Meet the 2017 Authors! Abi Elphinstone

28-11-2016

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Who are you most looking forward to seeing at the 2017 Festival?

Probably Piers Torday. I’m a big fan of his books and have heard him speak about his Wild trilogy many times so I’d love to hear more about his latest book, There May Be A Castle.

Which book has inspired you the most?

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. The heroine, Lyra Silvertongue, taught me that girls can be just as brave and as punchy as boys and I loved the idea of having a daemon and imagining what mine might be. The scale of adventure in this book is unparalleled and the images it conjures up – a girl riding an armoured polar bear across the Arctic, a sky full of witches, Lee Scorsby’s hot air balloon soaring over the mountains – have stayed with me forever. Small wonder then that my first trilogy boasts a feisty female lead alongside a wild animal companion and a string of magical adventures.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

Embarrassingly (because I’m 32 years old), I search for my teddy. He often falls out of bed in the night.

What is your life’s motto?

Live boldly, travel widely and remember that the bravest and most creative people in this world are the ones who weren’t afraid to fail. Oh, and be kind.

Our theme for the 2017 Festival is Journeys. Can you tell us which journeys in your life have been most memorable? 

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I start every story I write by going on a journey, an adventure of sorts. The Dream Snatcher trilogy saw me carving catapults in the forest, abseiling into jungle caves and scaling mountains in Scotland. But for my fourth book (out in 2018), I went further afield to find my story. I went to the Arctic. And up in the Lofoten islands, I watched killer whales dive for herring and I glimpsed the northern lights 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 ice, the underwater clicks of the killer whales and the whir of ptarmigan wings over mountain peaks. And eventually, the idea of a kingdom ruled by an enchanted anthem wandered into my head. Finding a heroine for this story was easy. Because when I was trawling through photos of remote tribes on the internet, 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 learnt about sheep’s ankle bones used in children’s games, I discovered wolf fangs decorated with silver and I learnt to hunt with Balapan, Aisholpan’s golden eagle. All of this has found its way into the book, along with an inventor boy who keeps an Arctic fox pup in the hood of his jacket, because as I say when I visit schools and speak at literary festivals, authors aren’t necessarily the cleverest people in the class; they’re the most curious, the ones who say yes to adventures and go after the stories no one else has stumbled across yet.