Swords author Lorraine Murphy is proof positive that persistence pays off when it comes to getting your work published.
The talented writer, who grew up in Rivervalley, has travelled the well-worn path of many first-time novelists by dealing with letters of rejection from publishers and literary agents.
Not that it fazed her or dented her ambition – Lorraine (49) is about to make a name for herself in the psychological fiction genre as her debut novel, ‘Into the Woods’, is published later this month.
Advance reader copies of the book have already garnered rave reviews.
“One person said they read it in 24 hours, which is the ultimate compliment for a writer,” Lorraine said. “I felt like that when I read ‘Unraveling Oliver’ by Liz Nugent – it just blew me away.
“That’s when I knew I needed to write stuff like that; something people will stay with from dawn to dusk.”
Without giving too much of the plot away, ‘Into the Woods’ is the shocking story of a desperate mother’s search for her eight-year-old daughter, Scarlett, who goes missing. Because the child is deaf, Karen is in a desperate race against time to find her before the batteries in her cochlear implants run out – leaving her even more vulnerable and isolated.
When Scarlett disappears from her home in rural Ireland, her mother becomes completely focussed on finding her little girl. As the search intensifies, shocking secrets are revealed and Karen realises she may have to look for answers closer to home.
Karen will do anything for her daughter – even if it means staying in a dysfunctional marriage that is long past broken.
When the reason for Scarlett’s disappearance finally becomes clear, Karen finds she is living her own worst nightmare, with her daughter in deadly danger and time running out.
As the mother of a deaf child, Lorraine drew much of the inspiration for the book from her own life, as well as the experiences of other parents with special needs children.
“In my book, the child is quite gifted – I wanted to make sure the story would be the absolute opposite to being ableist,” Lorraine said.
“A lot of it came from talking to people who have children with additional needs and noticing trends. Something quite common is that the child always has to come first, but this can cause dangerous, toxic situations that aren’t good for anybody involved.
“In this case, the mother character has stayed in an unhappy marriage for the sake of a child because she thinks it’s the right thing to do. That’s a theme that comes up again and again within the realm of parents of special needs children.”
Lorraine explained that batteries in cochlear implants, depending on their usage, can last anything between 10 and 17 hours.
“It got me thinking: as the mother of a deaf child, what would I do if she went missing? How would I cope? If the batteries die, you could be calling them from the next room and they wouldn’t hear you. I’m coming from the point of view of my own experiences.”
Before turning her hand to writing, Lorraine had a varied mix of careers and has worked as a software engineer, adult educator, slimming club leader and disability campaigner. She is the co-founder of Our New Ears, an advocacy group for parents and guardians of children who are deaf or hard of hearing.
She admits all of her previous jobs have manifested themselves as ideas for various book projects.
“My first book was called ‘Hangry’, which was about a murder in a slimming club – a light comedy with dark undertones,” she said.
Lorraine, a married mother of three children, found the experience of writing during lockdown – with all the family stuck at home – “quite challenging”.
“You feel very guilty sitting on your laptop when people in the house need you,” she said.
After “banging on doors” for a while, Lorraine attended two free webinars run by the Irish Writers’ Centre, hosted by successful novelists Liz Nugent and Jo Spain.
“I got some really interesting tips: one was to look at books you really like and find out who’s representing the authors before approaching them. I sent a sample of ‘Hangry’ to literary agent Marianne Gunne O’Connor and got a really positive letter back.
“While they said it wasn’t what they were looking for at the time, they liked what I had done – it was so encouraging that it was nearly as good as an acceptance letter.”
Through another writing class, Lorraine was advised to enter her work into a competition.
“This means somebody has to read it – it’s a really good way of getting your stuff out there if you believe you have something.”
After taking part in a writers’ room, Lorraine came into contact with Brian Lynch from Inkubator Books – a digital-first publisher specialising in psychological thrillers. Although ‘Hangry’ wasn’t the right fit for them, they asked Lorraine to submit other ideas.
“I’m always writing something,” she said. “At the time I was around 60pc through a psychological fiction story about a woman who takes her own life and leaves a list of five names, so I pitched that as one idea. In the end, they went with the story that is now my first book.”
When she submitted her first draft of ‘Into the Woods’, Lorraine was somewhat taken aback by the initial reaction from her publishers.
“They felt I hadn’t fully maximised the potential of the story,” she recalled. “Nobody likes negative feedback – it’s like somebody telling you your baby is ugly. That said, I couldn’t disagree with a single word they said and I went back and rewrote the whole thing from scratch. Thankfully, they loved the second draft – this was an incredible opportunity and there was no way I was going to let it go. The story editor was really supportive and called me to explain all the feedback.
“I’m in a writers’ group and know that people would pay money for that sort of feedback – I felt privileged to have it.”
Lorraine, who is a member of a Toastmasters’ club, is delighted with the finished work and says having a book published is “another tick off the bucket list”.
“After previous disappointments, this is the best feeling in the world,” she said. “I wouldn’t change a word of the book, but I won’t be reading it again as I don’t believe in looking back.”
Lorraine’s ambition is for her work to be adapted for the big screen. She has already started her next book, which has the working title of ‘Careful What You Wish For’ – the story of a woman who has a DNA test and doesn’t get the results she expects.
Asked if she sees writing as a full-time future career, Lorraine is non-committal.
“I tend to hop from one thing to another so we’ll have to see,” she stated. “In saying that, I have around 50 million stories in me so there will be no dry well when it comes to ideas.”
‘Into the Woods’, by Lorraine Murphy (published by Inkubator Books), will be available to order from Amazon in paperback and digital formats from August 21.