Barbara: Have you ever experienced a meeting or discovery that seemed like a miracle? What happened?
Abi Elphinstone: I think the closest thing to feeling like I was experiencing a miracle was when I watched a legendary Kazakh Eagle Hunter called Agali loose his golden eagle, Balapan, over the Mongolian mountains to hunt for a fox (the hunters use fox fur to keep warm in the bitterly cold winters).
The spectacle was mesmerising: a man in traditional Eagle Hunting dress (complete with felt hat lined with rabbit fur and topped with owl feathers), a horse that scaled unimaginably steep cliffs and an eagle who glided effortless on wind thermals before diving towards the fox.
I went out to Mongolia after seeing a photograph by Asher Svidensky of 14-year-old Eagle Huntress, Aisholpan.
I remember thinking, when I saw the photograph, that there was a story buried up in her life but I never imagined that I would meet Aisholpan and go hunting with her father, Agali.
It was an extraordinary few weeks and although Wikipedia might have told me that there are families out in Mongolia who use eagles to hunt, the actual experience taught me what a golden eagle’s cry sounds like and what the owl feathers on Agali’s hat felt like — and I hope my book will be all the better for these details.
Abi Elphinstone: I take photos with my iPhone (or if I’m travelling with my husband, we use his snazzy ‘proper’ camera) and then when I’m back in the UK and sitting down ready to write, I look through the photos to glean details I may have missed. I also take notes in hardback notepads on my travels – that way if I find myself jotting down information half way up a mountain or in the depths of a cave, I still have a sturdy surface to lean on!
Sometimes though, I do nothing to record my book research adventures. I just sit and enjoy the wildness around me.
Over New Year, I was lucky enough to see the northern lights in the Arctic, over the Lofoten Islands, north of Norway as research for an upcoming series. I hardly took any notes on that holiday (despite seeing killer whales and hiking through the polar night) because sometimes it’s important just to sit and watch and enjoy being at the very edge of the world.
Thank you, dear Abi, for taking the time to answer my questions, and all the best for the book launch in February 2016! If you want to see more of the fantastic photos from the trip to Mongolia, here’s Abi’s fantastic photo essay. And here are the eagle photos that Abi mentioned.
If you want to read more about Abi’s life as an author, her research trips and her books The Dreamsnatcher (2015) and The Shadow Keeper (2016), read Abi’s website: www.abielphinstone.com
Abi also frequently posts photos from her trips on Twitter: @moontrug and Instagram: @moontrugger and of course, on Facebook: www.facebook.com/abi.elphinstone