If Moontrug could have a banana milkshake with three of her favourite middle-grade (8-12 years) authors she would go for Philip Pullman, Eva Ibbotson and Michelle Paver. Okay, so Moontrug didn’t exactly manage a banana milkshake with Michelle Paver at Hay Festival but she did manage to hear her speak about her Gods & Warriors books and meet her after the event… And that is second best to a milkshake.
Paver’s best-selling Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series conjures an elemental magic born in the Stone Ages while her more recent Gods & Warriors books deal with Bronze Age adventures – an Ancient Greece where lions and wolves still roam the hills and a mountain boy, Hylas, is on the run with the daughter of a High Priestess, Pirra. Paver talked of the everyday fears looming over individuals in Ancient Greece: ‘Life back then was uncertain for everybody. Will a storm sink our ship? Will an earthquake flatten our hut? People were always looking for signs from the Gods about what was going to happen next. So my magic isn’t about wands and wizards; it’s about a magic people back then genuinely believed in: the spirit of the mountain, the Earthshaker, the Black Beneath…’
Paver creates some of the best child-animal bonds out there (up there with Michael Morpurgo’s). In The Outsiders she brings us a dolphin, the cleverest animal known to man – but she admits: ‘It would have been hard to get a dolphin inland to the volcano Hylas escapes to so in my second book, The Burning Shadow, I chose to have a lion cub called Havoc, the strongest animal that would have roamed the hills of Ancient Greece. And in the third book, I go for the fastest animal in the world, the falcon.’
Moontrug likes to get out and have adventures as part of the research for writing books – and it seems like Paver does, too. ‘I never use the internet for research. I spend all my time in libraries pouring over amazing books – and out in the wild exploring where my characters would have been. Recently I hiked in the mountains in Greece like Hylas would have done; I found broken deer antlers which Hylas would have used – as a weapon against the Crows and as a fish hook to hunt (he would have bound the antlers with the stems of stinging nettles acting as rope).’ Paver showed us a piece of flint from ancient times which Hylas (and Fin-Kedinn from Chronicles of Ancient Darkness) would have used as an axe head. It got Moontrug thinking – if the UK’s male hunter-gatherer/uber explorer is Bear Grylls then Paver is our female version. She knew EVERYTHING about how people in Ancient Greece hunted: ‘If Hylas killed a rabbit, he’d use the long bones for fish spears and needles, the stringy bones as thread, the heart for food, the eyes as glue, the brain to rub into the hide to polish the leather.’ BOOM.
Paver has swum with dolphins as research for her character, Spirit, and heard the web of flickering, clicking sounds of the pod beneath the sea, ‘not unlike a sky of stars’ Paver said. She met the eyes of a wild dolphin before it sunk into its deep, blue world and Paver admitted: ‘I wanted to follow it but I wasn’t part of its world. Perhaps that’s why I had Hylas dive down into the sea on Spirit’s back and then come spluttering back up, gasping for air, as he realised he couldn’t follow’. Paver’s watched lion cubs – and even been charged by their mother. ‘You can’t get this kind of research from the internet or even from books; you have to experience it.’
Paver finished off with a few Q&As so Moontrug thought she’d spill some top-author secrets:
- Paver has a massive crush on Fin-Kedinn from Chronicles of Ancient Darkness
- Wolves are Paver’s favourite animals. She bottle-fed a wolf cub called Torak and he still licks her face and puts his paws on her shoulders when she visits him
- It takes Paver a year to write a book
- She wouldn’t change anything about the books she’s already published because she does about 30 drafts of each one so a lot of editing already happens before publication!
- Paver’s first ever memory was of a large, wolf-like dog called Sheba. Sheba used to protect Paver as a kid in Africa. That memory bubbled in her mind and she knew she wanted to write a book about a boy and a wolf
- The character she’d make real would be Spirit the dolphin because he could still be free and roam the seas
- The book she likes most out of the ones she’s written is always the one she’s currently writing, so right now that’s The Eye of the Falcon
- The first story she ever wrote was called Ebony the Mouse Goddess and she was 5 when she wrote it
- Her tip on writing a book is to ask yourself two questions: what does my character want? does she/he get what she/he wants?
- She dreamt up the ending for her book, Spirit Walker, in a yoga lesson!