THE snow fields and mountain peaks of the Alps have inspired artists for many centuries and for author Jonathan Trigell they lie at the heart of his book Cham.
His novel tells of the almost spiritual enlightenment skiers feel when heading off piste through pristine snow above Chamonix, only to tumble back to earth like novices on a ski lift for the first time when the shot glasses begin to fill.
Jonathan takes readers through some of the problems and difficulties people face when working in Alpine ski resorts, as Cham's lead character Itchy unwraps dark memories he thought he'd left behind.
"The book examines the season worker and expat community, but also the way that Brits abroad behave," Jonathan said.
"It contrasts the high mountain splendour of skiing, in a similar way to those who go surfing, where you are being transported by nature surrounded by snow, which has an essence of purity and is such a beautiful thing.
"Then you come down the mountain and at night there is often people shouting, singing and usually enjoying themselves in a good natured way, but there is a darker side.
"Itchy is spiralling towards alcoholism, which is a danger I've seen in a lot of people out here as they try to keep up with the holidaymakers who are only there for six days, and then go home, whereas another set of people roll into the bar."
Jonathan has lived in Chamonix for a few years now, he was joking about the taxman reaching into his pockets when we spoke, and has settled into the town after spending winters working in resorts across the Alps and the summers back in the UK helping organise corporate events.
But his writing life changed after doing a MA in creative writing at Manchester University, where his thesis was a novel that his tutors cautiously thought might do well.
"My thesis was called Boy A and of course you hope something will come of it, but it can be quite a tricky business, nothing is guaranteed, but obviously I am delighted with how it has done."
The film version of the book has gone on to win awards at film festivals across Europe, it is currently receiving great reviews in the US press after being shown in art house cinemas across the States, and it won four BAFTAs earlier this year.
"I went to Manchester to see a couple of days of filming and it looked really good, but the first time I saw it was on the big screen at a press showing and I cried a couple of times," Jonathan said.
"It was an amazing adaptation as it is a completely different art form and the atmosphere of the book was captured both visually and through the dialogue.
"A lot of talented people were playing at the top of their game, and I can't take any credit for the film, they did a fantastic job."
Chamonix has always been a popular place for anglophones, even if the occasional Dutch or Swede gets grouped in with 'les anglaise', and because it does not close down for seven months of the year the summer months are busy and many businesses look to appeal to tourists all year round.
And basing himself in the town lets Jonathan get out to local bars and restaurants, with his notebook close at hand, but also enables him to have a detachment when writing.
"I have two viewpoints on living abroad, obviously Cham was written here in Chamonix and there is a kind of method writing component as it's very easy to write about something when you are there.
"But as the same time the novel I'm writing now is set in London, so I think there is something good about being detached from society in order to examine it and of course there is a great pedigree of writers doing their best work when abroad, and writing about home," said Jonathan.
"I think sometimes the bits you remember are the most important, you declutter, so maybe there is a bit of both."
The experience of writers abroad is an important strand of Cham as Jonathan weaves into the book the true story of lost works by Lord Byron, his physician Dr Polidori and Percy Shelley; the only piece to survive was Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley, which has a famous scene set on the Mer de Glace above Chamonix.
"The group spent a summer in a villa in Geneva, the skies were dark across Europe like a mini nuclear winter due to the clouds being full of ash from a volcano, where they had a writing competition and whilst Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was published, I reimagined the other three lost Gothic tales," Jonathan said.
"I also explain how the group travelled around the Chamonix valley area, but the lost tales link into the main narrative and the central character, and what he is running away from."
With his writing firmly part of his life he will spend his working day at his desk, trying not to be distracted by email, but settling down to the rhythm of his words, writing up notes when struggling to concentrate and only leaving his desk mid-sentence, never at the end of a chapter, to make it easier to get back to the keyboard.
But what of that third book?
"I am keeping it quite close to my chest, but it's called Genesis and it's set in a near future London. But that's all I'm going to say as there's a long way to go in writing it yet."
Website: Jonathan Trigell
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
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