Jungledrop – Q&A with author Abi Elphinstone

Being able to ask questions to one of your favourite authors is entirely exciting but also nerve wracking.  With a new baby and a toddler to entertain, Abi still manages to create incredible and uplifting stories.  Read on for her amazing answers about The Unmapped Chronicles!

Abi, so many of us, adults and children alike, are so excited about The Unmapped Chronicles and the sheer wonder and adventure that befall your creatively named characters. With Everdark, RumbleStar and now JungleDrop published we are fully immersed in the dangers caused by Morg and her dark magic. We are seeing the impact on our world as well as the worlds we delve into.

Completely enthralling, exhilarating and exciting! Thank you! So lovely to know you’re enjoying the series.

Can you give us a brief description of what happens in Jungledrop?

On the surface of things, Jungledrop is an adventure story involving eleven-year-old twins Fox and Fibber Petty-Squabble, who have been rivals for as long as they can remember. Only one of them will inherit the family fortune and so a race is afoot to save the dwindling Petty-Squabble empire and win the love of their parents. But when the twins are whisked off to Jungledrop, a magical Unmapped Kingdom in charge of conjuring our world’s weather, things get wildly out of hand. An evil harpy called Morg is on the loose. And if she finds the long-lost Forever Fern before the twins, both Jungledrop and our world will crumble. Suddenly, Fox and Fibber find themselves on an incredible adventure in a glow-in-the-dark rainforest full of golden panthers, gobblequick trees and enchanted temples. The fate of two worlds lies in the twins’ hands so they must learn to work together for once to defeat Morg and her dark magic…

Really though, this is a story about a young girl finding her way (with the help of a flickertug map) and her learning what most grown-ups take a lifetime to understand: that kindness – to others, to our planet and, perhaps hardest of all, to ourselves – is what holds kingdoms and worlds together.

A glow in the dark jungle is a magical setting for the imagination – where did the inspiration for this setting come from?

I think it was a combination of seeing (and being mesmerised by) the glowing plants from the 2009 movie, Avatar, and thinking back to my own childhood and remembering my love of the glow-in-the-dark stars I used to stick to my bedroom ceiling. I was a terrible sleeper as a child – my mind refused to slow down at the end of each day – and I used to gaze at those stars when I was supposed to be sleeping. I thought it would be fun to have a glow-in-the-dark setting in one of The Unmapped Chronicles books and because rainforests are explosively colourful anyway I thought it would be really magical to have all of those colours glowing at night…

The Unmapped Chronicles take the reader on a thrilling tour through jungles, floating clouds and other wonderful settings. How important was it for the settings to be so vastly different to each other?

Reading Michelle Paver’s The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series long before I had my first novel published taught me that settings can have as much personality as characters. So, I spend a great deal of time conjuring up my imagined worlds (sketching maps of them, doodling place signs, visiting real-life places that might enrich my fictional land) before I start imposing a plot on them. In The Unmapped Chronicles, each book acts as a standalone adventure and I wanted to create a handful of wildly different secret lands for each one (a sky kingdom, a glow-in-the-dark rainforest, a snowy world and a sea realm) so that children can take their pick of which place they’d like to visit and even feel a sense of belonging there. For example, a child who loves the ocean might feel at home in the sea realm of Crackledawn whereas a kid who adores astronomy and space might feel more drawn to the sky kingdom of Rumblestar.

The Petty Squabble Twins are aptly named, as are many of your characters. How easily do the names come to you?

Naming characters, places and objects is one of my favourite parts of the writing process. For me, connotations, humour and onomatopoeia matter hugely… With the hero and heroine of Jungledrop – Fox and Fibber Petty-Squabble – I wanted first names that might imply the characters of the twins (a sly girl and a trickster boy) then a surname that conveyed the fact that they’re always arguing with each other. I leant on connotations again, and humour, for the first person Fox and Fibber meet from Jungledrop – a ghost called Tedious Niggle (he is the ghost of a nagging grown up). There are also plenty of whackily-named magical plants and objects in the story where onomatopoeia comes into play: gobblequick trees, a flickertug map, a fablespoon and a doubleskin mirror… Some names come to me very easily, as if they’ve been sitting in my head for a long time without my knowing (like the Drizzle Hags in Rumblestar: Gertie Swamp, Hortensia Quibble and Sylvara Buckweed) then some names (often book titles – Rumblestar was Rumblegust for a long time, until my editor pointed out that this sounded like a book about trapped wind) take a while longer to settle into place.

