I have been remiss in not reporting earlier my enthusiasm for Michelle Paver's adventure stories which evoke life in the Stone Age through the travels of her intrepid children, Torak and Renn, with Wolf himself, the pack-brother who accompanies them. This is turning into an annual delight for me, as I read the continuing saga of life as it was lived before history began.
Michelle's imagination is boundless, yet it is tempered by a factual accuracy. She knows what it was like to eat before cooking had been invented. She understands the rituals of a world before religion was defined. She knows exactly what her people would wear, where they lived and how the earliest human clans organised themselves. For Soul Eater, set in the frozen landscapes of glaciers, snow and ice, she researched life as it is currently lived by arctic tribes, with whom she hunted for seals, encountered wild polar bears and learnt how to strike fire from flint and tinder. Everything seems authentic, yet is presented in a matter-of-fact style with the skill of a born story-teller. In my experience, these books are uniquely exciting because the characters are so believable, with danger ever present from the weather and the wild animals and, of course, the human villains.
I won't spoil the thrill by telling you more — read the books for yourself and if you have a long car journey planned, take along the CD's and let me introduce you to Torak, Renn, and Wolf himself. Most special of all is the way Michelle gets beneath their skins. Unlike the anthropomorphic nonsense of so many books featuring animals, Soul Eater and the two previous stories explain how Wolf thinks and communicates. Oh, it is a magical achievement.
It is a big responsibility discovering the voices of Michelle's characters, particularly as she likes to attend recordings which each year have been directed by the actor Garrick Hagon. Michelle behaves a little like a clan mother, supervising our lunches during the hour's break. We completed the "lightly abridged" 260 pages of Soul Eater in just two 9-hour days. Next year — and the 4th book is already plotted and half-written — I'm going to beg Orion to give us another day in the studio, so there will be more time to chat with Michelle between takes and hear more of her travels researching the world of 6000 years ago. I can't wait. — Ian McKellen, August 2006