How an ex GB snowboarder took her debut thriller to the extreme
Sitting in her home five minutes from the beach in Queensland, Australia, former British top 10 freestyle snowboarder Allie Reynolds cannot quite believe her luck.
In little more than 18 months, the Lincolnshire-born ex-athlete has gone from being a single mum trying to hold down a part-time teaching job while looking after two children, to becoming a whirlwind publishing hit with her debut thriller Shiver.
She still can’t quite believe that, after a number of rejections and the subsequent hiring of an agent, she suddenly had publishers fighting over her novel, clinching a six-figure two book deal after a 10-publisher auction and selling the TV rights shortly afterwards.
“It was a life-changing, unbelievable deal which meant I could be a novelist,” she says, still gobsmacked. “I thought I was dreaming. I had been a low paid teacher/mum, only able to work part-time. My husband at the time used to work away a lot and I’d switched to writing as a means of working from home.”
Shiver centres on sinister goings-on during a reunion of snowboarders who find themselves holed up in a remote ski resort in the French Alps years after taking part in a competition there. They haven’t seen each other since the mysterious disappearance 10 years previously of their friend, a beautiful and talented snowboarder, Saskia.
Suspicions unfurl in a timeframe which bounces between the present day and 10 years ago, with bedhopping, mistrusts and the bitchiness of competition ever-present.
It’s a ‘locked room’ thriller, even though the room is on top of a glacier.
As a former competitive snowboarder, Reynolds, now 45, recalls: “I was obsessed with this icy white world on top of a mountain where everything depends on nature and the weather. There are all these dangers. It’s a thrill-seeking world.”
In her book she describes the nail-biting build-ups to the half-pipe twists and flips, the painful falls, the unforgiving weather, avalanche dangers and icy terrain that she herself encountered during her years in the sport.
She was 22 when she did her first ski season in Chamonix, although she had experienced snowboarding on previous holidays with her family. Her parents loved mountain climbing and hiking, so holidays were spent doing activities in the Lake District, the Peak District and Scotland.
“My childhood was full of ‘damp tent’ camping holidays,” she recalls.
She donned her first pair of skis aged eight – they were borrowed farmer’s skis on a field in Scotland – and later the family would go abroad skiing once a year, for a week.
“It was the best week of the year,” she enthuses, “but it just wasn’t enough.”
She swapped the skis for a snowboard at around 16.
“I remember the first snowboard I had, I hired it, didn’t have any lessons and went to the top of the mountain. I just fell so many times on the way down.”
At 20, while studying AI linguistics at Manchester University and fed up with the dry slope she regularly visited, she decided to do a ski season – and ended up doing five, working multiple jobs in the summer to earn enough money to be able to return to the slopes.
“In my third season, in Laax in Switzerland, I was 24 and by then I was obsessed with half pipes, that’s all I wanted to do. I competed in the British Championships at the end of that winter and was placed in the top 10.”
But her career was short-lived because of a catalogue of injuries and the fact that she started too late in life, as many competition winners are still in their teens, she reflects. She was 27 when she retired.
“I consider myself a failed snowboarder because really it was over before it began. In that third winter when I was in the British Championships I got sponsors on the back of that, but the following winter before the championships I tore ligaments and had to pull out.”
Other injuries she suffered over that time included a torn lateral collateral during a twist, numerous sprains, a fractured elbow and undiagnosed back injuries which she managed by popping painkillers.
Several of her close female friends came off worse, breaking their necks trying flips and being told they would never walk again, she reveals.
“That had a big impact on me. It put me off trying to do certain flips. I was quite cautious. Visiting them in hospital was very shocking. Your dreams can be shattered in just one fall, one tiny mistake. Those are the stakes.”
While her novel Shiver paints a picture of a hugely competitive ski world, where equipment is tampered with, snowboards stolen, pre-competition drinks spiked and psychological shenanigans introduced to give cheating opponents an edge, Reynolds says she ever experienced any of that.
“In the early days there was no money in the sport. People were just doing it for the passion. I think it’s the same in a lot of extreme sports. You do it for the thrill. At the time very few people were even getting paid for it.”
She doesn’t really follow the sport now and hasn’t snowboarded for 10 years. She’s long since swapped the snowboard for a surfboard, settling in Australia after following an Australian boyfriend to Queensland on a ‘working holiday’, where she fell in love with surfing and now lives five minutes from the beach.
“I’ve had a lot more injuries from surfing than I had from snowboarding,” she reveals, laughing. “In March, I got hit in the side of the head by my surfboard which loosened my retina, so I have a little blind patch in one eye. I had delayed concussion and I still have concentration problems.”
And then there are the sharks.
“This year’s been really sharky,” she observes. “At my local beach, a person surfing very near the shore was killed by a shark during the Covid lockdown in August. There’s been a huge amount of shark incidents in Australia over the year.
“I’ve seen them when I’ve been in the water. You see a shape under the water, or a fin. It’s very rare that they attack.
“But on one occasion when I was surfing, a jet ski pulled up and the rider told me to get out of the water now because there was a shark in the area. I paddled really fast to the beach and then saw on the TV news that a man had been bitten in the leg.”
Safe on dry land, she’s working on her second book, although she’s feeling the pressure.
“Writing is such an unpredictable industry. You might write one book and never sell another.”
It’s another thriller, this time set on a remote Australian beach, featuring a group of young people in an isolated setting.
Reynolds also has a new man in her life, a surfer who has accumulated more injuries than her, she reveals. Their dating habits are unconventional, to say the least.
“Our idea of a date is to go to the local sports recovery centre to try to fix our various injuries.”
Shiver by Allie Reynolds is published by Headline, priced £12.99. Available now