Which comes first- the name to suit the character or the character to suit the name?

Usually the character comes first – or the essence of the character. Then I set about thinking about a name children will both remember and perhaps chuckle at when they come across it. I used to love Roald Dahl’s names: the BFG, the Fleshlumpeating giant, snozzcumbers, the Twits, Miss Trunchbull – memorable, funny and so much fun to read aloud…

JungleDrop is overwhelmingly full of positive messages for children and adults and are worded in such a beautiful way as to give the reader pause to let them sink in. Was this strategically planned or was it magically interwoven to suit the story of the Twins?

When planning my books, I try to focus on two things simultaneously: the adventure (often a race-against-time quest to find something) and the character arc of my hero/heroine (often where the positive messages for children come in). The latter has to be believable and the growth of character deftly done for the reader to absorb it, and enjoy it, and not sense anything dogmatic in the narrative. It’s a delicate balancing act trying to maintain the drama of an adventure whilst ensuring characters change in a believable way and positive messages are conveyed organically and I often feel I don’t quite manage it. Where possible though, I try and use a secondary character to elicit important truths the main characters need to hear. These secondary characters are often humorous side-kicks, like Heckle, the parrot who repeats what you think, not what you say, but who also possesses a secret stash of wisdom: ‘Trust,’ she tells the warring Petty-Squabble twins, ‘is like a shoelace; it takes two hands to tie it into something worthwhile.’ Then there’s the more ostensibly wise Deepglint, a golden panther who shows Fox she matters and that she is worth listening to: ‘I am listening. Because nothing, and I mean nothing, is more powerful than a child in possession of a plan.’ And then there are the moments I let my main characters come to these discoveries themselves, like when Fox realises it’s okay to let her guard down: ‘Fox made a mental note that crying during a hug didn’t mean that everyone ran away from you afterwards.’

Where do The Unmapped Chronicles take us next?

To the sea kingdom of Crackledawn initially – think sea dragons, sunken castles and an elephant called Trampletusk who has giant butterfly wings for ears – and then on into unchartered territory…

I love The Lofty Husks and how they take on different forms in each kingdom. So far we have met them as Elves in Everdark, stern Wizards in RumbleStar and as Panthers in Jungledrop. Can you give us any clue as to what form they may take in a future kingdom?

There’s just one Unmapped Kingdom I still have to include in the series – and that’s Silvercrag, a land of towering icebergs, frozen rivers and snowy mountains. I’m about to start writing about this setting and while I can picture it and some of its magical creatures already, I still haven’t decided what form the Lofty Husks will take. I do know though, in keeping with the rulers of the other kingdoms, they will be unusually wise, unfathomably old and utterly terrible at telling jokes.

Will there be more cross over of characters between the Kingdoms and books? It was lovely to see Casper Tock introduce himself to the Twins.

Yes! I loved reading the Narnia books as a child. Each one was a standalone adventure – much like the books in my The Unmapped Chronicles series – but I used to find it really exciting, and satisfying, when a character I had met in a previous book cropped up in the book I was currently reading. I had great fun making characters cross over from Everdark (the novella I wrote for World Book Day recently which became the first book in The Unmapped Chronicles) to Rumblestar and then from Rumblestar to Jungledrop. The heroine of Jungledrop will make an appearance in the final Unmapped Chronicles book and because I love gathering key characters together in the last book in a series (it creates a wonderfully celebratory atmosphere and it also gives the main characters a chance to reflect on how far they’ve come, both physically and mentally, since the start of their journey), I’ll be working on this for the final book in this series, too.

The next two books- are their titles set in stone or might they change over time?

There’s actually just one more book in The Unmapped Chronicles. And whilst I assumed it would be called after the kingdom the adventure begins in (Crackledawn) I’m now in talks with my editor at Simon & Schuster about the possibility of adding in a few contextual words to lead into the title to give readers more of a sense of what to expect from the story. We’ll see!

Jungledrop | Book by Abi Elphinstone | Official Publisher Page

Any opinions expressed may not truly reflect those of the FCBG

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