AUTHOR INTERVIEWS

  • Abi Elphinstone

    Abi Elphinstone

    SKY SONG

    SIMON & SCHUSTER CHILDREN'S BOOKS

    FEBRUARY 2018


    Abi Elphinstone's Dream Snatcher series caught the imaginations of many children and young readers will be just as entranced by SKY SONG, her new stand-alone book.

    Here they will discover a frozen landscape peppered with strange homes, richly varied tribes, magical creatures and enchantments breathed from the stars - but with an evil queen, determined to destroy it all. The heroes, a girl and boy - Eska and Flint - are the only ones who might be able to stop her....

    We asked author ABI ELPHINSTONE to tell us more about her latest fantasy adventure, SKY SONG:


    Q: Why did you decide to introduce the folklore at the start of Sky Song?

    A: I originally opened Sky Song at Chapter 1 (the Winterfang palace scene where Eska is trapped inside the cursed music box) but it was my editor, Jane Griffiths, who suggested I try a fairytale-style prologue to lay out Erkenwald's history.

    This prologue ended up being one of my favourite parts of the story to write - I find fairytale language so warm and wise and I felt it lent me a fitting narrative voice to start talking about Sky Gods and ancient Frost Horns.


    Q: Did any existing legends or stories help inspire the story of the star gods and the tribes?

    A: I explored various cultural beliefs about the northern lights before I started writing Sky Song: the Dakota Indians believe the aurora are the fires under huge cauldrons that the gods use to roast their enemies; Norse mythology talks of the lights as the shields of the Valkyrie reflecting in the sky. I liked the idea of there being gods up there and so I ran with that idea and then combined it with stardust and fallen constellations.

    I adored Michelle Paver's The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series which deals with characters living in various clans so I've no doubt that influenced my idea to create different tribes in Sky Song.

    I'd have liked to belong to the Fur Tribe, I think. I've always found forests deeply magical and the idea of living at a height - up in their secret treehouses - excites me.


    Q: Why did you want to travel to Mongolia and to stay with the Kazakh eagle hunters to research this book?

    When I was trawling through photos of remote tribes on the internet a few years ago, I came across the Kazakh Eagle Hunters, a formidable group of people out in the wilds of Mongolia who tame golden eagles and use them to hunt foxes, wolves and marmots. It is an ancient tradition handed down through generations but what struck me most was that almost every single person in the tribe was male. Then I read about twelve-year-old Aisholpan, one of the only eagle huntresses, and I knew then that I had my heroine.

    Many emails and months later, I found myself trekking through Mongolia's snow-capped mountains to find her. I stayed with Aisholpan for several days but I trekked through Mongolia for several weeks. I learnt about sheep's ankle bones used in children's games, I discovered wolf fangs decorated with silver, I ate yak cheese in a Mongolian ger (tent), I brushed my teeth under the biggest and brightest canvas of stars I've ever seen and I rode up into the highest mountains to see golden eagles diving for foxes and wolves.

    All those experiences found their way into my book: the gers became the Fur Tribe's treehouses, the stars became my Sky Gods, the eagle I watched soar above the peaks became Balapan and the girl I saw ride alongside men five times her age became Eska.


    Q: Did you do other research for the book?

    A: In 2016 I journeyed to the Arctic - to the frozen fjords off the northern coast of Norway - where I watched orcas dive for herring, steered a dog-sled through snowy valleys and glimpsed the aurora borealis rippling across the sky.

    This was a land shrouded in silence and locked in darkness - the sun doesn't rise at all in the winter months - but if I really listened, I could hear the place whispering: the crack and pop of sea ice, the underwater clicks of the orcas and the whir of ptarmigan wings over mountain peaks. And into this remote stillness, I started to write a story about a kingdom ruled by an Ice Queen's enchanted anthem.


    Q: Why did you decide to give Eska a golden eagle, Balapan, as her companion in this story?

