Abi Elphinstone

What books did you read when you were a child?

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. I went to sleep every night dreaming about riding a polar bear over the Arctic ice. I also adored The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and The Worst Witch series.

If you could be a storybook character who would you be?

Lyra Silvertongue because she’s reckless and impulsive but she’s also impossibly brave.

What is the best thing about reading?

Books are quiet objects against the clatter of everyday life. But ink is a fierce and mischievous thing – it can conjure whole worlds in a single stroke – and when I’m reading, I forget that there is anything else at all.

What is your all time favourite book?
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman.

Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?
Take children outside. I was lucky enough to grow up in the wilds of Scotland where weekends were spent building dens in the woods, jumping into icy lochs and scrambling across the moors with my Dad. Some days we’d go searching for golden eagles and spot them in their eyries on the highest crags. Other days the eagles didn’t show and we’d just stand in the middle of the moors, surrounded by the stags and the cairns and the mighty lochs, and I remember marvelling at it all, at the sheer wildness spread out before me. Whilst I was shy as a young child I think the sense of wonder I experienced back then built a narrative inside me that I later channelled into my books.

How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?
I didn’t grow up with parents who pushed for me to write stories or who insisted on extra tuition in the holidays to improve my spelling and vocabulary. Instead my parents gave me space. They let me camp up the glen and swing from rafters in the farm barns opposite our house. And I think that out of this freedom I learnt to imagine. I didn’t come home with reams of paper filled with stories but there were always ideas whizzing around in my head and I realise now that the wild woodland world in my first book, The Dreamsnatcher, is almost an extension of my childhood (minus the tree ghouls and witch doctors) – it just took me a little while to write it all down…

How do you encourage your children or grandchildren to read, what books do you enjoy reading with them?
I don’t have children yet but I was a teacher for many years and I spent a lot of time encouraging my pupils to read then. So many children ‘give up on reading’ because they can’t find, or aren’t given, a book that will sustain their attention so it’s really important to find the right book for the right child. Speak to booksellers who can steer you towards the best adventures, the scariest thrillers and the most heart-felt contemporary reads. Ask librarians what books children who loved the Harry Potter series will enjoy so that their reading doesn’t slump as soon as Harry has beaten Voldemort and inquire about comic books and the array of brilliant non-fiction around at the moment.

Abi Elphinstone grew up in Scotland where she spent most of her childhood building dens, hiding in tree houses and running wild across highland glens. After being coaxed out of her tree house, she studied English at Bristol University and then worked as a teacher. The Dreamsnatcher was her debut novel for children and her second book, The Shadow Keeper publishes on 26 February 2016.

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