Michelle Paver burst onto the bestseller lists with the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, a six-part adventure series set in the Stone Age featuring a boy hero and his wolf.
Translated into 35 languages, Chronicles sold over 2.5 million copies worldwide and the final part, Ghost Hunter, won the 2010 Guardian’s Children’s Fiction Prize.
Paver has now moved from Orion to Puffin for a brand new adventure series which begins with Gods and Warriors, out in August. Set 3,500 years ago during the Mediterranean Bronze Age, Gods and Warriors introduces 12-year-old Hylas, abandoned outside a village as a young child and put to work as a goatherd. The book, aimed at 9+ readers, opens with Hylas escaping a terrifying attack from the mysterious and surprising black warriors. Running for his life, Hylas is pitched headlong into a gripping adventure, encountering extraordinary characters both human and animal—including snooty Pirra, the runaway daughter of a high priestess, and a friendly dolphin. Hylas faces an uncertain struggle for survival against the elements as well as mortal (and possibly immortal) foes.
There will be five books in the Gods and Warriors series; a book a year, because “a year is a long time in a child’s life” says Paver. Each will work as a standalone adventure and Paver already has the whole sequence mapped out: “I can’t think of anything worse than doing a deal with a publisher: ‘oh yes, I’m going to do this series and I’ll think up the ideas later’ . . . I had to be clear when I did the deal that I had five books in mind that I really wanted to write.”
Puffin will be supporting with a huge marketing and publicity campaign aiming squarely at the number one chart position. Paver has a thriving community fan site (jointheclan.com) which will host monthly competitions, exclusive “reveals” and an opportunity to meet the author at a “superfan” event. There will be a schools and libraries campaign—with a nationwide tour of schools—plus a Puffin Virtually Live event (a live interactive webcast) to reach many more. Advertorials and competitions are planned for the consumer press. Paver will also be appearing at book festivals including Edinburgh, Bath, Cheltenham and Wimbledon, as well as a tour of bookshops.
As with Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, Gods and Warriors takes place in a far distant prehistory. Paver’s attraction to this age is partly due to the myths she read when younger, she explains. From the Norse myths to Ancient Greek, she much preferred them to fairy stories: “They are violent, they are strange, they don’t always end well—in fact most of them don’t—but there’s a truth to them which I just loved.”
The prehistory setting also gives her a freedom to be inventive: “You can fill in the blanks . . . you can tell an almost mythic story and deal with the big issues—life, death, freedom, fate, free will—while at the same time telling an adventure story.”
But Paver’s stories never venture into the supernatural. “The magic is real,” she says, ensuring there is always a rational, 21st-century explanation for the extraordinary experiences of the characters.
Indeed, the books are firmly grounded in reality. As well as extensive research in the British Library, Paver undertakes research trips where, by the sounds of it, she rather puts herself through it. Dangerous encounters in the name of writerly authenticity include coming face-to-face with a black bear defending her two cubs in a California National Park—an experience she has described as “mortal terror”. Researching Gods and Warriors, she travelled around Greece, and encountered an irascible boar and her piglets in the mountains west of Sparta.
“Always when I’m on the research trip I have an idea of the story, or I’m in the middle of writing it, so the characters are with me. So I’m thinking: ‘Oh, this is where Hylas and Pirra come ashore.’ It’s a lot easier than trying to make it all up.”
Given the commercial and critical success of Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, does she feel the pressure with Gods and Warriors? “Absolutely, huge pressure! Can I do it again?” It has helped, she says, that she wrote Dark Matter, an adult ghost story, between finishing the final Chronicles book and beginning Gods and Warriors: “it was very important to me to have a complete break from children’s writing”.
Over the course of her writing career Paver has written for both adults and children. She began writing novels as an undergraduate at Oxford, reading Biochemistry, and continued while working as a solicitor for a City law firm, where she specialised in intellectual property litigation. The hours were long and demanding, and in 1997 she took a year off to travel, and finish the manuscript of Without Charity.
Returning to the City after her sabbatical she decided to quit for good, and was working out her notice when the offer came through from Transworld for Without Charity, the first in the Eden trilogy, a series of adult timeslip novels set in Jamaica. Midway through writing these, Paver unearthed something she had been working on at Oxford—a children’s story about a Norse boy and a wolf. Enthused, she sent a brief précis to her agent, Peter Cox. He phoned the next day to tell her to drop everything else and write it; a sound commercial instinct as it turned out—the book became the “life-changing” Wolf Brother, the first in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness.
Paver foresees a particular challenge for the Gods and Warriors series, as central characters Hylas and Pirra age from 12 to 15 across the five books. “You don’t want to put off the 10-year-old [readers] by getting soppy, but you want to satisfy the 14-year-old girls who will be wondering if Hylas and Pirra are going to get together.”
But with 12 books already under her belt Paver must be used to such challenges, and although the writing doesn’t get any easier, she says, she is more confident when things don’t go to plan: “To paraphrase Tolstoy, every book falls apart in its own different way and you can never see it coming . . . but I’ve had the ups and downs of writing for 12 years now, and I don’t lose my nerve so easily.”
1960 born in Nyasaland (now Malawi), moved to the UK aged three
1979–1983 MSc Biochemistry, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University
1985 joined a City law firm as an articled clerk
1987 qualified as a solicitor specialising in scientific litigation
1993 made a partner at the City law firm
1998 left law to write full-time
2000 début Without Charity (Transworld)
2010 Won Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize for Ghost Hunter
Publication date: 28/08/12
Formats: £12.99 hb/e-book
Rights: 14 territories to date
Editor: Elv Moody, editorial director Classic Puffin
Agent: Peter Cox, Redhammer Management
Michelle Paver's top five
First in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series. Fulfilling his dead father’s final wish, 12-year-old Torak and a lone wolf cub embark on a terrifying quest.
Books sold since 2004: 232,000
Second in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. Torak searches for a cure to a fatal disease affecting the Raven Clan.
Books sold since 2005: 135,000
1930s ghost story for adults set in the forbidding, haunting wilderness of the Svalbard archipelago.
Books sold since 2010: 108,000
Third in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. Torak braves the wilderness of the far north in search of Wolf.
Books sold since 2006: 99,000
Fourth in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. Torak is on the run, having been cut off from the clans; two friends try to prove his innocence.
Books sold since 2007: 88,000