Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver became an international bestseller, and began the six-book "Chronicles of Ancient Darkness". The series was published in 36 countries, became acclaimed audiobooks read by Ian McKellen, and has sold over 2.5 million copies. To mark Wolf Brother's tenth anniversary, Orion is publishing a special edition on the 3rd of September.
Here, Michelle tells us more about the inspiration for the books and why she thinks they've captured so many people's imaginations.
“Boy meets wolf, saves world.” That’s how my sister once summarised the story I wanted to write. It became Wolf Brother. But like many writers, I had no idea why I was so keen to write it, I just knew that I did.
Looking back, it’s not hard to work out where it came from. When I was little, my parents had a book about the Stone Age, with dramatic pictures of hunters battling cave bears. I adored it. By the age of ten, I wanted a bow and arrow, and to live like the Stone Age people, with a wolf for a friend. Obtaining a wolf proved impossible, but my spaniel became a wolf in my imagination, and I did what I could about the Stone Age bit. I bought a rabbit from the butcher’s and skinned it, and dug up the lawn to grow betony and horehound. Decades later, those childhood obsessions came home to roost in Wolf Brother and its sequels.
To research the books, I tried to experience what my characters would, because I wanted my readers to do that too: to live the adventure with Torak, Renn and Wolf. For Wolf Brother this meant camping in the Finnish forest and learning the Sami way of life. Later, I went dog-sledding in Greenland, met polar bears in the Arctic, had a memorable swim with wild killer whales, and a painful but useful fall down part of a Norwegian mountain (useful for the story, I mean).
And of course I needed wolves. Parts of each story are told from Wolf’s point of view, and I wanted to make him a real wolf. So I made friends with some wolves at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust. I’m still a patron of the Trust, and the wolves I’ve known since they were tiny cubs always welcome me when I visit. Obviously, my favourite is the one named Torak.
Often with research, it’s the unexpected details that find their way into the story: the way the sea glitters with fish scales after killer whales have hovered up a shoal of herring; the clean, grassy smell when you stick your nose (politely) in a wolf’s furry scruff. These make readers feel as if they’re inside the story. And for me, that’s the aim: that magical feeling of living the adventure alongside the characters.
I didn’t expect the stories to become bestsellers, but maybe what connects with so many readers around the world is the fact that we were all hunter-gatherers once, and that wolves feature in the folklores of most cultures. Or maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe in the bond between Torak and Wolf, readers find something that lots of us would like: an enduring friendship with a creature who is, and always will be, truly wild.