An Interview with Abi Elphinstone

As her brand new book, the first in The Dreamsnatcher series, comes out, Paula chats to Abi Elphinstone about her book, her love for travelling and so much more…

Paula: Are you comfortable using social media?  

Before writing my
debut, I wasn’t on any social networking sites. But when I signed my
book deal, I realised that social media was an invaluable platform for
authors and I started blogging and tweeting. At first I was embarrassed
about my ‘online voice’ – it didn’t feel natural and I cringed every
time I mentioned my book (sometimes I still do!) but I’ve met some
wonderful people via Twitter (bloggers, authors and publishing gurus)
and I’ve discovered brilliant books I might otherwise not have known
about. It doesn’t seem to matter that I’ve still got no idea what most
of the hashtags and acronyms mean. Until recently I thought ARCS were
miniature wooden boats that delivered books to authors and I assumed
#PitchWars were agents and editors fighting with pitchforks.

Paula: What advice would you give to teenagers on how to make the best of social media?

I’d
say use it to keep in touch with friends but don’t forget that real
life isn’t quantified by Instagram uploads, friendships aren’t valued by
how many likes a Facebook photo gets and real memories aren’t shaped by WhatsApp chats. I’d tell teenagers to make sure they’re living their
lives, not documenting every second of it via social media.  

Paula: How about the debate about bloggers on Twitter? Are bloggers good for sales or does their opinion count?

Some
of the loveliest and most genuine people I’ve met on Twitter have been
bloggers. And their reviews and tweets about my debut created a real
buzz pre-publication and I’m so grateful to them for it. Most
definitely, their opinions count.

Paula: I worked as a secondary
teacher too! Also taught English! I’ve looked at your website and you
show a genuine ability to convey ideas about writing – and a strong
sense of empathy- I get the feeling you would have been a brilliant
teacher. Do you still teach?  

I used to teach English in a
secondary school full-time and I loved it. I don’t teach in a school any
more but I run creative writing workshops for children between the ages
of 7 and 12 and I work as a volunteer once a week with Kidsco.

Paula: Did teaching help you to gain a sense of how to keep children enthralled in a story and in the magic of storytelling?

Yes,
by reading to children in the classroom and studying aspects of stories
with them, it became very clear what types of stories kept them
enthralled. My teaching style was jam-packed with activities to keep
even the most inattentive children interested; perhaps that’s why my
debut is jam-packed with action!

Paula: You are very outdoorsy – you posted an amazing photo on Twitter recently – how often do you go away?  

I
love travelling. I try to do one big travel adventure every year. Last
year I motorbiked round Burma (and wrote part of my sequel in the
mountains) and this year I’m going to the Eagle Festival in Mongolia –
great research for the next series I’m planning. 

image

Paula: I spoke
to a homeschooling mum once who travelled constantly and she said to me
that the greatest educational gift she could give to her children was a
passport and the ability to travel. Do you find that travel does (to
use the cliche) broaden the mind?  

Yes, completely. It doesn’t
have to be far off travels – some of the most magical adventures I’ve
had have been in Scotland: hiking the Cuillins and swimming in the Fairy Pools on Skype and racing down the Westwater river in Angus. I
find any wild, outdoorsy landscapes (especially mountains, lochs and
forests), inspire me to write and I’m always encouraging children to
take notepads outside into the wild to find stories.

Paula: Where has been your favourite place to visit and why?

My
husband’s family are part Norwegian (his great-great-great grandfather
invented the fishfinger!) and this Easter we went to Bergen, in Norway,
then on into the remote fjords. The fjords were breathtakingly magical –
entire mountains reflected into the water – and I wrote about the
adventure here.

Paula: I’ve looked at the trailer and it is fabulous! Who came up with the idea for it?  

My
publishers mentioned the book would work well as a trailer and asked me
if I knew anyone with a Romany gypsy wagon which we could film in. I
asked my Romany pal, Pete, (who painted Roald Dahl’s wagon for Danny the
Champion of the World film premiere) and he said that his pal, Dave
(from the band, Chaz and Dave!) would let us film at his house, complete
with Romany wagon, cob and forest. And I borrowed a pupil I used to
teach to play Moll!

