How an accident inspired my latest novel.

When you’re an author, life events, good or bad, often make it into your writing. They can even inspire a whole novel.

Three years ago, I was surfing at my local beach when my board smashed me hard in the side of the head. I felt myself starting to black out, but fought it, because I was in deep water and feared I would drown. I clung tightly to my surfboard and made it in to the beach lying on my board. Apart from a growing egg-sized lump on my head, I didn’t feel too bad.

But that afternoon, as I sat at home with an ice pack, I noticed strange gaps in my vision. I rushed to a local optician who freaked out and said my retina was detaching. So I rushed to Emergency, but it turned out my retina was merely loose. If a retina comes detached, emergency surgery is needed to save your vision but if it’s just loose, there’s nothing they can do, and once loose it will always be loose. To my relief, my vision soon returned to normal, apart from a few strange floaters.

But the next day my brain started to scramble. It was the weirdest feeling. Time seemed to slow and I realised I struggling to form thoughts. I headed back to Emergency for a CT scan. The doctor diagnosed delayed concussion and wanted to keep me in hospital but I’m a single mum of two young kids, so he reluctantly allowed me to go home, with strict instructions to rest. I also had to get a rota of kind friends to phone me at two hourly intervals through that first night, to check I could wake up.

Apart from relief, my main reaction was annoyance. “How long until I can surf again?”

It’s the same every time I injure myself. I imagine it’s the same for anyone who loves a sport.

The doctor looked at me like I was mad and told me: 14 days.

I waited 14 days. Then, feeling guilty and reckless and selfish, I went surfing again on day 15. I was cautious, knowing another head injury could be serious.

I was supposed to be writing my next book but I didn’t have the concentration to even read. My concentration took months to improve and I had to train myself to avoid distractions. I still struggle to multi-task. I can’t listen to music while I read or drive, and loud noises and bright light bother me more than they used to.

A few months later, just as I thought I was in the clear, I went for a deep-sand run and completely lost the vision in one eye. Maybe my brain overheated or got too shaken around. I rushed back to Emergency thinking my retina had detached, but it was apparently a brain issue not an eye issue and my retina was still merely loose. My vision returned a few hours later but I still have occasional vision issues.

I’ve done myself a fair bit of damage over the years, from the sports I’ve done, but this is my most serious injury to date. Naturally the accident inspired the book I was writing. Sport is good for you, they tell us. But my accident made me question this. What if (like me) the sports you enjoy are dangerous ones that smash you up?😅Is surfing good for me or is it an unhealthy, dangerous addiction? That got me thinking about where my limit would be – and where that limit might be for other people. How far might someone go to pursue their addiction? What price might they pay to continue surfing?

Then I began thinking about the different ways sports can damage us: the physical and mental trauma that accidents can cause. In The Bay / The Swell, a group of young keen surfers have claimed a remote Australian beach as their own. Surfing and other sports have damaged them in different ways, but they will do whatever it takes to keep surfing.

KENNA lost the love of her life in a surfing accident.
MIKKI’s addiction to surfing has torn her from family and friends.
JACK lives in constant pain from his accident.
VICTOR has PTSD from his accident.
RYAN uses surfing as a means to opt out of real life.

I love damaged characters. Trap them together and who knows what they might do?

The Bay is out in paperback in the UK on 25 May 2023.
It’s out in paperback in North America on 18 July 2023, titled The Swell.

Thrillers with a strong sense of place

I love thrillers with a strong sense of place, especially ones set in dangerous natural environments. Here are some of my favourites!

@ericaferencik‘s thrillers always have THE most unique settings! #TheRiverAtNight is set on a raging remote river in Maine, where a group of female friends are white-water rafting. It’s possibly my favourite thriller ever! #IntoTheJungle is set in the Bolivian Amazon. It’s full of natural dangers from anacondas and jaguars to poisonous plants. Her latest, #GirlInIce is set in the Arctic.

I love Jane Harper’s novels which all have different settings, from the parching heat of #TheDry, to the lush green national park of #ForceOfNature, to the stormy windswept beach of #TheSurvivors, all equally vividly described.

Sarah Pearse creates the most sinister settings ever! Her debut #TheSanatorium is set in a hotel that used to be a TB sanatorium, her latest #TheRetreat is set on a rocky island known as Reaper’s Rock, which has a very dark history.

