Entrepreneur Of The Fortnight: Abi Elphinstone, Children’s Author

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Ever dreamt of leaving your 9-5 job if you only knew how to channel your passions into a money-making reality? Ever marvelled at creatives like Danielle Steele and JK Rowling who have made millions writing best-sellers published in languages the wide world over? Ever wondered how the heck you turn these kinds of dreams into a reality? How good a writer do you have to be to indulge your literary fantasies and hop across to a career in writing? How do you know if you’re wasting your time or if you’re investing in the life you’ve always wanted? And how much experience do you need in a field before jumping ship and pursuing a competitive venture from scratch?

As with most things entrepreneurial, Abi Elphinstone challenges the norms we’re accustomed to believing, giving incredibly helpful insight and advice about her path to literary success.

So if you’ve ever found yourself sitting at your desk wondering how to make your passions your reality, read on and be inspired…. This is a lady who is beautiful inside and out – with brains, honesty and imagination in bucket loads…

Over to you, Abi…

Abi Elphinstone

Can You Tell Me A Bit About What You Do?

I’m a children’s author and my debut for 8-12 years, The Dreamsnatcher, was published by Simon & Schuster in February this year. Really excitingly, it has been named a Top 10 Children’s Book Not To Miss in 2015 by The Bookseller and was reviewed as ‘thrilling for 9+ readers’ in The Sunday Times.

The sequel, Soul Splinter, will follow in 2016 and I’m currently mapping out the third book in the trilogy and a brand new series set in the Arctic.

I also host creative writing workshops for children, volunteer at Kidsco which provides practical, emotional and educational support to vulnerable children, young people and families and blog about children’s books at www.moontrug.com.

What Was Your Previous Experience Before Becoming A Published Author?

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In 2006, I left Bristol University with an English degree. After two unfulfilling years in PR, I booked a one-way ticket to Africa. There I taught English and half way up a baobab tree, I wrote my first children’s book. 

After four months I came back to the UK and went into secondary school teaching, first in Berkshire and then in London. I submitted my children’s book to thirty literary agents – and it was rejected by every single one.

So I continued to teach English and in the evenings and holidays, I wrote another book. I sent it to thirty literary agents – and it was rejected by them all. Again. A few agents said they saw ‘glimpses of brilliance’ and ‘raw talent’ in my work but they also said that my plots were unoriginal and my writing style was amateur.

So I wrote a third book. You can guess where this is going… it was rejected by every agent I sent it to. By this point I had racked up 96 rejections from agents. But something inside me refused to give up.

I kept every positive comment any of the agents gave in their rejection letters and took every bit of advice they offered. I went to literary festivals, I read more children’s books, I attended writing courses, I started blogging and I re-worked my writing until it was the very best it could be. Perhaps most importantly, I stopped putting my focus on getting a book deal and starting thinking about writing a story that really mattered to me. I wrote The Dreamsnatcher over the course of a year and I literally threw everything at it because it was finally a story I wanted to tell. I watched wildcats prowl in the New Forest, carved wooden flowers with a Romany gypsy and spent every spare second writing until it felt like there were no words left inside me. Then I sent off the book to one agent. She signed me and within two months I had a two book deal with a major UK publishing house! 

What Inspired You To Write The Dreamsnatcher?

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The Dreamsnatcher is, in many ways, like an extension of my childhood (minus the witchdoctors and the tree ghouls). I grew up in the wilds of Scotland where weekends were spent scrambling over the moors, building dens in the woods and jumping into icy rivers. I didn’t have to create Moll’s outdoor world; it grew out of my own. And before long it was filled with a cast of invented characters – a headstrong gypsy girl, a wildcat, a fortune-teller, a witchdoctor, tree ghouls and vapours. Once I’d written the words of the ancient Bone Murmur, Moll’s adventure had begun…

How Did You Manage To Build Towards Your Dream?

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Before I got my book deal, I was already immersed in the children’s book world. I was on Twitter (@Moontrug) where I met an abundance of fabulous booksellers, bloggers, librarians and teachers. I was reviewing children’s books on www.moontrug.com and I was running writing workshops at my house and in schools so there was a network of pupils and teachers interested in my book when it launched.

What’s Been The Biggest Highlight?

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Holding my book for the first time was an extraordinary feeling. Here was a story with my name on – and it was going into the best bookshops across the country. Being surrounded by my family and friends at my launch party was also incredible and meeting readers in schools and at signings and festivals is such fun.

What’s Been The Biggest Challenge?

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Being rejected for six years was tough. Some days I wished I’d never even told anyone I was writing a book because it was so embarrassing to have to tell them about all the rejections.

I went through stages – initially I felt cross that so many agents were rejecting my work (even though deep down I knew why), then I got critical of all the authors who had already made it (even though deep down I knew their work was totally brilliant), then I just felt really upset because of all the rejections. Then, and only then, I was left with the smallest amount of hope, or maybe it was just grit, and I knew that I’d do everything I possibly could to make my book happen, regardless of what other people might be thinking.

What’s The Best Compliment You’ve Received?

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One of my favourite children’s authors, Katherine Rundell, wrote this about my book and my publishers were so pleased they put it on the back cover: ‘An outstanding debut, packed with suspense, adventure and heart’. That was a very nice thing to hear before the book went out ‘into the wild.’

What Advice Would You Give To Budding Entrepreneurs?

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The above quote by Leonardo da Vinci is one of my favourites. 

There are a million excuses you can come up with to put off your plans but ultimately, if you want to start a business, or in my case write, then you’ve got to get on and start – regardless of what’s happening around you. There’s never a good time – start before you’re ready.

And I’d tell entrepreneurs that they’ve got to be humble enough to take criticism but determined enough to bounce back from it – as my Mum said to me through alongside my 96 rejections, ‘If you don’t fail, you’re just not trying hard enough.’ 

What’s Next For You?

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I’ve finished writing the sequel, Soul Splinter (the gypsies are outlawed to caves by the sea where they encounter sinister mer creatures and smugglers) and I hope there will be a third book in the Dreamsnatcher series as I’ve mapped that out too. Think abandoned castles, remote lochs, goblins and GIANTS.

I’ve also just started world-building for an Arctic series. Yesterday I wrote an snow spell and today I drew out the kingdom of Erkenwald… So there are lots more stories to come! 

How Can We Contact You?

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Through the ‘Contact Abi’ tab on my website. You can also check me out on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

What’s Your Favourite Quote?

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It’s a conversation between Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings that my little brother sent me while he was travelling the world. He couldn’t be there for the launch of The Dreamsnatcher so instead, he wrote me a letter with the following conversation in it, telling me to be brave no matter how scary it might feel to have my first book tiptoe out into the world. It was the loveliest letter I have ever been sent and reminded me of Sam and Frodo’s powerful and moving friendship:

Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.

Tell us something we didn’t know about you….

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I once arm-wrestled best-selling children’s author, Piers Torday – and won.

And Finally…

Check out the trailer for The Dreamsnatcher below, a magical tale replete with cobs, wildcats and witchdoctors which will grip you from start to end.

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And one last thing…

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