HALF PRICE SALE 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

Monday, July 27, 2015
Head for a beachside picnic in Surrey at Frensham Little Pond (Photo: Matthew Williams)

From alfresco art to colourful coves, exotic food festivals to cool camping spots, there’s so much to discover this summer. Matthew Williams brings us 30 great ideas for summer days out in Surrey

Read more
Monday, July 27, 2015
The spectacular views from Newlands Corner (Photo G. Sweetnam)

Surrey Wildlife Trust manages over 80 nature reserves across the county, including heathlands, meadows, ancient woodlands, wetlands and grassland, for the benefit of people and wildlife. So, pack up a picnic and visit one of these beautiful havens...

Read more
Monday, July 27, 2015
Surrey Life magazine August 2015

Discover Surrey through a dog-lover’s eyes; meet our brand new columnist; join us inside Surrey’s inspiring prison garden and restaurant; and get snapping as our annual photography competition launches – all inside August’s Surrey Life magazine

Read more
Sunday, July 26, 2015
The Mill at Elstead (Photo: Matthew Williams)

From riverside locations to magical, secluded gardens, Surrey is blessed with some fantastic summer pubs – whether you’re looking for a cheeky pint, a ploughman’s lunch or something more refined. Matthew Williams dons his sunnies for a quick tour

Read more
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
A Celebration of Surrey Life 2015

To celebrate the very best of beautiful Surrey, we’ve created our second stunning 132-page coffee table magazine. In the second volume of A Celebration of Surrey Life, we travel from Banstead to Woking in search of the inspiring and secret. With pages packed full of beautiful Surrey photography and quirky trivia about the places you love, we hope you enjoy the journey – and discover something new to explore, too.

Read more
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
No wonder Bramley is such a popular place to live (Photo: Matthew Williams)

Surrounded by some of the most spectacular country estates in the area, and a haven for those looking for peaceful contemplation, Bramley is a quaint village that retains a comforting nod to the past

Read more
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Sunset over Guildford by Daniel Hannington

We’re delighted to launch our annual photography competition for the third year. Once again, it will culminate in a calendar, exhibition and overall winner (who will win a goodie bag packed full of prizes). This year’s competition has an Icons of Surrey theme, and August's magazine features some inspiration from Surrey Life readers to get the creative juices flowing...

Read more
Sunday, July 12, 2015
Casements at Reigate Fort (Photo: Andrew Butler)

Once home to a secret network of tunnels and caves used by one of our greatest wartime heroes, Reigate Hill is now the subject of a major investigation to uncover more about the area’s mysterious military past

Read more
Saturday, July 11, 2015
Mayfield Lavender near Banstead (Photo: Matthew Williams)

An unassuming village, tucked off the A217, Banstead became a tourist destination of sorts over the centuries thanks to the “wholesome air” that made it an escape from the city – for tired travellers and residents alike

Read more
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
A vintage touch will come to Reigate with Dotty (Eat! image 1)

It was only a matter of time before the ever so cosmopolitan town of Reigate got its own food festival. Here, organiser Philippa Ratcliffe shares just a few of the reasons you should make your way to the first Eat! Food Fest at Priory Park on Saturday July 25...

Read more
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
Now complete, there was much excitement as the project came together

Having led the way in teaching professional cookery skills for more than 60 years, Woking’s Tante Marie Culinary Academy has just moved to state-of-the-art new premises in the town centre complete with their own restaurant. Viv Micklefield gets a taste of what’s being served-up

Read more
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Guildford Shakespeare Company

With summer finally here, there’s a host of fantastic open-air theatre productions unfolding at some of Surrey’s most beautiful locations. Here’s our pick of what to see...

Read more
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
See supercars tackle Brooklands' Test Hill (Photo: Jason Dodd)

Each month, we team up with the group that’s in charge of tourism in the county, Visit Surrey, to reveal the essential dates for your diary during the month ahead...

Read more
Monday, June 29, 2015
The Palace forms a stunning backdrop

With our favourite flower show not only celebrating its 25th anniversary this year but also selected as Garden Event of the Year 2015 in the International Garden Tourism Awards, our gardening editor Leigh Clapp brings us her pick of what to see

Read more

NEWSLETTER SIGNUP



subscription ad

subscription ad

Surrey's trusted business finder