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Mango Bubbles Boy interviews Abi Elphinstone

1)      When did you 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.

Abi moors

2)      What did you want to be when you were little, and why?

A unicorn in the first instance. Then a Blue Peter presenter. I ended up a children’s author – so maybe that’s somewhere in between the two…

Abi unicorn

3)      Which of your books is your favourite?

The Night Spinner. When I sit down to write a book, the first thing I do is draw a map because it is only when my characters start moving from place to place that a plot unfolds. And for The Night Spinner, I drew a railway line leading to a huddle of houses at the foot of a glen then I sketched a river splitting a forest of silver birches before curving west through the moorland and spilling out to sea. I doodled a castle further north, and a cluster of islands beyond that, then a ring of snow-capped peaks rising into the clouds. I named this fictional setting the Northern Wilderness but as I looked at it, I realised this world was only partly invented. Because I have walked through The North Door, I have run over the Rambling Moors, I have climbed The Barbed Peaks and I have swum between the Lost Isles. This was a map of my childhood and every place listed was somewhere in Scotland that I had explored as a young girl. So in many ways, writing this book was like returning home.

Abi moors Invermark

4)      If there are any books that you wish you’d written, what are they?

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, The BFG and Matilda by Roald Dahl, Skellig by David Almond, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy, Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver.

5)      Which is your favourite character in The Shadow Keeper?

Probably Puddle, the lighthouse keeper. At first glance, he looks rather scary but on closer inspection he has a kind heart – and a quirky fondness for his temperamental lighthouse, Dorothy.

6)      Where is your favourite place to travel, ever?

Norway. Kayaking, fishing and sailing through the southern fjords and also dog-sledding, whale-watching and northern lights gazing up in Tromso, in the north.

abi northern lights

7)      When and where is your favourite place to write?

My writing shed in the garden.

Writing Shed desk

8)      I know this sound like some boring, standard question, but where did you get your ideas 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.

9)      What were your favourite books when you were about 10?

The Mennymns series by Sylvia Waugh, The Tulip Touch by Anne Fine, The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy, The Owl Service by Alan Garner.

10)   What is your favourite book for 9-12 year olds?

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman.

Read my reviews of Abi’s books.

the drean snatcher