    A: I grew up in the wilds of Scotland and one of my favourite childhood memories is of hiking onto the moors with my father to see if we could catch a glimpse of a golden eagle and its eyrie (nest). The eagles often didn't show but when these gold-feathered sharp-eyed wind-bending miracles did, they stayed with me for a very long time. And when I saw golden eagles again, years later, in Mongolia I knew I wanted to write one into a book.

    Animals make humans larger, rounder versions of themselves (Wolf instils the values of friendship in Torak in Paver's Wolf Brother, Pantalaiman draws out Lyra's sensitivity and compassion in Pullman's Northern Lights) and they are also extremely useful in dangerous situations (in Sky Song, Balapan leads Eska to a secret hideout and warns her when the Ice Queen draws near).


    Q: What would your ideal animal companion be?

    A: A snow leopard.


    Q: How did your main character Eska develop?

    A: Outwardly, Eska was inspired by Aisholpan, the Mongolian eagle huntress and I could very quickly visualise her with her golden eagle when I sat down to write the book. But inwardly, Eska was harder to develop. I was so used to writing reckless wildling, Moll Pecksniff, from The Dreamsnatcher trilogy, so I had to work very hard to create someone new, someone entirely their own person, in this story.

    Eska took a while to get to know when she was trapped inside the music box - but as I drew her out into the wild I felt her come into her own.


    Q: Flint is a reluctant hero with magic at his fingertips. Was he always going to be around for Eska or did his role grow as you wrote the book?

    A: I wasn't expecting to write a hero into the book. For a long time, I imagined my eagle huntress would be enough. But I wrote much of this story as Europe's Refugee Crisis reached its peak and as the photos of capsized boats and ostracised families flooded in across new channels, I began to see my fictional world - a kingdom torn apart by an evil Ice Queen where tribes turn inwards and are prejudiced against outsiders - as a stage to challenge the idea of what it really means to belong.

    I wanted to include a character who, despite his closed upbringing, might grow to see that acceptance shouldn't hinge on principles such as background, race, religion or birthplace. It should be forged from open mindedness, understanding and an unerring sense of compassion. Flint, I hope, comes to realise this.


    Q: Which of Flint's magical inventions would you bring into our world, if you could?

    A: The hammock that grants glorious dreams (made from moonlight and the gossamer of rare, almost extinct, ice spiders).


    Q: Flint's younger sister, Blu, is a wise child who helps keep Flint and Eska together. She also has down's syndrome. How did she develop and did anyone in particular inspire her?

    A: Growing up, I didn't know much about Down's Syndrome. I knew the medical blurb - that it's a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21 - and that it is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features and mild to moderate intellectual disability. But beyond that, I knew very little.

    It wasn't until I started dating my now husband eleven years ago that I learnt more. His little sister, Steph, has Down's Syndrome and as I got to know her I realised not only how much more there was to Steph than the medical conclusions listed above but also how much I was to learn from her about joy, courage and compassion.

    In Sky Song, Blu is inspired by Steph. She might not seem to be as clever or as quick as other characters when you first meet her but it is she who finds the way into The Lost Chambers, where the Feather Tribe are hiding. And it is she who draws out Flint's sense of loyalty and love.


    Q: Do you enjoy writing the bad characters- like your Ice Queen - as much as the good?

    A: I adore writing villains and the Ice Queen was no exception. I loved adding details to her appearance to make her all the more sinister - a gown made from the frozen tears of her prisoners, a crown of snowflakes, a black ice staff. I also had great fun creating her monsters: snargoyles, cursed wolverines and ice ghouls.

    My favourite were probably the thunderghosts though, the cursed storm clouds trapped beneath The Devil's Dancefloor lake. I loved writing their eerie rhymes and imagining them swaying beneath the ice.


    Q: Eska, like Moll, has lots of travelling to do during this adventure. Are your characters reflecting your own love of travel?

    A: Settings are as important to me as characters and plot; much of the atmosphere of a book is derived from the sense of place. And a journey through unexplored lands lends the narrative a fresh, exciting and often epic feel. I loved writing about Eska's hideout, The Giant's Beard, and imagining the Fur and the Feather tribe's secret 'dens'.

