6 ISSUES FOR JUST £6 Subscribe to Surrey Life today CLICK HERE

Wimbledon wanderer Michelle Paver, author of the best-selling Chronicles of Ancient Darkness

10:46 07 April 2010

Wimbledon wanderer Michelle Paver, author of the best-selling Chronicles of Ancient Darkness

Wimbledon wanderer Michelle Paver, author of the best-selling Chronicles of Ancient Darkness

Writer of the best-selling Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, about Stone Age boy Torak and his beloved wolf, Michelle Paver is one of Surrey’s leading authors. With the first book now set to be made into a film, Alec Kingham discovers how a Wimbledon wanderer came to find herself in the company of wolves

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine March 2010

***

Author Michelle Paver may not be a familiar name to many grown-ups, but to teenage lovers of fictional adventure, she is a living legend.
Her six-part Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, the immensely popular tales of Stone Age orphan Torak and his companion wolf, captured young imaginations the world over and sold over a million copies in the UK alone.

Last August saw the release of Ghost Hunter, the final book in the series – and now 20th Century Fox has bought the film rights, to be produced by the acclaimed director of Alien and Gladiator, Ridley Scott.

“It’s in development, as they say, yes,” Michelle confirms. “I’ve seen a copy of the Wolf Brother script that they very kindly sent to me. I rather liked it because they’ve stuck to the story. I think it’s quite a difficult one to film because of the wolf – I mean wolves are not good actors! You can’t train wolves, so they’ll have to think how to get round that.”

Would Sir Ian McKellen, the acclaimed actor who narrated the audio versions of the books, be likely to appear in the films, perhaps as Torak’s adoptive father Fin-Kedinn?

“I would certainly do my best,” says Michelle. “It wouldn’t be up to me for casting, that’s Fox’s decision, but Ian is an admirer of the books; he’s been kind enough to say some lovely things about them. I think he’d be fantastic, and he’s got such an understanding and sympathy with the characters. It made me realise how powerful someone of Ian’s charisma would have been in the Stone Age. He could have made you believe anything, sitting around the campfire.”

Wimbledon roots
Born in  Malawi, in 1960, Michelle relocated to England with her family when she was a young girl, eventually settling in suburban Wimbledon. Apart from a couple of years living in London, she’s remained in the area ever since.

Aside from tennis, of course, Wimbledon is perhaps best known for The Wombles – the innocuous furry creatures that roamed Wimbledon Common in a series of children’s stories that were developed for television in the 1970s. The pointy nosed, absent-minded rodents scooped up people’s rubbish, which they recycled to decorate their burrows.

So how does a young girl growing up in that sort of cosy environment develop a fascination for canus lupus, the fierce, undomesticated origin of all dog species, the wolf?

“I think that goes back to when I was ten and I wanted a wolf!” says Michelle. “I pestered my parents for a wolf – and they gave me a spaniel! But he sort of became a wolf in my imagination when I took him for walks on Wimbledon Common.”

In Wolf Brother, the first book in the series, Torak, who eventually learns to ‘spirit walk’ within the souls of living animals, befriends a young orphaned wolf with whom he can communicate. He then develops a friendship with Renn, a girl from the tribe that initially captures and threatens to sacrifice him. There are many dark elements in the books – sorcery, sickness and death – and Michelle doesn’t flinch from exploring them.

“I’ve always loved ancient myths,” she says. “As a child I loved them and I think they are incredibly powerful, and they are quite dark and violent at times.

“I suppose one of the things about hunter-gatherers is that they have a fairly unflinching attitude towards life and death, and what is great about writing these books is you can get to explore all sorts of things.

“You know, where do we go to after we die and how do people deal with grief when they lose someone? But also, how do they form strong friendships with animals and other people?

“So it’s the light and the dark thrown into very high relief. I do like sharp contrast between light and dark, and you can’t have contrast without the darkness.”

In varying combinations, the trio of Torak, Wolf and Renn, with the assistance of mage craft – ritual magic – undertake fantastic and dangerous journeys to counter the malevolent force of rogue mages, the Soul Eaters, who can also spirit walk and ultimately seek to control the clans of the forest.

I ask her why, when she envisioned the series, she chose a male character as the main protagonist.

“It is a bit weird, isn’t it?” she considers. “It struck me as a bit strange, and I did ask myself, ‘why is it a 12-year-old boy?’ Well, I am a woman, so why not make him a girl? But you know characters are strange, they walk into your head, for whatever reason.

“But then, very early on in Wolf Brother, Renn, the girl, asserted herself as someone I had to deal with! She’s got a much stronger character than I anticipated, so she made me change my plans for quite a few of the books.

“I think people do admire Renn because she’s pretty tough, and she’s the best shot in the forest with a bow and arrow, which is very cool – and unlike me!”

Myth and magic
The books are renowned for their detailed description of pre-agricultural Stone Age hunter-gatherers, and I find myself wondering whether she was initially interested in writing about myth and magic, and decided to set it in the Stone Age, or if she was more focused on exploring Stone Age peoples and the magic came later?

“Gosh, that’s an interesting question, I’ve never been asked that! I tell you what came first: the picture in my head of a boy and a wolf – before the Stone Age setting. It was just an emotional feeling that I wanted to write a story about a boy with a very strong connection to a wolf.

“Then I remember fairly early on thinking, ‘well, I want a nice simple, natural background, full of the natural world, no towns, no villages, when can I set it?’ I thought about a post-apocalyptic time but I didn’t like that. Then I remembered that I’d been keen on the Stone Age as a child and I thought that would be an interesting time – the hunter-gatherer time.”

