On Wednesday 29th September all of the Year 6 and year 7 pupils across the Foundation were treated to an enthralling virtual visit from Michelle Paver, international best-selling author and the queen of Stone Age Fantasy.
The event was timed to celebrate the publication of Skin Taker, the 8th book in the acclaimed Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series that started with Wolf Brother. Much of Michelle’s enthralling talk focused on the adventures she experienced whilst researching her books: “I want to write the most stonkingly exciting story you’ve ever read. I want you to feel you are living the adventures that [the characters] have”. This commitment has led to Michelle visiting Lap and Siberian tribes whose lives are closest to the hunter gatherers of 6000 years ago who feature in her books. Experiencing their way of life first hand led to her partaking in seal hunts, having close encounters whilst tracking grizzly bears in Alaska, swimming with killer whales, being 200 feet down in caves to experience being lost underground, and befriending wolves to learn body language and manners.
She also showed the children some of the artefacts collected on her travels that had inspired her writing such as Stone Age axe heads, a string that she had made from nettle stems, reindeer antlers which were used by the Inuit for making fish hooks and snow goggles, and mittens made from reindeer fur.
In Skin Taker, set in the perpetual dark of northern Scandinavia in Winter, the characters Torak, Renn, and Wolf encounter meteors, demons and bears. Michelle explored Northern Finland on horseback and had a few scary moments, but for those who live there, second chances don’t exist. You have to kill animals to survive but this is done in a respectful way by thanking the animal’s spirit and not wasting any bit of the animal. For example, the Innuits in Greenland eat the seal blubber and daub the brains on the hide to turn it into leather. Her books do have a dark element, but she sees friendship as a golden thread running through the darkness.
Some of her adventures do not even make it into her books, as there. In one incident, Michelle was advised to lick a banana slug in Alaska, as its slime has anaesthetic properties which helped with her toothache. In terms of her research, however, she ‘licked that slug in vain’ as there was no place for it in the story.
The author then answered some very interesting questions revealing how each book goes through thirty to forty drafts until they are exactly the way that she wants them to be. She showed the children handwritten first drafts of chapters that were full of crossings out and amendments. She also explained the source of her names and the feelings she experienced during the process of writing, both as a character as an author.
The fact that many of the children went on to order signed copies of her books is the best indicator of how an author visit can inspire children to want to read for pleasure. The children are looking forward to recognising some of the research that she described when they read the books.
Mrs Rawnsley from King’s Hawford said about the virtual author visit: We all thought she spoke brilliantly …..The artefacts she showed sparked their interest and we all were in awe of her efforts to experience first-hand everything that she writes about. It made us want to read her books as we thought the descriptions would be particularly real and powerful as a result.
Mrs Beauchamp from King’s St Alban’s: The Year 6 children (and staff!) thoroughly enjoyed this webinar and were inspired by Michelle Paver’s adventures and story-telling.