    Perhaps, also, my characters travel because I love to. The most inspiring place I've been to is probably the Arctic. It is so 'other' - so vastly different from anywhere else on Earth - and it's all the more special because we need to protect it now more than ever.


    Q: Why did you decide to write a stand-alone book for Sky Song?

    A: I always intended Sky Song to be a standalone; I loved the idea of creating an extended fairytale. Writing a standalone was easier than writing a series in terms of world-building because I could write with one narrative strand in mind but when I did, finally, get to the end of Sky Song, I couldn't help wishing I had decided to write more adventures in Erkenwald. That said, I think there might be a way I can bring Erkenwald into my next series - perhaps not Eska, Flint and Blu - but the world, just possibly...


    Q: Do you have any say in the covers of your book and how did you feel when you were shown this one?

    A: After a meeting at my publishers' offices with my editor to discuss the final edits on Sky Song, I wandered over to the art director's desk. Our illustrator, Daniela Terrazzini, had just emailed the art director with the draft cover artwork for Sky Song. I was mesmerised by the icebergs and the characters trudging through the snow with Balapan, the golden eagle, above. The scene so perfectly captured the essence of my story.

    In this early draft, the Erkenbear was standing on an iceberg but the art director and I felt that perhaps he didn't stand out enough there so we decided to move him up against the horizon. We also fiddled with the colour palate to make the northern lights even brighter and I remember thinking how exciting it was to be involved in such an intricate process.


    Q: What are you writing now and where is your favourite place to write?

    A: I'm starting work on a brand new series called The Unmapped Chronicles. And the first book involves a miniature dragon who is scared of heights, a Storm Ogre who can only say one word ('chomp') and three Drizzle Hags called Hortensia Quibble, Sylvara Buckweed, Gertie Swamp.

    My favourite place to write is my writing shed at the bottom of the garden and my favourite time to write is early morning; somehow stories feel more promising at the start of the day...




    THE NIGHT SPINNER

    SIMON & SCHUSTER CHILDREN'S BOOKS

    FEBRUARY 2017


    THE NIGHT SPINNER is the final book in the Dreamsnatcher trilogy by ABI ELPHINSTONE, charting feisty heroine Moll Pecksniff's battle against darkness and the shadowmasks. These atmospheric, pacy adventure stories have garnered plenty of young fans and the concluding story is heartfelt and dramatic.

    In the final book, Moll and her friends travel to the vast 'Northern Wilderness' to confront the last remaining Dreamsnatchers and, Moll hopes, to rescue their missing friend Alfie. But evil has already visited the region and they are soon battling witches and trolls, while the final battle looms.

    We asked author ABI ELPHINSTONE to tell us more about what inspired the final Dreamsnatcher book, and what she's planning next:


    Q: Why did you decide to take Moll's final quest to the 'Northern Wilderness' - Scotland?

    A: Having written about a deep, tangled forest in The Dreamsnatcher and a coastline puckered with caves and secret waterfalls in The Shadow Keeper, I knew I wanted to focus a new setting for the final book in the trilogy - somewhere wilder and more remote than what had come before.

    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 found myself drawing 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.


    Q: Where are your favourite Highlands haunts, and are there places in the book that children could visit?

    A: I grew up just outside a village called Edzell, in Angus, and though I couldn't possibly know that I was going to re-invent this landscape in a book years later, I did have a feeling that there was something magical about where I lived, and about one walk that I used to do with family, in particular...

    After you leave Edzell, you cross an old stone bridge and then, on your left, there is a little blue door. You could miss it if you didn't know it was there but my parents knew about it and they pushed it open. And what lay beyond could well have been Narnia.

