Author Allie Reynolds never set out to be a writer. She doesn’t have any formal training in literature or creative writing, and she spent a large part of her career as a professional snowboarder.
But she always had a strong interest in reading as a child, and her first job as a teenager was at a bookstore.
She said she dabbled with writing for many years, journalled a lot, and started – but was never able to finish – “four or five” novels.
While she had a good grounding in grammar and language basics thanks to teaching English for 15 years, Reynolds still didn’t see herself as a professional writer. Yet, she persisted.
It wasn’t until about 10 years ago when she started writing short fiction stories that were published in magazines that Reynolds realised she may be onto something.
She managed to make enough of an income through writing that allowed her to step away from teaching and focus on developing her craft as a writer – and more recently, a novelist.
As a former freestyle snowboarder, Reynolds always knew her first book was going to incorporate snowboarding, elite athletes, and the thrilling scene of snowy mountains, complete with its dangers and mysteries.
Reynolds was fascinated to explore the tension between people, the dangers of the Alps, and the thrill of extreme sport, all of which is covered brilliantly in her debut novel Shiver.
The novel follows protagonist Milla who is invited to a reunion with friends in a cosy alpine resort that saw the peak of her snowboarding career.
The friends haven’t seen each other in 10 years, since the disappearance of Saskia, and when an icebreaker game turns menacing, they realise they don’t know who has gathered them there or how far they will go to uncover hidden secrets.
‘I needed to plan my book’: Allie Reynolds on novel Shiver
Reynolds sat down in June 2018 and brought together all the ideas she had for Shiver.
“I would often get in a mess with storyline, so I realised my weakness was probably plot. And I decided I needed to plan my book,” she said.
“I spent a whole month planning Shiver – and I planned it onto Post-it Notes, with one scene per Post-it Note. I put them on a huge whiteboard, with the Post-it Notes in two different colours because Shiver has a dual timeline.
“I spent a very long time shuffling them around, trying to get the best order and trying to end each scene on a cliffhanger, and look at what the reader needs to know at each point.”
With a structure and a plot outlined, Reynolds started writing Shiver in July 2018 and finished it by Christmas of that year.
By early 2019 Reynolds was pitching her book to literary agents. The novel was rejected by several agents, with some suggesting that it needed to be cut down and revised before she resubmitted it.
After reworking sections of the book, Reynolds resubmitted her manuscript and an agent came back to her in March 2019 with keen interest and offered to represent her.
Reynolds then spent six weeks working closely with her agent and revising the manuscript, “slashing big bits of it and writing 12 new scenes”, which Reynolds admits was “really tough, and it really pushed me to the limit”.
But the hard work paid off, with the book eventually landing in a 10-publisher auction in the UK – a situation that ultimately gave Reynolds the best possible outcome as a debut author, allowing her to negotiate a better price and secure a two-book deal.
In the months that followed, Reynolds completed the final phases of getting her novel to market and agreed on a January 2021 publication date for both the UK (with Headline) and Australia (with Hachette).
Developing structure and characters in novel Shiver
While she now lives on the Gold Coast in Australia, Reynolds’ UK roots are firmly planted in Shiver, with many of the characters hailing from England, and the setting for the story taking place in the nearby French Alps.
The book offers short, punchy chapters that keep the reader hooked.
“I read a lot of thrillers, particularly new release thrillers. If I like them, I look at why I like them or if they seem to be fast-paced, I look at why. And I’ve noticed that the chapters are often very short,” Reynolds said.
“I’m also aware that people’s attention spans these days are really short… and so I deliberately kept the chapters very short.
“Also, with the dual timeline, I thought people might be getting impatient to know what was happening in the other timeline, so I didn’t want to hold them too long in one timeline.”
As the chapters alternate between the dual timeline – present day and 10 years ago – it helps to create suspense and slowly exposes the layers of each character, which Reynolds said “seemed like quite a natural way of doing it, bit by bit, revealing the pieces of the puzzle”.
There are six key characters in Shiver, each of which brings a unique dimension to the story and an added layer to the interconnected relationships.
There’s protagonist Milla, the perspective that the reader experiences the story from; sassy and uber-competitive Saskia; the charming yet conflicted Curtis; cool and calm Brent; and couple Heather and Dale.
“Milla is a lot like me, only I don’t think I’m competitive at all. Milla was very competitive, and that works well in a thriller, and having her be that competitive helped to drive the plot,” Reynolds said.
And Curtis, who Reynolds admits was her favourite character to create, presents as this slightly damaged alpha male who is always torn between his morals.
“I’m very interested in damaged alpha males; I think they’re really interesting characters,” Reynolds said.
“I wanted Curtis to be quite damaged and have a strong sense of loyalty and very high morals, but he is put in a situation where he is torn between his loyalty to his friend, his sister, the girl that he likes, and his own personal ambition. So, we don’t quite know at any stage what he is going to do.”
Another aspect that Reynolds wove into her characters was ensuring that the female roles were of equal strength to their male counterparts.
“I get annoyed when reading crime and thrillers that women are always seen as the victims, and they’re seen as weak and helpless. One thing I really wanted to do was to have a cast of female characters who are as strong as the male characters in the book, if not more so,” she said.
Readers might be surprised to learn that Shiver is Reynolds’ debut novel – she makes an intricate story, with a dual timeline and several main characters, read effortlessly.
With its fast pace, engaging dialogue, and cliffhanger chapter endings, Shiver is full of all the mystery required to enjoy a good thriller.
Purchase a copy of Shiver by Allie Reynolds here.