Whiteout is my first book, and it tells the story of a group of sixth form students who visit the fictional ski resort of Kaldgellan, deep in the Austrian Alps. But when the worst storm in decades hits and they find themselves cut out off from the valley far below, they quickly realise that something else lurks out amongst the blizzard, something that has been waiting years to hunt and kill and feed.
The inspiration for Whiteout came from the first ski trip I ever went on, a few years ago, although back then I’d barely even seen real snow before.
I’ve been a surfer from as far back as I remember, but fifteen years or so ago I ended up having to move away from the sea for a while. Surfing had always been my way to get away from it all, and apart from writing it’s the thing I love to do most, and not being able to hit the waves as much really got me down.
(A shot from last year, when a friend and I found a remote wave in Wales that only breaks a few times a year)
But then one day, driving home from work, I noticed that next to the school I was teaching at there was a huge dryslope, where visitors could ski all through the year. And when I pulled over to take a look I saw somebody snowboarding on the plastic matting, and I thought ‘that looks just like surfing, maybe I can do it’. As it turned out, my surfing experience gave me a little bit of a headstart, although it still took a lot of falls and a couple of dislocated fingers before I could snowboard properly.
(Falling on a dryslope hurts a lot worse than falling on snow - this is me trying not to break any bones on the slope near the school I teach at)
A while after I learned the basics, my school asked me to run a ski trip for a bunch of sixth form students over to Austria. I found myself saying yes, even though I’d never ridden on snow before, and had never been to a ski resort. And during the long, dull, uncomfortable twenty seven hour coach journey I did wonder if I’d made the right decision. Finally, we arrived at our home for the week, a tiny Austrian resort called Hochkar, at the top of a mountain with one road in and one road out.
MEET THE TEAM
(Hochkar, the Austrian resort that was the inspiration for Kaldgellan, the setting for Whiteout)
Hochkar was deserted, creepy, and remote, and the snow was so deep it was almost impossible to get around, but I loved the place. After a few days we got more snow, more than the locals said they’d had in thirty years. With the road blocked, for a while it looked like we’d be stuck in the Alps until the snow stopped falling.
I’ve always been a fan of the horror genre, right back to when I was a teenager, when I’d stay up late reading books by Stephen King and James Herbert by torchlight. And I’ve got a pretty overactive imagination. One night, I was sitting on the balcony, staring out at the twilight slopes, and I thought what if there’s something out there? Something evil, supernatural, something that doesn’t want us to leave the mountain.
Once the idea took root, I couldn’t leave it alone. Lots of different ingredients bounced around in my head. The elements, minus fifteen and stormy, the mix of students I was with, the way the resort felt as if it had been a little forgotten by the modern world. As soon as I got home, I abandoned what I’d been working on and started writing Whiteout.
As the story took shape, I realised that more than anything I wanted the reader to care about the characters in the story, and that I wanted a kind of teen ensemble. If you’ve ever seen The Breakfast Club, the story of a bunch of teenage misfits that find themselves stuck in detention on a Saturday morning, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
And at the heart of the group I came up with the two main characters, Charlie, a teenage outcast with a tragic past, and Hanna, a young Austrian guide who harbours a mysterious secret linked to Kaldgellan. I love a strong female protagonist, and for me, Hanna is the enigmatic anti hero that keeps the group alive, a spiky, kick ass horror heroine, who knows a little more than she’s letting on.
The horror element of the story was also influenced by one of my favourite films, The Thing, and one of my favourite books, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. The Thing tells the story of a remote research facility in Antarctica whose inhabitants are hunted down by a terrifying alien creature, and I loved the wintery setting and the sense of isolation and tension. And I’ve always loved the supernatural, and vampire stories, and I found Salem’s Lot one of the scariest I’ve read.
I loved writing Whiteout, and making its group of mismatched teenagers fight, argue and bicker as they struggle to stay one step ahead of their supernatural pursuers.
And I hope readers will enjoy it just as much.