Ruth Ware’s books all have very different settings too. Her debut #InADarkDarkWood, set on a hen party at an isolated house surrounded by dense forest, was one of the books that got me hooked on psychological thrillers! The settings are all intense in Lucy Foley’s novels too. I loved the remote hunting lodge in far north Scotland of #TheHuntingParty, complete with icy lake, creepy forest and sinister statues.

Karen Dionne’s #TheMarshKingsDaughter (titled Home in the UK) is set on a harsh, freezing marsh far from civilisation. The author drew off her experiences living off the land for three years with her young family, building a cabin and homesteading. No wonder the setting feels so authentic. #TheWickedSister is set mostly at a remote hunting lodge surrounded by wilderness, complete with wolves and bears.

Australian author @shelleyburr‘s crime debut #Wake is set in a small town in outback Australia. I’ve never been to the outback but I could picture it so clearly! Australian author @KylePerry‘s haunting and atmospheric debut #TheBluffs is set in Tasmanian wilderness with a history of young girls going missing.

The story behind these rocks

I took the UK hardback edition of my new thriller #TheBay for a photoshoot!

Funny story about the rocks in the photo. It’s a famous surf spot here on the Gold Coast: Burleigh Point. When the waves are big, you have to jump off the rocks with your surfboard to get out because the currents are too strong to paddle from the beach.

Twenty years ago I’d only been surfing for six months. I’d just met my future husband (now my ex-husband because we divorced) and he invited me for a surf at Burleigh for our second date.

He clearly overestimated my surfing ability.
“Follow me!” he said and jumped off the rocks.
Keen to impress, I gamely followed him and jumped, but I timed it wrong. The waves had a bit of size that day and a larger wave rushed in and swept me back over the rocks. The barnacles shredded my feet and legs. I dragged myself back over the rocks into the ocean where I sat on my surfboard, cuts stinging, then realised I was bleeding in about ten places. Thinking how sharks can smell one drop of blood in a thousand Olympic swimming pools, I reluctantly said goodbye to my date and paddled in to the beach, then walked through the town of Burleigh leaving a trail of blood behind me.😂😂

I have a bad record with rocks. Another time, I jumped off rocks onto my board and landed on it badly, breaking several ribs. I’ve also busted fins. I never manage to time it right. These days I mostly stick to beach breaks.

#TheBay is out now in Australia and out on 23 June in the UK. It comes out on 19 July in North America, with its American title: #TheSwell.

2 d

How I Found An Agent:


I found my agent, Kate Burke of Blake Friedmann Literary Agency in London, through the slush pile. Here’s how I went about it.

I was born and raised in the UK but moved to Australia fifteen years ago. There aren’t many literary agents in Australia, and many weren’t currently accepting submissions, plus Australia’s smaller population means a smaller book market. Since SHIVER is set in the French Alps and most of the characters are British, I hoped it would appeal to the UK market, so I decided to look for a UK agent rather than an Australian one. Fortunately, UK agents didn’t seem to mind that I didn’t live in the UK.

To find suitable agents, I headed to Jericho Writers’ website. Using their excellent Agent Match search tool, I searched for UK literary agents, who accepted my genre (thriller) and who were actively taking on new clients. The tool brought up about 250 agents.|

For years, I’ve been reading the acknowledgements section in the backs of novels, and blogs and interviews of my favourite authors, so there were a few familiar names amongst this list of agents. I researched each agent individually (giving priority to the agents of my favourite authors) by going to their agency website to learn exactly what they were looking for, and checked their client lists to see if I’d read and enjoyed any of the authors they represented. If they still sounded suitable, I googled them to find interviews with them or their clients, and checked their twitter feeds. I even went as far as reading some of their clients’ books – if I liked the books, I could mention that in my query letter.

This research took several days. I thought about what I most wanted from an agent and decided that most of all, I wanted someone who was hands on editorially. Someone who would read my work and help me improve it. Agents get 15-20% commission on writers’ advances and royalties, so it made sense to me to look for an agent who could add value to my work. I also wanted an agent with enough experience that I felt I could trust their judgement, but preferably someone without a massive list, so they would have enough time for me. I ended up with a shortlist of about 30 agents who I loved.

I felt fairly confident about my query letter thanks to a course I’d done with Curtis Brown Creative a year earlier. I did three short online courses with Curtis Brown in total. (See my interview on their blog where I talk about my experience of their courses.) Their Edit and Pitch course is a 6-week online course that looks specifically at your query package: the query letter, synopsis and first chapters. Following the advice on the course, I’d put together a query letter with three paragraphs including an enticing blurb about my novel, a paragraph about why I was submitting to that particular agent, and a paragraph about me and my writing background.

