Tag Archives: Michelle Paver

Thrilling Fiction

They fought about who would sit on the middle chair, Michelle Paver or Peter Høeg, and while they did, their chair Daniel Hahn quickly sat down on the shiny red chair on the far side. In the end Michelle won, and Peter’s fame got him the chair between her and Danny.

I’d never thought about this before, but when Son pointed out earlier this summer that Peter Høeg hardly ever does events, it sort of made sense. So we made sure we were there to hear him speak, sparingly, about his new book The Susan Effect. (Everyone knows him for Miss Smilla.) And as I said last week in my review, I loved Michelle’s Thin Air.

Daniel began by saying they’d discovered they had one scientist and one mountaineer between them, and one book about science and one on climbing. But the trouble was that the ‘wrong’ person wrote the books; with Michelle covering the climbing and Peter the physics.

Describing Thin Air as a ‘thrilling, intense, really scary book’ that he shouldn’t have read alone late at night, Daniel asked Michelle how it came about. This story about the frozen world of Kangchenjunga began with her suffering from a frozen shoulder and when she couldn’t sleep, she got up and read something from her shelf of mountaineering books. Originally it was to be set in South America (she fancied making a research trip there), but in the end it had to be Kangchenjunga, with God at the top and the abominable snowman further down. And ghosts.

Peter Høeg and Michelle Paver

Peter usually gets his ideas during a ‘fleeting short moment’ in the middle of another book; this time about a woman who makes people speak the truth. He’s got a couple of such people in his own family, so knows what it’s like. It’s important how the character speaks. It has to be someone the reader can spend a week with, and the author maybe two years.

Like many Scandinavians, Peter speaks English well, slowly and with a marked Danish accent, but quite competently. He said Michelle ruined his reading of Thin Air, but Danny pointed out that this is what book festivals are for; having your illusions destroyed.

For her children’s series Wolf Brother she felt it important that children could like the characters, but for her adult books she’s quite happy to ‘be’ her new character, however unpleasant, or racist, they might be.

Peter tries to create something new each time, feeling it’s dangerous to repeat yourself. He was surprised by the humour in this new book. It’s warmer and more fun, and that makes him happy. Michelle mentioned that his line about a raisin made her laugh out loud when reading.

Peter Høeg

They both read from their books, with Peter apologising for his bad English as he read a short piece from the beginning of The Susan Effect. Michelle read the bit where her character wakes up in the tent, and how there might be someone out there…

As the middle of three sisters, she felt she had the necessary experience to write about sibling rivalry, and she mentioned the background of ‘beating the Hun’ and the public school ethos, and how men couldn’t admit to things like altitude sickness, which might affect a whole group.

Both authors admired each other’s books, and spoke about different – non-literary – genres, and how you need all kinds of books. The Danes, like other Nordics, read crime in the summer, a bit like porn. Michelle said that YA is good, because it tends to have a plot, and it doesn’t need to be literary.

Peter writes his first draft by hand, from beginning to end, and then he types it up, editing as he goes along. And if a day feels as if it won’t be a writing day, then he doesn’t force it. According to him, there are no books, only reading. We all read differently and there are as many versions of a book as there are readers.

Question time made a slow start, with Danny saying that if this had been a children’s event, all hands would be in the air. He mentioned one very important aspect about Peter’s book, which is that none of the words are his, but those chosen by his English translator (Martin Aitken). Peter said how grateful he is to him, and how all of Denmark relies on people to translate their small language. Daniel described the translating process as the translator first reads the book, then has to become arrogant – in a positive way – in order to rewrite the words so the book reads as though it is English. ‘Little Denmark’ likes this.

Michelle likes MR James, likes ghost stories, and she recognises that it’s unusual with ghosts somewhere empty like Svalbard (Dark Matter). Daniel said first you are scared because you are on your own, and then a stone moves, and you think ‘oh my god, I’m not on my own!’ And that is worse.

She does a fair bit of research, travelling to the places she sets her stories, and looking into things like illnesses and reading up on what others have already written, like the early climbers on Kangchenjunga.

Peter did research the first twenty years. And then the internet happened and he lost interest in old style research. He has a love for both science and music, but neither loves him back.

Peter Høeg and Michelle Paver

At the signing afterwards, I was delighted to discover that Michelle never travels without her paw print stamp for when fans bring copies of Wolf Brother. And she let me have a paw print in Thin Air. After all, we don’t know what’s out there on that mountain. Could be anything.

Day 2

That’s my day 2, not the Edinburgh International Book Festival, who were already on day 6. I’m pacing myself, as I keep telling people. It’s not that I’m lazy.

Press ducks

The sun shone again. My theory is that it’s pleased to see me. As I am pleased to see it. We kept each other company outside the yurt, eating, reading, watching famous people go by.

Photographed Siri Hustvedt, doing my best from behind the professional photographers. As you can see, I’m a little short.

