A hand protruding from the ice. That’s the gruesome image that provided the first spark of inspiration for my thriller Shiver.
Many years ago, I was a freestyle snowboarder, once in the top ten UK. I spent five winters living and training in the high mountains of France, Switzerland, Austria and Canada. I was obsessed with the icy white world at the top of a mountain. Even back then, I was a keen writer. I kept a journal where I tried to capture this incredible environment on paper, knowing that one day I wanted to write a novel set there.
The high mountains are full of natural dangerous like cliffs, avalanches and changeable weather conditions. Glaciers can be riddled with crevasses – sometimes hidden by a thin layer of snow or ‘snow bridge’ so if you take just one step in the wrong direction, you could literally fall to your death. Snowstorms can blow in at short notice, cutting off roads and stranding people. All in all, it seemed perfect setting for a thriller but it took me years to hit upon the idea for Shiver.
Years later, while living in sunny Queensland, Australia, a news article caught my eye about some climbers out hiking in the French Alps that summer, who spotted a hand and two shoes protruding from the ice. They’d called in rescue teams who had uncovered the body of a man who’d gone missing thirty years earlier. The article went on to explain that with climate change causing glaciers to retreat, many more bodies are expected to emerge. I couldn’t get the creepy idea of bodies in the ice from my head.
I did some further research and was shocked to learn that Mont Blanc area, where I’d spent my first winter season, was currently believed to hold 161 bodies of alpinists who’d gone missing over the years. I knew the high mountains were dangerous but I never realised they were quite so deadly.
It struck me then that if someone goes missing in such terrain, we might not learn for years if their death is an accident or something more sinister – or perhaps they aren’t really there at all. The mountains provide a perfect place to disappear. When I asked myself who might wish to do away with someone in the mountains, the answer seemed obvious: a sporting rival.
As a former athlete, I love reading sports memoirs and sports psychology books. In particular, I’m interested in the mental aspect of sports. It’s been said that winning in a sport is as much as 90% a game of the mind – that two athletes might be equally naturally talented but the one who plays a better mental game will win every time.
In a YouTube video I was fascinated to hear one athlete say this about his rival: he’s one of the most competitive people on earth. He plays real mind games. What exactly did he mean by ‘mind games’? Further research revealed countless tales of the sorts of games athletes play, in sports such as basketball, golf, boxing, soccer and rugby, where big money is on offer for the top players. Tactics included intimidation, trash talking (for example saying terrible things about another player’s wife or daughter), and generally trying to get under their opponent’s skin to rile them and make them crack.
Thankfully I didn’t find any examples of such tactics being played in extreme sports like freestyle snowboarding, but my imagination went to work. In a dangerous sport and a dangerous environment, mind games could have deadly consequences, which made them perfect material for a psychological thriller.
Athletes make great thriller characters, too, in my opinion. Focussed, driven… and quite possibly ruthless. I’m always surprised we don’t see more of them in crime and thriller novels. A storyline began to form in my head about a close-knit group of snowboarders vying to be the best. If they’re equally matched in terms of physical ability, they may have to resort to other measures to get ahead. How far might someone go to win?
I’m happy to say that I didn’t play or experience any ‘mind games’ while I was snowboarding. If I had, I might not be here to tell the tale. But if you read Shiver, I hope you enjoy the mind games the characters play with each other and the reader – from the safety of your armchair.
Shiver by Allie Reynolds is out 28th October in paperback, priced £7.99 (Headline).
They don't know what I did. And I intend to keep it that way. When Milla is invited to a reunion in the French Alps resort that saw the peak of her snowboarding career, she drops everything to go. While she would rather forget the events of that winter, the invitation comes from Curtis, the one person she can't seem to let go. The five friends haven't seen each other for ten years, since the disappearance of the beautiful and enigmatic Saskia. But when an icebreaker game turns menacing, they realise they don't know who has really gathered them there and how far they will go to find the truth. In a deserted lodge high up a mountain, the secrets of the past are about to come to light.