    On the left, thundering through a steep gorge, the North Esk River browned by peat from the moors and on the right, above the gorge, a little path that wove alongside rhododendron bushes, silver birches, beech trees and a long-forgotten folly. I watched salmon leap from the waterfalls, I read books tucked inside the folly there and I listened to my father's stories about trolls beneath the curved roots of an old beech tree. That world beyond the Blue Door was a haven - a place where I felt magic might be possible after all - and I suppose it was only a matter of time before I borrowed it for one of my own stories.

    In The Night Spinner, Edzell becomes Glendrummie, the village Moll and her Tribe come across after stealing onto a train north as stowaways. The Blue Door becomes The North Door, the gateway to the northern wilderness which the Tribe must pass through to continue their quest. And the river beyond becomes the Clattering Gorge, home to a coven of terrifying witches.

    If the Blue Door showed me the magic of hidden nature, the Angus and Aberdeenshire moors taught me about the power of wild, open places. Every weekend my father would come into the kitchen holding an Ordnance Survey map and, as soon as I saw that battered parchment, I knew what it meant: we were going up onto the moors.

    Some days we'd look for eagles' eyries, other days we'd skim stones across Loch Lee and listen to the stags bellowing, and sometimes we'd just sit beside the highest cairns watching the grouse pour over the heather. And out of those memories grew The Rambling Moors in The Night Spinner, complete with roaring stags, golden eagles and, inevitably, a goblin called Kittlerumpit and a pack of hideous peatboggers.

    Children could absolutely do the Blue Door Walk or visit Loch Lee and the surrounding moors. Below is a list of my absolute favourite haunts, in case that's helpful:

    My Top 5 Scottish Places To...
    Read a book: inside Doulie Tower, beyond The Blue Door outside Edzell

    Think up new stories: on the bench overlooking Loch Lee

    Steal location names from: the Cairngorms

    Create a magical creature: by the Rocks of Solitude, beyond The Blue Door outside Edzell

    See a magical creature: the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye


    Q: Moll has a lot of challenges in this story but her main one is confronting her fears, why did you make that such a pivotal point in this story?

    A: I wanted to explore various types of bravery in this book. Moll, for the most part, is obviously brave - she tackles fights head on and she's quick to load her catapult. Siddy, on the other hand, is far more reticent: 'up against the giants he had fainted and on the train north he'd nearly buckled'. But his courage is unconquerable when it really matters and when Moll's fears finally do slip out, she sees her friend's bravery clearly: 'in the face of the crushing of their hopes and dreams and a sun that might never rise - Siddy was brave. There was a sureness to his words, a grit, and it counted for more than any weapon ever could'.

    With Moll, I wanted to show that however tough and ostensibly brave you are, you still feel fear deep down and it doesn't mean you're any the less brave for acknowledging that you are scared. To do something brave when you are terrified is real courage.


    Q: Apart from the main group of characters, there are some wonderful supporting characters in this story like Murk from the lake and Kittlerumpit the goblin - but who was your favourite to create?

    A: Thank you! I adore creating secondary characters and giving them humorous quirks. One of my favourites is Petal, the foul-tempered giant 'bent on absolute brutality' and her sidekick, Wallop.

    But I also loved creating my goblin, Kittlerumpit. Whuppity Cairns is a mound of stones in The Night Spinner that acts as a gateway into a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the moors and the name came from reading a Scottish fairytale by John Rhys, called Whuppity Stoorie. It follows the Rumpelstiltskin motif where a woman from Kittlerumpit must guess the name of a trickster fairy, Whuppity Stoorie, if she is to keep her 'bonny wee tyke'.

    Everything about the word 'whuppity' is wonderful. The wistful promise of the opening letters, the mischievous rise and fall of the second two syllables and the way the mouth curves into a smile as the word ends. I pocketed 'whuppity' as soon as I heard it, and I took 'Kittlerumpit' with me, too, because what else would a trickster goblin beneath the moors be called?


    Q: Do you find it hard to write characters that are so black at heart, like the Shadowmasks?

    A: Worryingly, no! Dark characters are often easier to write than good ones. You can reach right back to the fears you had at 10 years old and add deliciously sinister idiosyncrasies. Orbrot, with his cobwebbed mask, really does give me the creeps in this book though...