Paula: Did you have much critical input?
(Remember how J.K. Rowling went to the castings for Harry Potter and was
supposed to have had tight control over the films – were you as
invested as that? It’s really well done.

My editor and publicist
spent the day with me and the film crew making the trailer. We all
chipped in with comments and ideas and the result was a collaborative
effort. We were all thrilled with it and I blogged about the day (with
lots of photos) here.

Paula: You mentioned a love for Philip
Pullman – who have been your literary influences and why? 

Yes,
Pullman’s Lyra from Northern Lights made me want to write a heroine with
attitude. The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden inspired me to start researching
the fast-disappearing Romany culture. C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of
Narnia were the books that made me believe in magic and want to write
about it… I learnt how to write action scenes from reading Michelle
Paver’s books, particularly the brilliant Chronicles of Ancient Darkness
series and Moll’s slightly ‘off the wall’ nature comes from reading
about truly unique heroines like Mina from David Almond’s My Name is
Mina and Sophie in Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers.

Paula: What was your favourite book from childhood and why?  

I
was obsessed with The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy. I loved how
Mildred Hubble was clumsy and a bit hopeless but still the heroine of
the story.

Paula: Where did the idea for The Dreamsnatcher come from?  

The
Dreamsnatcher is, in many ways, like an extension of my childhood
(minus the witchdoctors and the tree ghouls). I grew up in the wilds of
Scotland, where weekends were spent scrambling over the moors, building
dens in the woods and jumping into icy rivers. I didn’t have to create
Moll’s outdoor 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…

image

Paula: Did it take long to write it? 

I wrote The
Dreamsnatcher over the course of a year and I literally threw everything
at it because it was finally a story I wanted to tell: I watched
wildcats prowl in the New Forest and I carved wooden flowers with a
Romany gypsy.

Paula: Was it your first publication, and if so,
how did you approach the publication process? Was it nerve wracking
looking for an agent or was it straightforward and simple?
 

Ha!
It was anything but simple… In 2006, I wrote my first children’s book,
submitted it to thirty literary agents and it was rejected by every
single one. I taught English for four years and in the evenings and
holidays, I wrote another book. I sent it to thirty literary agents –
and it was rejected by them all. Again. A few agents said they saw
‘glimpses of brilliance’ and ‘raw talent’ in my work but that my plots
were unoriginal and my writing style was amateur. I wrote a third book.
You can guess where this is going: it was rejected by every agent I sent
it to. By this point I had racked up ninety-six rejections from agents.
But something inside me refused to give up. I kept every positive
comment any of the agents gave in their rejection letters and took every
bit of advice they offered: I went to literary festivals, I read more
children’s books, I attended writing courses, I started blogging and I
re-worked my writing until it was the very best it could be. Perhaps
most importantly: I stopped putting my focus on getting a book deal and
starting thinking about writing a story that really mattered to me. I
sent off The Dreamsnatcher to one agent. She signed me and within two
months I had a two-book deal with a major UK publishing house!

Paula: Are there plans for any more books in the pipeline? (Is there a WIP?)

I’ve
finished writing the sequel, Soul Splinter (the gypsies are outlawed to
caves by the sea where they encounter sinister mer creatures and
smugglers) and I hope there will be a third book in the Dreamsnatcher
series as I’ve mapped that out – it includes abandoned castles, remote
lochs and GIANTS. And I’ve just started world-building for an Arctic
series. Yesterday I wrote an icy spell and today I drew out the kingdom
of Erkenwald… Lots more stories to come!

We’re definitely excited to see where Abi’s storytelling takes her next! To find about more about Abi, you can follow her on Twitter, visit her blog and you can buy The Dreamsnatcher here today! Or, you can watch the trailer to The Dreamsnatcher right now below!

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