Literary agents may receive up to 10,000 submissions a year, so I deliberately kept my query letter as short as possible – 200 words in my case. My query letter wasn’t something hurriedly drafted. I spent ages on it, forming it weeks before my manuscript was ready, asking writer friends for feedback and revising it over and over. (See the end for the actual query letter that got me my agent.)

The synopsis is widely regarded as the hardest page you will ever have to write. I must have done hundreds of drafts of the synopsis for SHIVER, seeking help from my long-suffering writer friends, who suggested revisions. UK agents commonly ask for a 1-page synopsis. One page in size 12 font with single line spacing and a line gap between each paragraph gave me about 450 words. It’s incredibly hard to condense the plot of a novel into just 450 words – particularly a thriller with lots of twists. It doesn’t help either, that there’s no consensus on whether or not your synopsis should give away the ending of your story. Looking back, I probably spent too long on my synopsis. I went in circles and pulled my hair out over it. Eventually I conceded there’s no ‘perfect’ synopsis and settled on a 1-page document that gave the main plot points.

In February 2019 I submitted my first chapters to four literary agents. I promptly received three form rejections. Two of them arrived within 24 hours of my submission! Devastated, I trimmed my first three chapters, questioning every single word, to see if I really needed it. I was absolutely ruthless. I cut adverbs where possible and made my verbs stronger. If I’d used two adjectives before a noun, I cut the weaker one – or even both. If I had one sentence that meant nearly the same thing as the next, I cut the weaker one.

There are some excellent books available on editing. My favourites are:
The First Five Pages by US literary agent Noah Lukeman
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
Thanks, But This isn’t For Us, by Jessica Page Morrell.

Kate Burke at Blake Friedmann apparently liked thrillers and cold, bleak settings, so in March 2019, I sent my revised manuscript to her and three other agents, on what I thought was the day after the London Book Fair. Except in my sleep-deprived, mum-of-two-little-kids brain, I’d muddled the date and it was actually the first day of the book fair – the biggest event in the UK book industry. You’d think it was the worst possible time to submit, but amazingly, just four hours later, an email arrived. One of the agents wanted to see the full manuscript! It was lucky my manuscript was edited and ready to submit. If I’d been impatient and submitted earlier, thinking I’d have time to edit, I’d have been in a huge panic! Crossing my fingers, I sent off the full.

If an agent requests to see the full manuscript, writers are advised to inform any other agents they’ve submitted to, so I tapped out an email, but before I hit ‘send,’ an incoming email from Kate arrived, requesting the full. I informed the remaining two agents, and one immediately requested the full. I didn’t get much sleep that night. I woke up to a full request from the fourth agent. And an email from Kate asking if she could phone me my evening – her morning. (There’s a massive time difference between the UK and Australia.)

It was another nail-biting wait. My hand shook as I answered my phone. Kate, in her lilting Irish accent, told me how much she loved SHIVER. I asked about her experience, and what changes if any, she’d suggest making to my manuscript. She asked about my writing, my plans for future novels, and offered to represent me.

Another agent also wanted to phone. I had the same conversation with this agent, then accepted Kate’s offer. One of the reasons I chose Kate was her editorial experience – she’d worked in publishing for ten years before she switched to agenting, and she was very hands-on editorially.

A few people have asked me what changes I made to my manuscript between my first batch of submissions to agents and the second batch. The answer is not much. Mostly just tightening and trying to be very specific and thoughtful about word choice. Maybe I hit the first batch of agents at a busy time of year: they were trying to clear their inboxes ahead of the book fair? Reading taste is so personal. Perhaps the first batch of agents just happened not to be as keen on SHIVER as the agents in the second batch?

Anyway over the next two months, Kate took my manuscript through several rounds of revisions, to make it as commercial as possible, and went on to sell SHIVER in a ten-publisher auction. The first round was a ‘big picture’ edit which pushed me to my limit as a writer and involved me writing 12 new scenes. The other rounds were smaller detail.

Something I found confusing as an aspiring author was knowing the ‘best’ word count for a novel. Each genre (and sub-genre) has a different ideal word count, and if a manuscript is way shorter or longer than the norm, agents (and publishers) may be put off. I’d researched word counts for thrillers and thought my manuscript was about the right length. It was 77,000 words when I submitted it to Kate, but she said it was a bit short. After I’d made the revisions she suggested, she submitted it to publishers at 83,000 words. After several more rounds of revisions from my publishers, SHIVER ended up at around 92,000 words.