    Q: Were the giants - or any other characters - brought to life from local legends you might have heard as a child?

    Q: The loch monster, Murk, is loosely based on C.S. Lewis' Puddleglum - but also, more predictably, on the Loch Ness Monster. My little brother gave me a wonderful painting of Loch Ness by a polish artist, Matylda Konecka, which shows the monster lurking beneath the surface of the water so I drew on that to create Murk.

    Fillie Crankie is the name of a bothy I place in the middle of the Rambling Moors and I named it that for two reasons. Firstly, because of the extraordinary face my siblings and I used to pull every time our parents drove us past Killiecrankie, a famous wooded gorge in Perthshire, where the Battle of Killiecrankie took place in 1689. There was no reason for the face-pulling really, other than our delight in the absurdity of the word, the playfulness of guttural consonants backed up against each other then rounded off with drawn out vowels. It was to us what 'snozzcumber' is to so many other children.

    And secondly, because my youngest brother used to play the tune 'Killiecrankie' on his bagpipes while I, and the rest of my siblings, danced like imps around the sitting room. I took the spirit of the word Killiecrankie for my bothy but I knew that in my story it was the home of a crossbow-wielding feminist and so, after a while, it became Fillie Crankie.


    Q: Which of the magical charms that Moll has used in the three books would you want to have in your backpack ready for emergencies?

    A: In her book Rooftoppers, Katherine Rundell says: 'String is the only thing that is never, never boring. String, and birds'. And I have to agree with that - you can use it to lasso things, tie annoying people up, as a tightrope across a ravine... The possibilities are endless. So based on that, I'd have to say 'the last note of the witches' song' would be the magical charm I'd stash in my backpack.


    Q: Was it difficult to bring together all the threads from the previous two books, such as what happened to Alfie, and the part the last two shadowmasks have played, in this final story?

    A: Yes, very! I wanted to include a twist with Alfie so working that into the story took a while. But I was never in doubt as to how things would end for him, or Moll. I did struggle with deciding what the last amulet would be though. That changed many times because it was so hard to see any of my characters go on to the Otherworld.


    Q: How did you feel when you completed the final book - and will this be the last we see of Moll and Gryff?

    A: I only ever set out to write one book so to finish a trilogy felt like a huge achievement. It only really sunk in though when I went back to the manuscript and wrote the celebratory feast scene in. That didn't exist originally (though now I can't imagine the story without it).

    It not only helped the book's ending structurally but it also brought together all the characters that had helped Moll and her Tribe on their journey - and as writer, to see all your characters in one place after everything they (and you!) have been through, was really special.

    At the moment this is the last you'll see of Moll and Gryff though Moll is too headstrong to stay quiet forever - so, who knows what might happen in the future...


    Q: How have you changed as a writer, having completed the trilogy, especially as a dyslexic writer?

    A: With every book I write, I feel a little more confident in my craft. I feel The Shadow Keeper is a stronger book (in terms of the writing, characterisation and plot) than The Dreamsnatcher and The Night Spinner, in turn, is stronger than The Shadow Keeper. I'm learning all the time.

    Being dyslexia doesn't ever mean it's harder to come up with ideas - often dyslexic minds think more creatively than others - but getting a plot straight remains hard when processing information is an issue. I have to plan meticulously before writing anything at all but I've got used to that and it often means I have fewer edits afterwards.


    Q: What are you writing now?

    A: 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.


    Q: What are your top tips to keen child writers?

    A: Carry a notebook with you everywhere. Live a life filled with adventure. And never be afraid to fail. Oh, and in the words of Christopher Robin: 'You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think'.


    Q: You often talk about your travel adventures - so where are you planning your next escape or research trip?

    A: I'd love to explore New Zealand at some stage - and Alaska - but I have an adventure of a different sort unfolding at the moment: I'm hoping to become a mother in August.




