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Updated: November 12, 2010 21:19 IST

Once upon a time...

Liza George
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Wordsmith Michelle Paver. Photo: Liza George
The Hindu Wordsmith Michelle Paver. Photo: Liza George

Michelle Paver, author of the popular children's book series Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, talks about her journey into ‘writerdom'

When Michelle Paver's Chronicles of Ancient Darkness was released, many called her the next J.K. Rowling and her series of books, the answer to Rowling's Harry Potter series. Set in Northern Europe some six thousand years ago during the Stone Age, The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, a series of six books traces the coming of age of Torak, an orphaned boy with powers. The young boy is called upon to save the world from the evil forces that killed his parents and is aided in his quest by a faithful wolf and a young girl called Renn. However, while Rowling's Harry Potter series is pure fantasy, Michelle says her Chronicle series “borders on realism.”

She adds: “It is possible to find a rational explanation for what happens in the book, the magic. Where Torak sees the bear which killed his father as possessed by a demon, we might recognise it as an animal suffering from a virus. Also when Torak's soul leaves his body to enter that of an animal, if you were a person down a cave inhaling strange smoke, you could have such an experience too. Like Shamans.”

Keeping it real

Authenticity, says the author, is extremely important. While most fiction authors would let their fancy and imaginative powers take flight while writing a novel, Michelle's desire for getting her facts right takes her on research trips to really remote corners of the world. In fact, the author went on research trips to Greenland, Northern Canada, Scandinavia and Finland to experience the kind of life Torak would have led. It also brought her into close encounters with polar bears, killer whales and wolves.

“I have swum with killer whales, eaten elk heart and fish eyes, ridden horseback across Lapland, learned how to skin a reindeer… all for the research for the series,” says Michelle. In fact, for her recent work after the Chronicle series, Dark Matter, the author lived in the cold darkness of the Arctic to get into the skin of her character, Jack.

“It is a ghost story. The darkness of the Arctic spooked me enough to write the tale,” grins the author who admits that when she first started planning the Chronicle series, she did not know if children would find the world of hunter-gatherers fascinating enough.

“As I don't have any children or know any children, I wasn't sure it would click. The world of hunter-gatherers had fascinated me as a child. I remember sleeping on the floor, making elderberry wine and skinning a dead rabbit, all because I was fascinated by the way the Mesolithic men lived. My parents had this illustrated book on stone men that captivated me. Inspired by it I had sketched out a story of a boy who lived in the Stone Age when I was a kid but then soon forgot about it. The story came back to me when I started writing the Chronicles. It was a wish fulfilment, my way of achieving what I used to dream about when I was 10, to run with the wolves in prehistoric forest. ”

When asked how she felt upon the completion of her Chronicle series, she says she was devastated. “I felt bereft. Torak and Renn were my children and they have now set wings. I felt a sense of achievement though as I feel I have kept up the standard for each book in the series,” says Michelle who adds that although her books are doing well, her journey into ‘writerdom' was not without a struggle.

An Oxford graduate in biochemistry, she went on to do law. “I wrote two Mills and Boonish romances then that were rejected,” says Michelle who resigned from a lucrative job as a solicitor to devote her time to writing. She took a year off to travel and came across adventures that included coming face to face with a black bear which later inspired her to write Wolf Brother (the first of the Chronicle series). But before the Chronicle series came five novels. While Without Charity, her debut novel is of forbidden love and skeletons in the closet, A Place in the Hills is of two intertwined love stories. Then came the Eden trilogy, which is set in colonial Jamaica.

The writer, who says she rarely has free time to do things she likes, says she likes it that way. “But when I do get free moments I enjoy reading biographies, travelling and gardening.”

The author who says she grew up reading myths and legends is currently working on a series titled Gods and Warriors. “It is set in the Bronze age and in the Mediterranean.”

First time in the city

Michelle is in the city in connection with The Hay Festival in Kerala. A frequent participant at the Hay Festival in the United Kingdom, this is her first time as part of the international Hay Festival. “I am delighted to be here. Participating in such festivals is a great way to meet your fans and connect with them. I'm also looking forward to interacting with Indian authors. As for Kerala, this is my first time here and I find it really beautiful. I'm hoping to visit the Periyar National Park but doubt I will be able to squeeze it into my tight schedule here. I'm also looking forward to seeing a Kathakali performance. I've got my binoculars with me and have already spotted a couple of birds. As for shopping, my mother, Odette, who has visited Kerala several times always picks up such lovely jewellery and textile. I hope to pick some up too,” says Michelle.

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