Allie Reynolds took all three of our 6-week online novel-writing courses. Her debut novel Shiver was scooped up by Headline in a 10-way book auction and has already sold in several territories – including to Penguin in the US and HarperCollins in Germany.
We caught up with Allie to find out more about her experience studying with us, her book deal and how her former snowboarding career helped inspire the setting of her debut thriller …
You took our Starting to Write Your Novel, Write to the End of Your Novel and Edit and Pitch Your Novel from 2017-2018. Are we right in thinking that this is when your debut novel, Shiver, started to come to life?
No, actually I did the Edit and Pitch course first and worked on a different novel, one I’d been writing for years. I made some fabulous writer friends who went on to beta-read my novel after the course. This raised storyline issues, so in May 2018, with great reluctance, I put the novel temporarily aside. I hate giving up and wasn’t sure if it the right thing to do, but I’m so glad I did because I immediately came up with the idea for Shiver. The new novel rapidly took shape as I began the Starting to Write Your Novel course, encouraged by the positive comments of my fellow students. Next I did the Write to the End of your Novel course. Six months later I had a full first draft.
What was your favourite part of studying online with us?
The online courses let me ‘meet’ a fascinating and diverse bunch of other writers that I would never otherwise have come across – a London eye surgeon, a New York college professor, a former policewoman turned crime novelist, actors, journalists and screenwriters, to name just a few. I live in a small beachside town in Queensland, Australia, which I love, but I haven’t met many other writers locally, so I loved this opportunity to connect with people who were as passionate about writing as I am.
My classmates were inspirational, offering so much advice and encouragement. I also learnt a lot from reading, analysing and commenting on other students’ work and from reading other people’s comments. I’m still in touch with many of my classmates.
Headline bought two of your novels in a ten-way auction – this must have been very exciting – how did it feel when you got the news that you were going to be a published author?
I’ve wanted to be a novelist for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t know if I could ever achieve it. When my agent, Kate Burke at Blake Friedmann, rang to say my novel was going to auction, I could hardly believe it. I was walking around in a total daze, expecting to wake up and discover it was all a dream. The auction lasted several rounds over nearly two weeks and I was so excited I could hardly sleep. Two months on, the daze still hasn’t worn off. I hope it does soon because I need to start writing book 2!
Can you tell us a bit about your debut thriller Shiver?
Five former snowboarder friends are invited to an isolated mountaintop reunion at a tiny ski resort in the French Alps. Ten years earlier they were competitive athletes training in the resort. The novel alternates between the past and the present, exploring rivalry and competitiveness in a dangerous natural environment.
I’m fascinated by the mindset of top athletes – athletes far more successful than I ever was. What are these super-driven, super-competitive people like as friends and partners, and how far might they go to win? The snowboarders I met and trained with were nothing but friendly, yet this is apparently not the case in other sports where top sportspeople have been known to resort to mind games and other tactics to win.
Anyway, this mix of hyper-competitive people, mind games and a dangerous environment seemed like ready-made ingredients for a thriller.
How much did your former snowboarding career inspire the story?
The winters I spent snowboarding are so long ago now, but I still have vivid memories of the incredible white world at the top of a mountain. During my first winter I kept a journal, which was fortunate because I wrote most of Shiver during the middle of a Queensland heatwave. It’s not easy to picture snow and ice when you’re sweating at your desk with the fan on full!
Ski resorts are such strange places. I spent three winters in a tiny Swiss village where only a handful of people spoke the same language as me. In many sports, athletes encounter their rivals only during competitions, but as a winter sports athlete you find yourself thrown together with your rivals, perhaps living with them, or even snowed in with them, and training alongside them in a place where accidents happen all the time. I’m happy to say the events in the plot are entirely fictional, but it’s easy to imagine what could happen in such a situation. The characters in Shiver are also entirely fictional. There are certain characters in my novel who I really wouldn’t like to sit next to on a chairlift!
Do you have any advice you’d like to pass on to aspiring authors?
1) I have several previous novels, all unpublished and unsubmitted, mostly because I ran into storyline problems. It eventually occurred to me to try planning. With Shiver I spent an entire month planning, without writing a single word of the narrative. I simply plotted the scenes out onto post-it notes and stuck them onto a giant whiteboard. I spent entire days shuffling post-its around, but it was time well spent, because once I had my plan, the writing just flowed. Some writers can get away without planning, but for me at least, planning helped me no end, and I intend to plan all my novels in future.
2) I’m a massive reader. I scour book reviews in newspapers and magazines so I’m up to date with current trends and know what’s being published in my genre. Each book I read, I analyse it, working out what I loved (or didn’t love) about it.
3) What doesn’t appeal to one agent or publisher, another agent or publisher might love. Keep revising and re-submitting. Your luck can change in a single email.
What’s next for you and your writing – any hints as to what book two will be about?
It’s early days for book 2, because I’m currently writing it, but I want to take the reader to the entirely different environment of a remote Australian beach.
Are you writing a novel? Check out our 6-week online novel-writing courses tailored for different stages of the writing process, enrol today to study this September: Starting to Write Your Novel, Write to the End of Your Novel and Edit and Pitch Your Novel