World Book Day Author Abi Elphinstone talks to Claire Gill

Did you know at an early age you wanted to be an author?

No, I used to want to present Blue Peter when I was little! But my childhood up in rural Scotland was full of adventure - from building dens in the woods to mixing potions from flower petals - and I think because my parents gave me the space and time to explore, my imagination kicked in and that set my mind reeling with stories. Sometimes I wrote them down, other times I acted them out but more often that not I just let them turn around in my head. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I started writing them down and considered a career as an author.

 

Do you consciously think about the ‘message’ that your books convey?

For a character to be believable and compelling, they have to develop as the story plays out so in one sense I’m aware that I’m conveying some sort of message that I hope children will find encouraging, inspiring or even comforting but it’s often only when I get to the end of the first draft that I realise what my message is. ‘Sky Song’ was about belonging, even at the very edges of our world, ‘Everdark’ is about self belief - daring to think that you could achieve something extraordinary, even if you feel small and overlooked most of the time - and ‘Rumblestar’ (out in May) is about unexpected friendships and learning to be brave. In all of my books, though, the wonder of the wild lies at the core.

 

Is it important to keep writing, even when you aren’t necessarily on the right track?

Yes. Especially then. Because writing is about being brave enough (and hard working enough) to write yourself through the muddles. The only way to finish a story is to keep on writing it, whatever track you find yourself on.

 

Any tips on how to overcome fear of the blank page/trying to make it perfect?

I feel nervous, inadequate and hopelessly out of my depth every time I start writing a new book but I’ve learnt to accept that beginnings and blank pages are always going to be daunting. I write anyway. And I never try to make my writing perfect when I begin a story – just making it happen at all is the key.

 

Do you have a favourite character of your own?

I loved writing Eska, heroine of ‘Sky Song’. She starts off alone and afraid but with the help of some unexpected friends (a golden eagle, a boy called Flint and a girl with Down’s Syndrome) she saves a kingdom from falling and unites three warring tribes. I also have a soft spot for funny characters – they’re often not key players in the story but I love adding humour and subverting expectations – cue The Grey Man in ‘Sky Song’, Puddle in ‘The Shadow Keeper’ and Bartholomew in ‘Everdark.’

 

Do you have someone particular that you write for?

For all the kids who are still young enough, hopeful enough and wise enough to know that we live in a world brimming with wonder and possibilities.

 

Influences

 

Last children’s book you read?

‘The Skylarks’ War’ by Hilary McKay.

 

What is on your bedside table?

A large and eclectic pile of books:

‘La Belle Sauvage’ by Philip Pullman

‘British Trees’ by Paul Sterry

‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney

‘The Old Man and the Sea’ by Ernest Hemingway 

‘The Paris Wife’ by Paula McLain

‘When We Were Warriors’ by Emma Carroll

 

Favourite author/character in 

 

  1. a) children’s books:Philip Pullman. Lyra Belaqua.
  2. b) grown-up books? Thomas Hardy. Gabriel Oak.

 

Where do you work?

Mostly in my writing shed in the garden but sometimes on the train to school visits.

 

Most treasured possession?

Embarrassingly, my teddy.

 

Biggest influence?

My mother. I kept writing after 96 rejections from literary agents and she is the reason I didn’t give up. She taught me the importance of passion combined with perseverance.

 

Your hero?

Michelle Obama.

 

Best advice you have ever been given?

‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:31)

 

Guilty secret?

I can’t sleep without my teddy.

 

Last exhibition you visited?

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum

 

Exhibition you are most looking forward to seeing?

Ummmm, I’ll answer that one once my toddler is no longer a hazard to public safety and we can enter a museum without every alarm going off and every member of the security staff weeping. 

 

Favourite London gallery/museum

Natural History Museum

 

Favourite piece of art?

‘The Magpie’ by Claude Monet

 

London’s best kept secret?

The salted caramel cupcakes in Pearl & Groove on Portobello Road

 

Favourite open space?

The Aberdeenshire moors.

 

Where would you most like to be now?

Always, the moors.

 

Everdarkby Abi Elphinstone (Simon & Schuster) is a 2019 World Book Day title. Every year a range of brilliant £1 World Book Day books are released, and you can choose one for FREE in exchange for your World Book Day book token or you can buy them for £1 each. You can also use your token to get £1 off a book costing £2.99 or more.  Share a story this World Book Day (Thursday 7th March), and spend 10 minutes reading with members of family or friends every day.

 

For more details and information visit worldbookday.com