Ilkley Literature Festival #2 – Michelle Paver

This year, I attended two events at the Ilkley Literature Festival.


I wrote about the first one – Tracy Chevalier – back in October. If you missed it, you can read about it here.

The second event I attended was with author Michelle Paver.

ilkley-lit-fest-michelle-paver-hpOnce again, I have to confess that I mainly attended this to accompany my daughter who, when she was younger, avidly devoured Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness books for young people – a series which got my daughter interested in both reading and writing historical fiction.

I also have to confess that I haven’t as yet got round to reading any of Michelle Paver’s books – but that is a state of affairs that will definitely change, now I have heard her speak!

For her most recent books, Michelle Paver has turned to writing what might best be described as ghost stories for adults. Dark Matter was published in 2010 to critical acclaim, and her latest release, Thin Air, was the main subject of this talk.

The author began by discussing why we like ghost stories and frightening ourselves. As a child, she was influenced, among other things,  by the churchyard near her family home and a forbidding suit of armour in the house!

Her take on adult ghost stories is that we like stories that deliver emotion, and fear is one of the strongest emotions of all . . . and thankfully there is safety if the scare is only fictional 🙂

She went on to talk about how she goes about writing such a story. She scares her readers by manipulating them, and so she must be analytical in  choreographing the ‘haunting’ and maintaining the right balance, always aiming for subtlety over horror. Most important, she feels, is the atmosphere – it must be powerful and ‘real’, and she must persuade the reader that they are there. She strives to make her story both physically and psychologically plausible – nothing happens that cannot be explained, but the lines are blurred. The scariness comes from the gap between knowledge and belief.

thin-air-michelle-paver-hpThin Air is set in India in the 1930s, the golden age of mountaineering, where her protagonist finds himself alone during an expedition on Kangchenjunga in the Himalayas.

It’s clear that Ms Paver does a great deal of research for her books. She has been on quite a few travelling adventures, drawing on them for her descriptions and plot, and she would feel uncomfortable writing about somewhere she has not experienced at least a little for herself. Waking up in a thin tent to dead silence after a storm, only to hear footsteps outside, knowing there is mere canvas between you and whatever-it-is, is pretty good material for your writing!

dark-matter-michelle-paver-hpIn all her books, it seems Ms Paver has been drawn to write about some element of the natural world – the battle between man and the wild. Dark Matter, for example, involves an Arctic expedition in the late 1930s, and her Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series is set six thousand years ago in an ancient world of woods and caves.

Michelle Paver came across as friendly and warm to her audience, peppering her talk with personal experiences and a sense of humour. She was more than happy to answer  any questions put to her during the Q & A session at the end. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening – apart from its result, which is that my TBR pile of books continues to grow . . .




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