, E.R. Murray

I was lucky enough to be contacted by a representative from Bloomsbury who asked if I would like to review Caramel Hearts by E.R. Murray and also interview her as well. Like all bloggers I jumped at the chance. I couldn't believe when the author actually contacted me herself and I dealt with her personally. It was a great honour to read her book and interview her. E.R Murray was very easy to communicate with and I hope there will be more opportunities to help her with future books.

What inspired you to write Caramel Hearts?

Timing had a part to play; I wrote Caramel Hearts when my first book, The Book of Learning – Nine Lives Trilogy 1 went on submission to publishers; that book is an urban fantasy set in Ireland and I wanted to write something different after spending two years with those characters. 

I also wanted to look at the effects of addiction on a family unit, and explore a protagonist from a poor background – lower classes are still under-represented in young adult fiction and its something I’m interested in because I know what it’s like to grow up in a society that has little or no expectation of youI also know what it’s like to grow up in a family affected by addiction; but the biographical element is in the emotions, rather than the characters or events – they’re completely fictional.

There was also a timely and unexpected invite from the National Library of Ireland; they spotted on twitter that I was going to write something involving a handwritten cookbook and they had some incredible 16th century examples to show me. The recipes had ingredients like ‘frosted plums picked by moonlight’ and I couldn’t stop thinking about them. They showed me how powerful the recipes in my own book could be – and it all came together from there. 

Liv is an amazing character and goes through some tough battles in the book. Is she based around someone you know?

What happens to me is this: characters start bugging me (usually at really inconvenient times, like when I’m working on another book) and eventually I have to listen. I find out their fears, their challenges, their desires and that’s my starting point. I live in their shoes and they take on a life of their own. I figure out what they need and how they’ll get it – this is how the story forms. Once I know these details, I flesh the characters out through experience and research and people watching, so my characters always contain an amalgam of other people’s traits, but they’re never actually based on a person

I love the recipes that you have included in the story and the way they are included. Are these your own personal recipes?

Yes, I created all the recipes. I researched recipes that would be localized and also available at the time Liv’s mum would have been baking, and then I read a variety of recipes and created my own versions. I baked them and – seeing as I don’t have much of a sweet tooth – I tested them on lots of willing victims. Then I altered the recipe until people felt it was just right. The recipes had to fit the story and the mood, as well as the emotions of the characters. It took a long time to get the recipes in their correct place, as some would fit in multiple spots; it was all about where they had the most impact, where they fused best with the story. 

Caramel Hearts has some very relevant issues that many teens face today. What was the hardest part about writing these issues into Caramel Hearts?

I guess the hardest bit was drawing on memories that I didn’t want to revisit. But I also found researching bullying today painful; the fact that it’s just as prevalent and just as vicious as when I was aschool, makes me really sad. There are so many anti-bullying campaigns, but it’s still such a huge issue. Where are we going wrong?

What authors inspire you now and when you were younger?

I find other authors a constant source of inspiration. Every time I read a book that I don’t want to put down, or come across a character that I can’t forget, or a landscape I don’t want to leave, something fires up inside me that makes me want to write more, better, with more passion. I don’t know where my love of reading came from – it wasn’t typical at home – but I can’t remember a time when books didn’t matter to me. 

I’ve always felt this way so it’s difficult to name particular authors but Stephen King, George Orwell and Charles Dickens really spoke to me as a teen. Other writers I’ve grown to really admire over the years include Cormac McCarthy, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Margaret Atwood, Neil GaimanHaruki Murakami, and David Mitchell – they’re all so versatile and brilliant.

When it comes to children’s and young adult authors, Phillip Pullman made a huge impression on me, as did JK Rowling and Melvin Burgess, and right now, I really admire the impact that Louise O’Neill’s books are having on Irish society. But the author that has really made me sit up and think, that has made me see how boundaries can be pushed and makes me aspire to improve, is Jon Walter. 

What is your favourite book?

That’s like asking me to choose a favourite puppy! Wuthering Heights is the book I’ve read the most times in my life – I love the multiple narrators, the use of setting, the passion and supernatural elements. American Gods by Neil Gaiman is the book I wish I’d written, and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami are two books I frequently revisit. My Name’s Not Friday by Jon Walter (published 2015) is one of the best children’s books ever written – if you haven’t already, go get a copyMy favourite fiction published so far in 2016 are Red Dirt by E. M. Reapy (that’s set in Australia), The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerny (winner of the Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction) and Nothing Tastes as Goodby Claire Hennessy.