Interview with children’s author, Abi Elphinstone
Abi Elphinstone's first book was The Dreamsnatcher, about Moll and her friends finding out about Moll's parents, and the adventures they have on the journey of discovering the truth. Moll goes deep into the forest, lured there by a recurring nightmare, and finds out that she is special, and important. The second book in the series, The Shadow Keeper, reflects on the first book and now they are in hiding from the Shadowmasks and the dark magic. The third book, The Night Spinner, has recently come out.
Abi is also has a story in an anthology, Winter Magic, and she edited the stories.
I got the pleasure to interview her, and here are the answers:
1. When did you want to start writing?
I wrote a few stories when I was little but mainly I was outdoors having adventures – climbing trees, building dens, mixing flower petal potions – and it was only when I turned 23 years old that I started writing children’s books properly. My most recent book, The Night Spinner, is filled with places I explored as a child in Scotland (where I grew up), and so I think narratives were spinning through my head when I was younger; it just took a few years to get them down on paper.
2. Where did the idea of The Dreamsnatcher Series come from?
The Dreamsnatcher is, in many ways, like an extension of my childhood (minus the witchdoctors and the tree ghouls). I didn’t have to create Moll’s outdoor woodland world; it grew out of my own. And before long it was filled with a cast of invented characters: a headstrong gypsy girl, a wildcat, a fortune-teller, a witchdoctor, tree ghouls and vapours. Once I’d written the words of the ancient Bone Murmur, Moll’s adventure had begun… To research this book, I watched one of the last ‘real’ Romany gypsies, Pete Ingram, ‘play the bones’ and carve catapults, I studied wildcats prowling, eating and sleeping in the New Forest Wildlife Park and I travelled to Zanzibar, in Africa, to research sinister witchdoctor masks. With my second book, The Shadow Keeper, I wanted to build on Moll’s world. I wanted to make it bigger, to make the adventure bolder. And this story started simply as a map, a roughly sketched journey across beaches and marshland, fishing villages and smuggler coves. And as I thought back to the excitement of scaling crags to find gulls’ eggs with my father and the fear and adrenalin of unexplored caves and cliff jumps, little by little my map – and Moll’s world – began to grow. To research The Shadow Keeper, I spent time foraging in the Norwegian fjords, abseiling into caves, hang-gliding over the sea and learning how to fire a bow and arrow. In The Night Spinner I wanted to take my characters home to the ‘northern wilderness’, to the re-imagined Scotland of my childhood. The Rambling Moors are actually the Angus moors and glens beyond my parents’ house, The Clattering Gorge is really the North Esk River outside Edzell, the tiny village our house perched on the outskirts of, the Barbed Peaks are in fact the Cairngorms in Aberdeenshire and the Lost Isles are the rugged islands on the west coast of Scotland. I then filled these places with the magical creatures I had imagined there as a child: a giant called Wallop, a goblin called Kittlerumpit and a gorge full of witches.
3. How would you describe your books?
I usually describe them as fast-paced adventures with a little bit of magic. But I loved The Times’ description of them recently: ‘Famous Five or, rather, four, with messier clothes and fewer home-baked treats for tea.’
4. Who/what inspires you?
My mother was hugely instrumental in my journey to becoming a published children’s author. She told me never to give up and that helped when I faced 96 rejections from literary agents on the three books I wrote before my debut, The Dreamsnatcher.
5. What are your current projects?
Drawing on my time living with the Kazakh Eagle Hunters in Mongolia and my adventures dog-sledding across the Arctic, I’ve just finished the first draft of my fourth book – a standalone set up in the frozen north. This is a story about an eagle huntress, an inventor and an organ made of icicles. But it is also a story about belonging, even at the very edges of the world. It will be out in January 2018 and I am now pulling together ideas for a brand new series, to start in 2019.
6. What is it like being a writer?
Busy but exciting. Most days I’m out visiting schools (in 2015 I spoke in 97 schools and in 2016 I spoke in 76 schools) or speaking at literary festivals so the majority of my writing is done on trains to and from events. But on the rare days I have at home, I’m able to escape into my writing shed in the garden and write there. But writing can be intense, lonely and full of self doubt so it’s a nice balance getting out and meeting readers as well as staying home to dream up plots and characters.
7. What are your latest books?
The Dreamsnatcher, The Shadow Keeper, The Night Spinner and Winter Magic. They are available in all good bookshops and on Amazon.
Most children contact me through my website (www.abielphinstone.com or Instagram (@moontrugger) while adults often use Twitter (@moontrug) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/abi.elphinstone/).