As part of her meticulous research, Michelle made repeated visits to the Wolf Conservation Trust in Berkshire, where she observed the animals’ behaviour. She has since become a patron of the centre, and a young cub born there was named Torak. Michelle also spent time in Finland, Greenland and the Lofoten Islands, northwest of Norway, where she studied the indigenous Inuit and Sami people – whose way of living is virtually unchanged from the Stone Age.

“My interest dates back to a big beautiful book of archaeologically accurate pictures of people in the Stone Age,” she continues. “I remember looking at it before I could read, just looking at the pictures.”

While in the company of traditional peoples, Michelle ate things such as elk heart, seal liver, fish eyes and raw whale blubber, and learned how to make weapons and clothing from whalebones, sealskin and reindeer hides. However, swimming with killer whales is perhaps the memory that most stands out in her mind.

“That was extraordinary, partly because I was in this dry suit, floating, snorkelling in the second deepest fjord in Norway. I was in the orcas’ world, hearing them whistling and clicking to each other, and then looking down at this blue light and seeing these dim shapes. That was magic, because I was in a different world, their world, and I felt so privileged.”

After the Chronicles
So, the big question now, of course, with the tales of Torak and Wolf having reached their conclusion, is what comes next for Wimbledon’s best-known author?

“Well, I can’t say too much yet, but I’m working very hard on a new series for the same readership as the Chronicles,” she reveals. “All I can tell you at the moment is that I’ve had this idea with the characters in my head for a while. It will still be set in pre-history, but a slightly later time and a different part of the world. Sorry for being a bit gnomic but that’s all I can say! I haven’t told even my publishers more than that. I’m doing a bit of research to sort of feel my way into the period. A volcano is going to come into it at some point – I can tell you that.

“I don’t think there will be quite as many wolves! I’ve got definite plans to get close to a number of different animals – it would be premature to tell you which animals, though...”

When I was researching this article, I came across some photos of her visiting a kangaroo sanctuary in my native Australia. Might it be Kangaroo Brother?

“Ha! Ha! I think I can go so far as to tell you, no, it won’t be! Nice try!”

0 comments

Shop with us at Great British Life

More from Out & About

The Prince of Wales listens intently to pupils at Ashley CofE Primary School

One of the country’s leading eco-schools welcomed Prince Charles to Walton-on-Thames yesterday, to showcase their sustainable initiatives.

Read more
Two swans, by Craig Denford - for more about this pic, see March's Surrey Life

It’s Valentine’s Day this month, so in the spirit of the season, here we speak to a few well-known Surrey residents to find out what it is they love most about living here

Read more
Sunday, February 7, 2016
Road leading into the village of Shere, Surrey

Surrey villages are some of the most beautiful in Britain – think red-bricked cottages, cosy pubs, village greens and picture-worthy streets. We picked 14 of the prettiest Surrey villages to live.

Read more
Sunday, February 7, 2016
Chris Howard inspecting the World War Two defences

Explore the tow path from Guildford to Shalford and onto the pretty village of Wonersh, with this crisp wintery walk. You’ll discover some interesting industrial and military history along the way

Read more
Thursday, February 4, 2016
Butterflies will be brightening up the winter days at Wisley. Shown here os the Asian Swallowtail butterfly (Photo RHS - Julian Weigall)

In a gardening special, here we bring you an exclusive peek at what this year looks like for Wisley, the flagship garden of the RHS, and all the horticultural highlights to make a note of in your diaries

Read more
Thursday, February 4, 2016
Katie Webb (Feral), Andrew Monaghan (Tantrum) and Kate Lyons (Hiberna) - photo by Johan Persson

Matthew Bourne’s sumptuous Sleeping Beauty leaps, twists and twirls its way into Woking this week.

Read more
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Detail from Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire, from the Meadows, John Constable, 1831 (Copyright: Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London Corporation)

Each month, we team up with Guildford’s Tourist Information Centre to reveal some of the best things going on across the county

Read more
Monday, February 1, 2016
The Brookwood Military Memorial is a must-see (Photo Aly Warner)

While the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris is an established part of the tourist trail, our country’s equivalent, Brookwood, near Woking, has yet to emerge as a must-visit. But with plans now afoot to restore this unique landscape to its former glory, that could all be about to change…

Read more
Monday, February 1, 2016
The village of Ripley is a jewel in Surrey's gastrovillage crown (Photo: Matthew Williams)

There’s been much fanfare concerning the death of the Great British High Street in recent years, but in Surrey’s villages things appear to be well and truly thriving – and especially for foodies.

Read more
Monday, January 25, 2016
Surrey Life magazine February 2016

Fall in love with Surrey all over again this month, and join us to discover the people and places that make our county so very special

Read more
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Kelvin Trundle's winning image of Mayfield Lavender

As winter unfurls, we are delighted to announce that the winner of our annual photography competition is this stunning shot of a Surrey lavender farm in summer.

Read more
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Surrey Film Locations

Surrey has been used as a film location for many a blockbuster movie and the county’s hotels, woods and villages are no stranger to visits from the Hollywood A-list. Here’s just a few of the movies that have been, at least in part, filmed in Surrey

Read more
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Artist Alexandra Creswell is patron of Surrey Hills CowParade 2016

From psychedelic cows taking over the Surrey Hills to Martians returning to Woking, it certainly promises to be another action-packed year for our county

Read more
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Steven Edwards

Winner of BBC MasterChef: The Professionals 2013, Steven Edwards will be a guest chef at Pennyhill Park’s two Michelin-starred restaurant, The Latymer, in February.

Read more


Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad
subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Surrey's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area



Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search