    THE DREAMSNATCHER

    SIMON & SCHUSTER CHILDREN'S BOOKS

    MARCH 2015


    Author ABI ELPHINSTONE's debut novel, DREAMSNATCHER, is a magical, atmospheric story about a 12-year-old girl, Moll, and her wildcat Gryff who together face a dark and ancient evil. To defeat it, they must find three amulets which are the only things that can prevent this dark magic from spreading. They are helped by the community of gypsies who have provided a home for Moll since they found her as a young child.

    We spoke to Abi Elphinstone about her debut novel, Dreamsnatcher.


    Q: How has your own childhood influenced how you write for children?

    A: I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Scotland, one of four children. My mum was an English teacher and gave me lots of books while my dad was an adventurer and we used to head off into the glens, camping and building dens and looking for adventures. He taught me how to carve a catapult and build a den so that's how I got my love of stories, adventure and exploring. Not from writing them but from being outside, living them. I remember those times very vividly so I find it easy to write about.

    The ages of around 11 or 12 were probably the happiest of my childhood as my parents divorced when I was in my teens. I can easily remember those childhood years when I was having fun with adventures. It was such a time of wonder and adventure and when anything seemed possible with authors like Tolkien and CS Lewis. I love YA fiction but it doesn't have the same sense of wonder as you get in children's books.


    Q: Dreamsnatcher is your debut novel, what made you decide to write a book?

    A: I studied English at Bristol University and decided that being a writer might be nice. I did try PR and marketing but didn't enjoy it, although that experience has been useful as an author. I went to Africa to teach children and that's when I decided I wanted to teach and write. I went on to teach English in a secondary school for four years and now I'm doing a lot of workshops for children at Kids & Co Charity. If I wasn't spending so much time writing, I'd definitely want to be a teacher again, I loved it.

    I wrote my first children's book while I was in Africa but it was rejected because the structure of the story was all wrong. I wrote another book that was also rejected, and another one - so I had 96 rejections over five years. Once I stopped worrying about getting a book deal and focused on childhood and adventures I seemed to engage with the story more and that became The Dreamsnatcher. I sent it to an agent and she signed me up and quite a few publishers bid for it.


    Q: What kept you going, despite all the rejections?

    A: What kept me going was my mum, she'd had a tricky childhood but now she's a head teacher at a school in London. She would tell me that there are some people who say 'I want to write a book' and some who say, 'I'm going to make it happen', and 'if you're not failing, you're not trying hard enough'. And, even though they were rejecting my books, the agents would say that they felt there was some talent in the writing and that helped to keep up my confidence.

    I also think you just need to hone your skills as a writer, which you do by writing. What I like about writing is that stories don't need to be immediately perfect, often stories are really messy at the beginning until you find your way into them.


    Q: How has being dyslexic affected your writing?

    A: When at school I loved listening to stories. I would go to pieces with reading but loved hearing stories told.

    I think being dyslexic means that, while I get a lot of ideas for stories, organising the stories and dropping in clues in the right places for the story is difficult, I find it tortuous. I find it very difficult to understand how it all works in terms of the structure, what the characters know and don't know. I could never write a murder mystery story, although I love reading them.


    Q: Do you draw on real people as inspiration for any of your characters?

    A: My main chracter, Moll, is very much like me. My brothers describe me as a 'misdirected ball of enthusiasm', I say things I shouldn't and I'm too impetuous. I jump into situations and don't think about the consequences. Adventurous, curious and impatient, just like Moll, really. Tapping into that made Moll very vivid for me and that's what the agents loved about the character.

    I also dream very vividly and every second week, I will have such a bad nightmare where I'm being chased or held captive, so I thought it would be cool to put my dreams into the book.


    Q: How did Moll get to have a wildcat companion?

    A: I love the idea of children bonding with animals. Gryff, Moll's wildcat protector, started off as an owl called Cobweb but the more I got to know Moll and the darker the story became with witch doctors and magic, the more that an owl seemed to be quite useless.

