I’m sitting writing this blog on a sun-drenched chalet balcony in Switzerland. We’ve been here for the past week, deep in the Bernese Oberland and surrounded by some of the most spectacular mountains in Europe. There’s not a cloud in the sky today, but yesterday thick mist covered the valley and fresh snow fell on the peaks. Being hardy, determined types, we went out walking regardless. As we hiked through a forest where visibility had been reduced to a matter of feet, I was reminded exactly what inspired me to write my second novel, Desolation Point…
Mountains—even civilised mountains like the Swiss ones that come with bright yellow signposts and regular hot-chocolate-serving restaurants—are not your friend. They are hostile, wild, dangerous places where the weather can change in the blink of an eye and the path you just walked along can disappear into the gloom or quickly turn into a waterfall.
A couple of years back, near the end of a fortnight’s holiday, the missus declared she was having a rest day, and I felt confident enough to head out on my own. The path I chose was simply a reversal of the one we had walked the day before—hard work, but easy to find and follow. I started out in variable weather, and by the time I reached one of the highest points I was walking in low cloud and poor visibility. Having set off early, I had seen no one else on the trail. Thunder began to rumble in the distance, and just as I turned onto a long, exposed section the sky over the neighbouring mountain range was broken apart by a massive bolt of lightning. Being a paramedic and a writer, I am doubly blessed (or cursed) with a vivid imagination. I immediately saw myself caught up in a violent storm, with flash floods and falling debris sweeping me off the mountain to my doom. My sense of self-preservation quickly overwhelmed any sense of adventure I may have initially entertained and, like any good coward, I turned tail and ran. Quite literally ran, all the time expecting the storm to catch up with me as I chanted mindless reassurance to myself. Obviously, the worst never happened. I dropped down into the valley, the skies cleared and I walked back in bright sunshine, but I never forgot how scared I had been. When I came to start a new story after Snowbound, I knew exactly what its central premise would be and where I wanted to set it.
In the end, for a couple of reasons (maybe I’ll save those for another blog!), I chose the North Cascades in America for my setting. I’ve never been there, but I loved every minute of researching the National Park, its peaks and its wildlife. Walking the Swiss trails this last week has made me smile many times over as I’ve been reminded of sections in the story: descriptions of smells and sounds; that eerie, disorientating feeling of trekking in mist; and the daft games my partner and I play to take our minds off our aching knees.
I hope never to get stranded like Sarah and Alex do, and I sure as hell hope never to get stranded with an armed criminal chasing me down, but for as long as I can, I know I’ll always come back to the mountains. All you have to do is look up to be reminded exactly why you’re here.