Merry Christmas! A suitably snowy feel to our Q & A today.
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 8-12 years and was longlisted for the Brandford Boase Award. The Shadow Keeper is her second book and a third book, The Night Spinner, will complete the trilogy in February 2017. When she’s not writing, Abi volunteers for Beanstalk, visits schools to talk about her books and travels the world looking for her next story. Her latest adventure involved living with the Kazakh Eagle Hunters in Mongolia and you can read about that here.
Name three things on your Christmas list this year! Books, trainers and adventures. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead; a new pair of running trainers; a dog-sledding trip across the Arctic. That last item has been on my Christmas list for many years but, excitingly, I think this December it might become a reality (great timing, too, because I’m currently 20,000 words into an adventure set up in the frozen north…).
Christmas is a time of family traditions – what are your best (or worst!) family traditions? I grew up in the wilds of Scotland and every year, a few weeks before Christmas, my family and I would set off up the glen to chop down a Nordman Fir (they hold onto their needles best) from our friend’s woodland. I remember the excitement my siblings and I shared as we picked our tree and the effort of chopping it down but, most of all, I remember the thrill of using ropes to hoist it up into the stairwell of our house and then, afterwards, decorating it with chocolate ornaments, glittering baubles and colourful fairy-lights. I had troubles getting to sleep as a child but on the nights that our Christmas tree was in the house I used to sleep better. Something about the way the Nordman Fir’s fairy-lights shone through the night was hugely comforting.
There are wonderful stories shared at Christmas time. What is your favourite story to read at Christmas? For me, the best winter stories are poised on the edge of miracles. There has to be a sense of longing and when the snow falls that longing is somehow brought closer. Such is the case with my favourite winter read: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. The youngest of four siblings, Lucy Pevensie’s heart is filled with longing. She wants to be believed by her brothers and sister and treated as their equal and it takes a world locked in the depths of winter and hidden behind a wardrobe to make her siblings understand. But Lucy not only dares to hope that Edmund, Susan and Peter will believe her stories of Narnia; she dares to hope that together with them she can save an entire land from the grips of the White Witch. And I think it is Lucy’s ability to hope against the odds and against the cynicism of her siblings that makes this story so powerful. Without it, the way through to Aslan’s values – forgiveness, friendship, courage and compassion – might never have been found.
(I love your description of this wonderful story)
If you could have Christmas dinner with anyone (alive today or person from history) who would it be? C.S. Lewis. I’d want him to tell me, in detail, what a Narnian Christmas would involve. I’d like to know where the Pevensie children would go sledging, what food Mrs Beaver might prepare and what Aslan’s favourite carol would be. I love C.S. Lewis’ non-fiction for adults, too, and I’d love to ask him about his faith.
Your books feature wonderful fantastical adventures in magical places and you’ve been to some amazing places in real life! If you were to go on a Christmas adventure, where would you go to and who would be with you? My Christmas adventure is (hopefully) going to happen at the end of December. It’ll be with my husband – he usually comes on my book research trips with me as he also loves exploring wild places at the very edges of civilisation – and we’ll fly into northern Norway, Tromso, and then set about our travels from there: dog-sledding across the ice, living like the Sami Reindeer Herders used to in the forest and chasing the northern lights by sleigh. And when, finally, I’m back in the UK I’ll be turning all this into my fourth book (out 2018).
(Sounds incredibly exciting – can’t wait to read the book!)
You work with the fantastic charity, Beanstalk, helping children with their reading. What do you think is the best way to help children discover the magic of reading? Find the right book for the right child. There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ book – it’s important to embrace any kind of narratives that eases a child into the wonder of stories. And never dismiss the power of picture books. They don’t have many words but the ones they do have they use wisely. And their illustrations speak volumes.
(Wholeheartedly agree with this!)
Reader’s question from children at the Inkpots Writers’ Hut; what is your most favourite book? (always a tough one to answer!) 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.
Turkey or goose? Turkey.
Real or fake tree? REAL, REAL, REAL. Every time. To smell a real Christmas tree is to breathe in winter.
Mince pies or Christmas pudding? Mince pies. With clotted cream.
Stockings – end of the bed or over the fireplace? End of the bed so that you can feel them half way through the night to check that Father Christmas has been.
Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve? Christmas Eve. The magic of that night is tangible.
Thank you so much for participating! Have a very Happy Christmas!