Siri Hustvedt

Discussed Peter Høeg with someone on staff, as you do. Chatted to press boss Frances as we both enjoyed the lovely summer’s day on the pew outside, talking about the logistics behind the scenes. Watched Chris Close photograph Tanya Landman, and kept thinking he’d offer her the apple I could see. Turned out later it was for him to eat…

Chris Close and Tanya Landman

Talked with Tanya’s agent Lindsey Fraser, until we realised we’d better head over to queue for Tanya’s sold out event with Reginald D Hunter. Were joined by Elspeth Graham, who is practically Tanya’s neighbour at home.

Tanya Landman and Daniel Hahn

Hung out in the bookshop while Tanya signed her books, and said hello to Eleanor Updale, and was introduced to Lari Don’s mother who looked more like a sister, and finally met Kirstin from Barrington Stoke. Had some tea after that, but was a little disappointed with the scone. Encountered Carol Ann Duffy on my way to the Amnesty International reading. Not that we are pals or talked, obviously.

Daniel Hahn and Eleanor Updale

The Amnesty readings were not quite as harrowing as they usually are, by which I mean I didn’t burst into tears. The Thursday readers were Raja Shehadeh, Siri Hustvedt, Stef Penney and Denise Mina on the subject of ‘Love is a human right.’

Then I went out to dinner with Son and Dodo. We had tapas, followed by some enormous puddings (presumably to make up for the tapas-sized main course). Reckon if I display any more senior moments I will never be asked out again. It’s not easy getting old.

To finish the day we all went to an event with Michelle Paver and the very reclusive Peter Høeg, admirably chaired by Daniel Hahn. Again. He certainly gets around. And after that we hung out in the signing tent, where there was a satisfyingly long queue, and Son and Danny talked translations. Or something.

Peter Høeg, Michelle Paver, Daniel Hahn and Ian Giles

And then it was time to go home, to which I will add that it’s also high time ScotRail make enough trains and rolling stock available to dispatch all festival goers to their homes. What we get makes me long for the post-concert trains on the Continent where you don’t end a nice day out on the floor of a train. (And no, that wasn’t me. I had sharpened my elbows before I left, so got a seat. But plenty didn’t.)

Thin Air

Michelle Paver has done it again. She’s managed to persuade me that she’s really John Buchan and Erskine Childers in one, blended with a bit of Kipling. In Thin Air the reader is – once more – transported to the 1930s, and this time it’s to climb Kangchenjunga. And as if that’s not enough of an ordeal, the mountain is haunted.

Thin Air is an adult novel, but only just. There is nothing unsuitable for younger readers keen on climbing and adventure, and who don’t mind being scared by the ghost of Kangchenjunga.

Michelle Paver, Thin Air

Dr Stephen Pearce is a last-minute replacement as the medic in the climbing team which consists of his older brother Kits, his brother’s best friend and two military climbers; one of whom is described as ‘a shade off in the vowels’ compared with these rather snobbish sahibs.

They are to follow the same route as a famous – but disastrous – climb almost thirty years earlier.

And, well, maybe they shouldn’t have.

This is such a marvellous tale of adventure, and you feel alternately exhausted by the climb and scared of whatever, whoever, is lurking out there in the snow. You admire the sherpas for their skills and patience with these strangers who call them coolies and yak-wallahs, and look down on the very men there to help them potentially become famous. If they succeed. Maybe even if they don’t.

If they survive.

The period feel is superb. As is the rising tension in the sahib camp.

You’ll not get me up there.

Orion’s party

Lucy Coats

The first to arrive and the last to go, is how Lucy Coats described herself last night. I have to take her word for it as Daughter and I took slight detour en route for the October Gallery (I have to admit here that it was my fault and Daughter would have made a better job of it) and arrived when things were in – if not full – then some sort of swing. And we didn’t outstay our welcome (at least I hope we didn’t) so weren’t there to witness Lucy washing up at the end.

Orion's party at the October Gallery

Lots of Orion’s very lovely and our favourite authors were there. Lucy, as I said. Caroline Lawrence, who by now will be feeling she has to put up with us every week. Nice to see Mr Lawrence again. Liz Kessler, fresh from ‘research’ along the coast of Norway. The Michelles, Lovric and Paver, and Annabel Pitcher, Angela McAllister and Viv French. I was introduced to Lauren St John, whose book I was reading on the train, getting me into a very St Ivesey mood. Daughter has obviously been around the literary world too long, seeing as she was clinging to the fire escape throwing names about; ‘there’s Francesca Simon, and that’s Tony Ross!’. Right on both counts.

Michelle Lovric and Annabel Pitcher

Boss Fiona Kennedy made a speech, praising her writers. Nina Douglas and Kate Christer had worked hard to organise things, and the October gallery, complete with bones and ‘dead babies’, not to mention glittery paintings was a good place for a party. The weather helped. We were all out in the courtyard in the mild and sunny evening. London at its best.

Caroline Lawrence

Francesca Simon

The courtyard

Among the ‘non-authors’ present were the other Stockport blogger, Wondrous Reads (we’ll have to stop meeting like this, Jenny), Geraldine Brennan (about whom I had a strange but nice dream last week), Julia Eccleshare, Ted Smart, Catherine Clarke, and I am sure I have left out lots of worthy people, but I’ll stop now before I turn into Hello Magazine again. (Better class of people, but too many lists of human beings clutching champagne glasses, if you know what I mean?)

