Interview with Katherine Rundell, the author of The Wolf Wilder

Published on: 14 March 2014

Katherine RundellKatherine Rundell, award-winning author of Rooftoppers, tells BookTrust about the inspiration behind her stunning new novel,spending time with a wolf for research and why she wanted her characters to push at gender expectations.

About The Wolf Wilder

Feodora's mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans.

When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her very existence, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution, adventure and standing up for the things you love. And, of course, wolves.

What inspired you to write The Wolf Wilder?

I wanted to write about wolves for a long time. I even tried very briefly to see if I could work out a way to put wolves in Rooftoppers, like a roof wolf, and that obviously wasn't going to work. Then I went to meet a wolf, about two years ago, when I was just starting to draft the story, because I thought it would be important to see what they were like, and they are remarkable.

After meeting that wolf, I wanted to write about someone who gets to touch the wolves, who gets to be with them, because I think when you are a child, you want so much to touch, and to embrace, and to have a bond with animals. I think as a child more than any other time in your life, you want to be close to the natural world, and you have an instinct for loving animals.

What is your writing process like?

To the eternal patience of my editor, I don't plot very well! For this book, I made a plot, and I wrote it, and it didn't really work, it was much more of a survival novel, a lot more detail about wolf wilding. It almost read like a 'Wolf Wilding: How To Guide'.

Then I went back and I rewrote the second half. It was very piecemeal, I tend to write scenes and then try and link them together, and, sometimes, there will be a scene that I see with such clarity, so I write it again and again until it actually reflects what I want, and then I have to figure out a way to get it into the book!

On some occasions it doesn't work, so I have a few scenes, one in which Feo is hunting, which never made it in. But it doesn't matter because those scenes have a way of building the character in your head and heart, because until you know your character, you can't write them.

For me, writing is such a character led adventure, because you think of these people, until you almost see them, until you know down to the freckle what they would look like and what they would do, and then you put them at the beginning of a story and kind of push them, and hope that you know their personality close enough to know what might happen.

Katherine Rundell/The Wolf Wilder

In Wolf Wilder, the main character Feo and her friend Illya both defy what their society expects of them, could you talk a little bit about where that came from?

The main character in The Wolf Wilder, Feo, is a girl who doesn't know what is expected of girlhood, so she lives this raw, wild life, with no sense of gender expectation. And Illya, the other main character, is a boy who has been told that he falls short of the expectations of what is the ideal boy. I think the concept of 'ideal gender characteristics' is not only so limiting but also so crushing, so uninteresting. I wanted characters who pushed at that a little bit.

I also think, especially under duress, the way a panicked 11 year-old behaves, is very similar whether they are a boy or a girl. If you put kids in extreme situations, for example in my next book the characters will be in the jungle after a plane crash in the Amazon, the way a brave boy and a brave girl would act in that kind of situation is the same.

I believe almost all children are deeply brave. Because childhood is bewildering, confusing, and full of chaos. One of the reasons I write for children is because I so admire their bravery, I think they are spectacular creatures to be existing in such huge unknown, which is the world for them at that age.

Check out Katherine's book

The Girl Savage

Author: Katherine Rundell

When Wilhelmina Silver's home is sold, she is torn from her best friend, her adopted monkey and her pet horse, and banished to an inhospitable boarding school in England.

Read more about The Girl Savage

Check out Katherine's book

The Explorer

Author: Katherine Rundell Illustrator: Hannah Horn

Fred, Con, Lila and little Max’s plane is on the way to Manaus when it falls out of the sky. Now, lost in the Amazon rainforest, they must figure out the basics of survival. Rundell’s writing is exquisite and this story is completely, utterly wonderful.

Read more about The Explorer