Michelle Paver: 'I've made friends with some crows on Wimbledon Common'


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The Independent Culture

The death of my father was the catalyst for publishing my first novel When my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1991, I asked him if he had any regrets, and he said no. I was a burnt-out litigation solicitor in my thirties, hating my life, and his cancer made me re-evaluate it all.

I saw myself as a trailblazer in the 1980s as a female lawyer in the City It was exciting, as women were outnumbered by men five to one. But while I had this sense of trailblazing, in reality I wasn't pushing boundaries; it was just a personal myth I'd created as I was doing a job I wasn't enjoying.

I don't use the internet as I don't like living with lots of distractions I have tried, but I found it a hindrance as my sense of priorities goes out of the window and it pulls me out of my writing, particularly with email. I'd sit there for hours just replying to emails.

Writing isn't nearly as enjoyable as doing the research I've just come back from [the Italian island of] Stromboli, climbing its active volcano looking for material for book two of [my new series] Gods and Monsters. Doing field trips rather than simply researching online allows me to experience the story from the point of view of my main character; you can't get that by sitting at a desk.

I am not happy unless I live near to nature I moved to Wimbledon Common last year – 1,100 acres of woodland and heathland – as I feel happier when I can walk in the woods. I've no sense of direction, though.

I've made friends with some crows there They're such fun, beautiful birds – and clever. It only took them a week to recognise my face and my voice and now when I walk on the Common I hear the silky sound of their wings as they approach and perch on a branch above me. I scatter food pellets on the ground and feed them.

Eating raw seal blubber isn't much fun I was on a field trip in Greenland researching my Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series and an Inuit cooked seal stew for me. I told him it was delicious and he was so delighted he brought a saucer of raw blubber over to try, marbled with blood. It looks like lard and clings to the roof of the mouth. I could really feel it [in my stomach] afterwards and I couldn't eat properly for a day and a half after that.

I thought I was going to get eaten by a polar bear while researching my book Spirit Walker. I was in south Greenland one summer several hours from the nearest settlement when I saw this white figure with a long neck standing on its hind legs and sniffing. A polar bear can smell a person from miles away and if you run it triggers their prey response. So I turned and walked straight back. I can still see every stone on that path!

Michelle Paver, 52, is a children's author. Her latest book, 'Gods and Warriors' (£12.99, Puffin), is out now