We are thrilled to be first on the #SkinTaker Blog Tour today! MICHELLE PAVER is an international bestselling author with over 3 million copies of her books sold across the globe and today she joins Ian Eagleton in The Reading Realm to talk about her brand-new historic adventure Skin Taker.
Firstly, I wondered how life had been for you during the pandemic – how do you feel your writing and creativity has been affected?
As I work from home anyway, it should have been straightforward, but in fact it’s been pretty interrupted. This is partly because we’ve been paying my 90-year-old mother’s cleaner to stay away, so I’ve been doing her housework and gardening; and partly because I’ve just found it quite stressful and hard to concentrate. But I do know how lucky I am to be able to work at home.
Without giving too much away, can you tell us about your new book Skin Taker?
The story starts in midwinter, when disaster strikes the Forest. Demons thrive. The clans battle to survive: do they turn on each other, or pull together? Torak, Renn and Wolf find their whole world in turmoil, and it’s up to them to save it. This is particularly hard for Torak – who, being especially close to the Forest, feels its devastation as no one else can.
How is Skin Taker similar to the previous book in the series, Viper’s Daughter? How is it different?
It’s similar in that it’s an adventure story, and (I hope) stonkingly exciting. Also, of course, it features Torak, Renn and Wolf. The difference is that this story takes place in the Forest – but it’s a Forest unlike any that we’ve seen in the previous books, as it has been blasted by disaster. Also, where VIPER’S DAUGHTER focussed on Renn’s emotional troubles, SKIN TAKER finds Torak struggling to cope when his beloved Forest is under threat.
What are the joys and challenges of writing a new story in such a popular and well-loved series of books?
Great question. The joys include being reunited with Torak, Renn and Wolf – as well as other favourite characters such as Fin-Kedinn, Dark and the Walker. I also love evoking the Forest, the Sea, and all the many creatures whom my characters encounter in their adventures, as well as introducing the reader to new clans. The challenges include how to keep each new story vivid and exciting, without repeating what has gone before – AND how to ensure that each new story appeals both to fans of the series, and to readers who are new to the WOLF BROTHER books, and want a standalone story.
At the front of the book, there’s a beautiful map of the setting. Do you draw out maps like this one when you’re planning?
I do a sketch, so that I can follow along as I’m writing, and change things as I need to. Then once I’ve finished the whole book, I do a clean version, which gets sent to the artist, Geoff Taylor, so that he can turn it into the beautiful map which features in the book. I always look forward to seeing what Geoff comes up with, particularly the borders of the map, which are entirely his idea, and always terrifically evocative.
It’s always a joy to be back with your main characters, Torak and Renn! How has their relationship developed and changed since we saw them last?
The main change came between the sixth book, GHOST HUNTER, and last year’s VIPER’S DAUGHTER, because the story in VIPER begins when Torak and Renn are seventeen summers old, and have been living with each other (and the wolves) for two summers. So that’s quite a big change, and one I had to handle sensitively, giving older readers hints about how Torak and Renn are getting on as a mated pair, without grossing out ten-year-old readers who don’t want anything too romantic. As for SKIN TAKER, not too much has changed, as it begins only a few moons after the end of VIPER’S DAUGHTER; but there is a constant tension between Torak the loner and Renn, who grew up in a clan. I find that really interesting to explore.
The front cover design by John Fordham Design and the interior illustrations by Geoff Taylor are captivating and gorgeous! Can you remember how you felt when you saw them for the first time? What do you feel they add to the story?
They are absolutely beautiful, aren’t they? Concerning John’s cover design, he came up with the main idea straight away, and I loved it. We had quite a lot of discussion about which colours to use, and so on, and I only saw the final version, ie on the finished book, last week. I was bowled over. It’s really beautiful, one of the best of all my book covers. As for Geoff’s chapter illustrations, they are such a joy. Once I’ve written the book, I send him a list of possible alternatives for each chapter – and then he comes back with his ideas, which are always surprising and stunning. I particularly love the way Geoff does wolves.
I know you research your books meticulously and often visit to places like Alaska for inspiration. Is there anywhere you haven’t been that you’d like to visit?
For the past few years I’ve tried to keep it to just a few big trips, to limit my carbon footprint. Thus for the three new books (VIPER’S DAUGHTER, SKIN TAKER & WOLFBANE) I’ve done only three trips: to Siberia, to Alaska and Haida Gwaii in British Columbia, and to north Norway. I would love to visit Scoresbysund in Greenland, which I believe is the biggest fjord in the world. I’d also love to visit the Faroes. (As you can see, I tend to head north whenever I can.) However, what with the pandemic, I don’t think I’l be going anywhere for quite a long time to come.
The themes in the book of community, friendship, kindness and respect for the natural world seem to be more important now than ever. It feels like a very important story considering the current climate and I wondered if you had any hopes for what your readers might take away from the book?
I never write with a message, as I think that’s a great way of killing a story stone dead. I write to simply to entertain. Having said that, I’m sure that my own love for the natural world comes through in the writing. As for what a reader might take away from SKIN TAKER, that really is entirely up to them, and I’m constantly fascinated by the differences in readers’ responses to the stories. Younger readers might simply enjoy taking part in an absorbing adventure with Torak, Renn and Wolf; older ones might find it inspiring and perhaps encouraging to spend time with my Stone Age hunter-gatherers, as I’ve based their customs and beliefs on real hunter-gatherer cultures. Also, over the years I’ve been struck by how many readers of all ages had told me how the much the books have helped them through times of depression or loneliness. And many people have said how much they enjoy experiencing parts of the story from Wolf’s point of view: through his eyes and ears and nose!
Finally, can you give us any details or hints about what might happen next in the next book in the series, Wolfbane?
Wolf is on the run from an ice demon who is after his souls, and Torak and Renn must reach him before the demon can. I think that’s all I can say for now!