I have a dreadful suspicion that in among everyone in the photos there will lurk someone with a dark secret, or someone committing a crime or an indiscretion or something. If you find anything like that, don’t tell me. I was the one in the flower pot. I noticed a dreadful smell and realised the pot was a geranium pot and I had disturbed the leaves. I hate the smell of geraniums!

It’s really busy here…

The Book Sale

Well, that’s what she said, the bookshop assistant who answered the phone when we were ‘hanging’ nearby. Yes, she did have people who wanted to pay for stuff, but my idea of busy appears to have been warped by British shops. ‘It’s The Book Sale’ she told the caller, by way of explanation for the busyness.

It was the second day of The Sale, so I trust they had been more swamped the day before. I could move inside the shop. There was the odd inconsiderate person in my way, but it wasn’t too bad.

I was a little disappointed by the books, though. I wasn’t really thinking of buying, except I did get the idea from looking at someone’s blog last week that there was one book I might purchase. Couldn’t find it. Couldn’t find too much at all, to be honest.

Meg Cabot and Cathy Hopkins in The Sale

There was Sovay by Celia Rees, and a couple of Cathy Hopkins books. Big pile of Meg Cabot, and what looked like the collected works by Michelle Paver. All a little cheaper than before, but no giving-it-away prices. What I have still to find out is whether their appearance in The Sale of 2011 means you must give up all hope of buying them later.

I think it does. When I wanted to buy more copies of Adèle Geras’s Facing the Light some years ago I bought the last copy in the country and after that you just couldn’t find it. (I know that makes sense. Last copy should indicate ‘no more’.) When Philip Pullman was given the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2005 I believe they had to hurriedly reprint his books in order to have anything to sell. He may be good, but he had been Saled before the award.

On the other hand, selling out in The Sale is a nicer fate than becoming road fill. And if you’re really lucky there might be an award coming, if only because there are no more books.

(There could have been more pictures to accompany this post, had the picture-making facility not had a massive fail. There could even have been a second shop surveyed, had the witch’s legs not had a minor fail. Sorry for any convenience caused.)

Dark Matter

Dark Matter is a successful cross between The Riddle of the Sands and The Call of the Wild, set in Svalbard. Michelle Paver’s first adult novel was published last week, just in time for anyone wanting to frighten themselves a little for Halloween week. No, I lie, it’s for those who want to be thoroughly and properly scared witless.

Mentioning the books by Jack London and Erskine Childers is somewhat misleading, because they are more traditional adventure stories. Dark Matter takes the adventure story and moves it to Svalbard and adds ghosts.

Set in 1937 it has a great period feel to it. Jack gets the job as wireless operator on an expedition to the Arctic region, as the only working class man of the group of five who set out. To mention class may seem snobbish, but it forms an important backdrop to what happens.

The group begins losing members before they even leave. It’s very much a Ten Little N***ers kind of set-up. They are aiming for the remote Gruhuken, a long way from Longyearbyen.

It goes without saying that Gruhuken is haunted. The locals avoid it all costs. Or at least, they did until the Englishmen arrive.

Arriving in the short but light Arctic summer, it soon becomes very dark indeed. And the dark does things to you.

Bookwitch bites #27

I was about to say something hasty – and incorrect – like we seem to have left the shortlists behind and it’s time for award winners, but stopped myself in time. The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award ‘shortlist’ was made public this week. It’s a jolly long shortlist, but since it’s the last list, I suppose it has to count as the shortlist. It has the usual names on it, like Michael Rosen, Quentin Blake and David Almond, among the British. Also Mary Hoffman for – I think – the first time, which is nice. Lots of organisations, and I do feel that they are perhaps worthier recipients of so much money. But if Mary wins I hope she remembers me.

Thursday must have been a Swedish announcement sort of day, with this year’s Nobel Prize winner, Mario Vargas Llosa. The Resident IT Consultant inquired if I knew him. Not personally, obviously, but with Spanish literature deep in my past, I do ‘know’ him.

Another winner this week was Michelle Paver who was received the Guardian children’s fiction prize, also on Thursday. Busy day, clearly. As I mentioned earlier, I never got started on Michelle’s books, so have long felt the uphill effect of even trying to catch up. But if everyone will insist on saying quite how excellent the books are, I will have no option but to dive in. Wouldn’t have minded being there for the award, but couldn’t make it. Not that I was asked, but you know…

More failure to attend for me with Cheltenham having got under way this weekend. Wonderful programme as always, and lovely town. Must work on returning some time soon.

Doing quite well on the new book front, however. My recent visitors were taken aback when they realised the postman staggers up the drive and rings the doorbell (once only) on most days, delivering books and more books. Yesterday I received six, and the bad news for me was that I liked the look of all but one.

I know I mentioned Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen last week, but must return to it today. The hardback has arrived and it’s gorgeous. I found myself sitting there stroking it, and gazing at the names of the great and the good who sing its praises on the back.

Had an uncharacteristically successful reading day as well, finishing three books. I’m sure that means I won’t get anywhere near my reading chair for a while.

And Norm Geras loves his books so much he wouldn’t ever consider a Kindle.