Michelle Paver is giving the Royal Literary Talk at this year’s Faclan, talking about her chilling Ghost stories, Dark Matter and Thin Air on Saturday 28 Oct. We caught up with her to find out about her upcoming trip to to Lewis.
How does Ultima Thule: a place beyond the borders of the known world or the “unknown”, relate to your work?
THIN AIR is a ghost story set on a Himalayan mountain in 1935. That was the golden age of mountaineering, a time when climbing the highest peaks in the world was indeed venturing into the unknown.
My hero, Stephen, is the expedition doctor, and along with four other Englishmen, he sets out to “conquer” Kangchenjunga: third highest mountain in the world, biggest killer of them all. As they climb higher, Stephen finds himself alone. He’s on the very edge of the known world, and at the limits of survival. Strange things start to happen. But is what he’s experiencing the effect of altitude and isolation – or is the mountain haunted?
What are you most looking forward to about visiting Lewis?
Being! When I was about fourteen, I became a bit obsessed with the Outer Hebrides: what a wild and wonderful name that was to a schoolgirl living in Wimbledon. The islands also appealed to me because of their Norse heritage ( I was very keen on Norse myths and sagas) ; but sadly, I never managed to persuade my parents to take me there.
Since then, I’ve visited Shetland and Orkney, but not the Hebrides, so I’m hugely looking forward to getting there at last. And if time allows, I’d love to fit in a visit to the Callanish Stones.
Where do you go when you want to go “off the map”?
I usually head north, to the Arctic. I’ve travelled in northern Scandinavia, Greenland, Alaska, Arctic Canada, and Siberia. As long as it’s wild and windswept, with hardly any people and at least the possibility of wolves and whales, I’m happy.
What was the last book you read?
The last one I read was NANA by Émile Zola the story of the Parisian courtesan. It’s vivid and astonishing direct; you’d never think it was written in the nineteenth century.
Who is your favourite writer?
I couldn’t possibly choose just one, but in no particular order, I love Tolkien, Tove Jansson, Henry James, MR James, and Edith Wharton, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.
What for you is the easiest and/or most difficult part of writing?
The easiest bit is planning the story – because it isn’t writing. I love the plunging into the research and uncovering weird little details that end up being crucial parts of the story.
The hardest bit is getting started on Chapter One. I loathe that. Suddenly I have to leave all my lovely, vague ideas and face the cold, hard page. That is indeed venturing into the unknown!
Do you have any new projects coming up?
Right now, I’m hard at work on a Gothic story set in the fens. That’s all I can say for now, as I’m a bit superstitious about discussing what I’m working on; but I’m having fun, and that’s always a good sign.
Michelle Paver is a British novelist and children’s writer, best known for her fantasy series Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, set in pre-agricultural Stone Age Europe. Michelle Paver was born in Nyasaland (now Malawi) in central Africa. Her mother was Belgian (Flemish) and her South African father ran a newspaper, The Nyasaland Times. Her family settled in Wimbledon, England when she was three. She was educated at the Wimbledon High School. After reading biochemistry at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford, she became a partner in a City of London law firm. Her father’s death in 1996 prompted her to take a one-year sabbatical, in which she travelled and wrote her first book, Without Charity. Soon after her return, she resigned from legal practice to concentrate on writing.
Chosen for Simon Mayo’s Radio 2 Book Club, Thin Air is the chilling new ghost story from the bestselling author of Dark Matter. The Himalayas, 1935. Kangchenjunga. Third-highest peak on earth. Greatest killer of them all.Five Englishmen set off from Darjeeling, determined to conquer the sacred summit. But courage can only take them so far – and the mountain is not their only foe.As the wind dies, the dread grows. Mountain sickness. The horrors of extreme altitude. A past that will not stay buried. And sometimes, the truth does not set you free.