Scoop had the opportunity to interview Michelle Paver, Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize winner. She is the author of popular children’s books such as the fantasy series Chronicles of Ancient Darkness and the newly published Viper’s Daughter. Michelle has activity packs for children and educators/parents available on her website.
When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
I wrote my first story when I was five: it’s called Ebany The Mouse Goddess. At university I tried to write my first book. It was pretty hopeless and it didn’t get published, but I learnt that writing stories is MUCH harder than I’d thought. After that I was hooked.
What were some of your favourite books as a child?
I loved Tove Jansson’s Moomin books, and Willard Price’s Adventure books, about two boys who go to remote places, collecting animals for zoos. Both authors wrote hugely exciting stories that you can’t put down. That’s what I try to do.
What authors have inspired you?
JRR Tolkien, who awoke my love of trees; Roger Lancelyn Green, who plunged me into the strange, violent world of myths; and the Edwardian ghost story writer M. R. James, who wrote a story so frightening that when I read it aged ten I lay awake in a cold sweat.
Of all the books you’ve ever written, do you have a favourite?
NO! That’d be like asking a parent to name their favourite child! But if I HAD to pick one, it’d be Wolf Brother. I had such fun writing from Wolf’s point of view. When he tries to pat Torak’s campfire he burns his paw, so he calls fire “the Bright Beast-that-Bites-Hot”. The odd thing is that when I first wrote the scene, I didn’t know Wolf was going to do that, he simply did it!
How long does it take you to complete a book?
A year. First I sketch out an exciting plot, then I travel to the Arctic and Scandinavia, so that I can make the reader feel they’re living the adventure with Torak and Renn. For earlier books I made friends with wolves and swam with wild killer whales. For Viper’s DaughterI crawled under a glacier, tracked polar bears in Siberia, and tried a traditional cure for toothache by licking a slug. (It worked, but I don’t suggest you try it: this was a special kind of slug, in the far northwest of America.)
Research trips are brilliant fun, but I hate writing the first draft, as it’s so hard. Rewriting is much more fun: cutting out the boring bits, to make it as exciting as I can.
What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t writing?
I love going for long walks on my own in wild places, particularly forests. But even then I am sort of writing, as my characters come with me in my head.
Are you working on any new books right now?
I’m writing Skin Taker, which is also about Torak, Renn and Wolf. And like Viper’s Daughter, you don’t have to have read the previous books to enjoy it.
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS
If you had to choose only one, would it be swimming or dancing?
Neither! I’ve never danced and I’m not that keen on swimming – unless I’m with killer whales. That’s amazing.
Car journey: audio book or music?
Audio books – especially the amazing Ian McKellen reading any of my Wolf Brotherbooks.
I like them all, but my favourites are spring and autumn.
Save the planet or move to Mars?
Save the planet! We can do it, if we all pull together.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
I’d love to be able to communicate with animals, in the same way that Torak talks to Wolf.
What is one thing you can’t live without?
Books. (Well, I suppose I’d survive without them, but life would be incredibly drab.)
Can you tell us a joke?
Q: Where does a wolf sit in a cinema?
A: Wherever it likes!
Viper’s Daughter by Michelle Paver was published on 2nd April by Zephyr, price £12.99 in hardback and is available to pre-order now.