My tips for authors who are searching for agents:
1. Edit like crazy. Trim and polish your work to try to get it perfect. Little mistakes may put agents off and look unprofessional. From talking to Kate, I get the impression that agents receive many submissions that are full of typos and other mistakes.
2. Read like crazy. Read recent titles in your genre. You need to know where your book sits in the market: the genre and subgenre. For example, if it’s a thriller, is it a crime thriller, techno-thriller, domestic suspense or psychological thriller? In the query letter you need to mention comparable titles and/or authors (preferably recent big sellers) and reading widely will help you find some. This helps make your book seem marketable.

Here’s my query letter, as I submitted it to Kate. Kate later said it was one of the best query letters she’d seen and used it as an example in a workshop she taught on querying.

Dear Kate

And Then There Were None… on a glacier, with snowboarders.

THE ICEBREAKER is a thriller (77,000 words) that I hope could sit beside CL Taylor, Ruth Ware and Laura Marshall.

Secrets are crawling out of the ice. Friendships are turning glacial.
And everything’s about to crack…

When ultra-competitive ex pro snowboarder Milla Anderson joins four former friends for an isolated mountaintop reunion ten years on from tragedy, a twisted icebreaker suggests one of them is a killer. But the cable-car isn’t running. There’s no easy way down.

I heard you love strong female main characters, cold and bleak settings, dual timelines and psychological suspense with a mystery at its heart, so I hope The Icebreaker with its feisty heroine and theme of female rivalry in sport might appeal. I see my ‘brand’ as female-led psychological thrillers set in dangerous natural environments, from high mountains to remote surf beaches.

I was once a freestyle snowboarder in the UK top ten like my protagonist. For fifteen years I taught English. Now I’m a freelance writer with 100 sales of short commercial fiction to women’s magazines in the UK, Australia, Sweden and South Africa and thirteen romances to anthologies.

I attach the synopsis and first three chapters for your consideration.

Many thanks,

Allie Reynolds

You’ll notice several lines in italics, which are like the straplines you see on book jackets. This was something I learnt in Curtis Brown’s Edit and Pitch course. Note that when I originally submitted it, the title of my novel was THE ICEBREAKER but Kate didn’t feel it was a strong enough title and came up with the suggestion of SHIVER which I loved. It’s just one of many reasons why I’m so grateful to her.

In Memory of my Dad.

I’d like to dedicate my first post to my dad, Andrew Leslie Reynolds, 1939-2018.

Mountains were my dad’s greatest passion in life. He despised flat areas – “Boring!” Work and city life were necessary evils to be endured until he could be in the mountains again. The Lake District, the Peak District, Scotland and – when he could afford it: the Alps.

He was a member of the Lincoln Mountaineering Club, met my mum in the mountains and had a huge group of mountain-loving friends. After his retirement, he assisted fellow walkers and climbers as hut warden every summer on the Scottish Isle of Skye.

In his army green cagoule and technical hiking trousers and boots, he looked out of place in a city. But when I started doing snowboard seasons, he fit right in and often came out to visit, bombing down the black runs right behind me on his skis. He gamely tried snowboarding himself when he was in his sixties. Then I began competing at halfpipe. Many dads might have worried about their daughter doing such a dangerous sport, but my dad made no secret of his approval.

He was always encouraging about my writing and was a fountain of ideas for my previous novel – another mountain-set snowboarding thriller (still incomplete). We spent many a happy hour discussing ways my villains (or the mountains themselves) could kill my characters. I can still hear his shouts of laughter down the phone at my latest gruesome idea.

My dad didn’t write – he could barely read his own handwriting and certainly nobody else could – but he was a brilliant oral storyteller with endless tales to tell. One of my favourites is the story of how, a few years before I was born, he and my mum escaped death by a millimetre on the Matterhorn. My parents, both experienced and proficient mountaineers, were roped together climbing a steep rockface in parallel, five metres apart, when someone above them shouted a warning. My dad looked up to see a boulder the size of a small filing cabinet plummeting downwards. As it neared him, my dad realised it was going to land on the rope between him and my mum. Instinctively he slackened the rope, letting it lie flat against the rockface. His quick thinking saved their lives. If the rope had been taut, the boulder would have landed on it and pulled my parents clean off the mountain. When my parents inspected the rope later, they saw a little nick from where the boulder had scratched it.

My dad passed away in 2018 so he never got a chance to read Shiver, but it seems fitting that my first published novel is set in mountains he knew and loved.