Paver's series is the everyday story of boy meets wolf. The central character is Torak, a 12-year-old who is orphaned when his father is killed by a bear. The books follow his struggle to survive, aided by a faithful wolf and a girl called Renn, in a hostile environment - Paver's vision of northern Scandinavia circa 6,000 BC - and faced by a complex clan system that rejects him. Rarely has an adolescent faced such a tortuous rite of passage, and Paver accepts that, four books in, poor Torak must be a psychological wreck.Hmmm, today's one of those days when I kind of wish I lived in the stone age...
Since she insists on getting as close as possible to what Torak has to go through, Paver herself seems remarkably level-headed. She has made journeys across Scandinavia and into the mountains and forests of central Europe in her quest for authenticity, swum with killer whales, peered into the mouth of a large brown bear, and eaten elk heart and fish eyes. I'm quite pleased to be having a coffee with her in a cafe in Wimbledon, south London, where she lives, rather than a whale sandwich and goblet of elk blood in a windswept bar in Spitzbergen.
Paver's wanderings reflect her desire to present as accurate a picture of the stone age as possible. "There's no message in these books at all," she says, "but regarding hunter-gatherers as the Flintstones is something I hope I will have changed a little bit. Dramatic reconstructions of the stone age on TV usually have them running around with awful, rough clothes flapping open in sub-zero temperatures, and they are all unshaven, with messy hair. I don't think it was like that because they wouldn't have survived - Eskimos and Inuit have very carefully engineered and highly sophisticated clothes. Indigenous people all over the world take quite a lot of trouble with their hair and their clothes."
[ED. AFTERTHOUGHT. My stone-age self is probably working to a tight deadline on a very large and complicated wall painting and wasting the early-morning hours brewing up another pot of some sort of bark tea, doing the stone-age equivalent of reading the literary news online and resolving to give up stimulants temporarily once the project is finished...]