    One of my favourite books is Northern Lights and I loved Lyra's Pantalaimon and Iorek Byrnison the bear. I started thinking about British animals that might work as a companion for Moll and remembered the wildcat; there are only 35 left in the UK and they are the only wild cat that you can't tame, they are completely feral. I remember seeing a wildcat as a child and how amazing that experience was and realised it would be perfect for Moll.


    Q: You draw on a lot of gypsy traditions for your story, was it hard to find out all the information and facts that you needed?

    A: When I was researching the book I met with one of the last Romany gypsies, Pete Ingram, who lives near the New Forest in Hampshire. He's reclusive but he kindly agreed to meet me and he showed me things like his catapult, the knives he had carved and one of the wagons he had painted.

    I learned a lot about Romany superstition and traditions from him, also some Romany words, and I got material from the New Forest library and some online. Pete also helped me find a gypsy wagon that he had made for someone and we used that to film our book trailer which you can see on my website, www.abielphinstone.com.


    Q: How do you go about choosing names for your characters?

    I had a lot of fun finding the names for the characters in my book. I found the word Frogmore name on a signpost and just thought it'd make a great name for Moll's gypsy family. I saw a body lotion called 'Pecksmith' and I thought it was quite Dickensian, that became Molly Pecksmith, my main character. I think quite carefully about how a character's name will sound and I take a piece of paper and mind map it all and just go and go until I've got it right.


    Q: Some of the things that happen in the book are quite dark, do you think that children like to be a bit scared by what they read?

    A: I don't remember reading a children's book that doesn't have dark moments in it. As long as you're offering readers a good and safe alternative to the violence and evil, then I think children can tolerate difficult things in stories. Moll has the camp and the protection there, so there she can be safe from the violence and evil that exists elsewhere.

    Children tell me that if they're finding something scary, they will read through it quickly or won't read it at night time. I think the world does have some dark moments which children will come across at some point, but in children's literature they also learn about things like bravery and the importance of family.

    I find that the dark passages are some of the easiest to write because it's easier to write about things that are sad or dramatic; it's much harder to write happy and positive scenes.


    Q: What next for Moll?

    A: In the sequel, Moll and her gypsy family and friends have to move away to the coast where they find some caves to live in, and of course Moll needs to search for the next amulet. The Shadowmask magic is still present, though, and starts to seep through as the thresholds start to open and evil begins to come through in the form of smugglers and merpeople who also want the amulet.

    The caves in that book were inspired by some caves I visited while I was in South America. We went to Brazil and into the jungle where there's an 80m cave. We abseiled down it and found a lake inside, full of stalagmites and stalactites. I spent three hours just wandering around the cave and thinking what it might be like to live in a cave.

    I am not sure how many more Dreamsnatcher books there will be but at the moment I am planning the third book, which will be set in Scotland on the moors and islands.


    Q: How does your writing day go?

    A: I start writing at 6am as my husband goes off to work very early. I also run the Moontrug website and I tend to work on that for an hour or so in the morning and then I write for the rest of the day.

    I set up Moontrug because agents kept telling me to read more children's literature and then a lot of my friends started asking me advice about children's books for their children. It's nice when I find a book I like to be able to write about it.

    My worst writing habit is daydreaming and Twitter is a real distraction, you need to be really strict with yourself and factor in an hour a day for social networking, and then that's it.

    My favourite place to write is my shed in my garden. It's completely overgrown with ivy and all the way around the walls are wooden signs with lines from children's books. I've got an old writing desk and an armchair for when I want to read, and some gypsy props I use for talks.

    I surround myself with postcards and pictures of tumbledown cottages that I can draw on for my settings. I might also listen to atmospheric music while I write, sometimes I write by candlelight. I see every scene that I write very vividly in my head, it's like a film, and unless I can see it visually I can't write it so I do need a lot of visual stimulus.

    I do all my planning by hand, I write lots of notes and ideas and chapter breakdowns, but when I actually start on the story itself, I type it. If there aren't any computers around, I'll write it by hand - I wrote part of book one in Norway and most of book two while I was motorbiking around Burma!