I love snow. But most of all I love the smell in the air just before it starts snowing. And then the flakes start falling, slowly at first, looking like dust or bits of dandruff, coming down from a leaden sky. Then more and more little white flakes, or big, fluffy ones, until the air is a mass of soft, white stars that gently settle on the grass, trees and shrubs, roofs and cars, turning a dreary brown world into winter wonderland. It all makes me feel like a child again and I want to go out there and walk in it, ski in it, or even skate if there is a frozen body of water handy. Call me an addict but I can’t get enough SNOW.
It was this addiction to snow and my fantasy of becoming snowed in that inspired me to write Fresh Powder. All this, added to my other addiction; skiing, gave me a whole year of snow fantasies while I wrote the novel. It all started with a skiing holiday when there was enough ‘fresh powder’ to satisfy even an incurably addicted snow junkie like me.
A few years ago, we were invited to share a chalet with friends and also their friends, who were total strangers to me. It would be large group. I was a little reluctant at first, thinking that sharing accommodation with a lot of people I didn’t know very well might turn out to be less than amusing. I know from experience that you can find out a lot of things about people you think you know when you spend several days in the same house. Being up close and personal with their friends can turn into a nightmare from hell. All of which turned out to be true in one form or another. But the fact that we could ski all day and not see our fellow boarders from early morning until sunset helped matters quite a lot.
On this particular occasion, we were in the chic resort of Courchevel and the chalet was top-notch. So was the chalet staff, the food, the bedrooms, the bathrooms and the masseuse who came every day to help ease the pain of overused muscles. The other skiers were oh so glamorous and the vin chaud break at an alp top bistro greatly enhanced by the sexy French waiters. More used to Scandinavian basics, I found myself rather overwhelmed by all this elegance and I was a little worried that I would have to compete with world class skiers on the slopes. But to my relief, I quickly realised that there was no need to try any Olympic style skiing, as the average tourist was not there for that. Even though the slopes in this area of the Alps are among the best and most challenging in the world, skiing is not really what Courchevel is all about and you can easily fake it, as I described in an earlier post on the subject.
Snow conditions were good but not spectacular and the snow was wearing a bit thin by mid-week, forcing us onto the upper slopes and more difficult skiing conditions. Then it began to snow. And snow. And snow. There was so much snow that the lift operators had to dig out the chairlifts every twenty minutes. Some of the lifts had to close and the avalanche risk was at the top end of the scale. The controlled explosions to shift the huge amounts of snow from the mountainside woke us up every morning. On the fifth day, most of the lifts had closed and it looked as if we would be snowed into the chalet. This made everyone except me very glum and bad tempered. The very idea of not having all that luxury on tap seemed to some on a par with the threat of a third world war.
It didn’t happen but the morning it stopped snowing, I looked at the people around the breakfast table and thought- what would happen if we got snowed in? If we had no electricity, water, food, television, mobile phones or internet? If Mrs X couldn’t wash her hair, as she did every day and Mr X lost contact with his office in London? What if we ran out of wine and couldn’t even get outside? Who would take charge? Who would crack first? Who would eat whom? It would have been interesting to watch the glitzy façades begin to crack and the real personas reveal themselves. The possibilities were endless and my imagination was hopping with plots, characters and relationships. To my disappointment, the chalet never got snowed in but I had enough material to make it happen fictionally.
As the snow stopped falling and things turned back to normal again, the beginnings of a story was taking shape in my over productive mind. As my fellow guests chatted over their breakfast croissants and made plans for a last glass of champagne at some trendy bar, I looked at them and made them into characters in my story. I didn’t use all of my impressions in the end but, like most authors, combined the elements of several people into one person that would feature in my book. A few months later, I started the first draft of what was to become one of my most successful novels to date, Fresh Powder.
The story as it turned out in the end:
Claire Dillon is spending two weeks in the French Alps with her charge, six year old Emilie, whose father, Frenchman Bernard Marchand, owns a chalet in Courchevel. Bernard has asked Claire to take his daughter there to recover form a serious illness, explaining to Claire that the chalet party will also include some of his business associates. One of them turns out to be Lucy, her childhood friend with whom she fell out ten years earlier after a bitter row.
Lucy, who has made a brilliant career in advertising, was expecting the holiday of a lifetime with her boss, New York businessman Al Freeman and his wife Penny. She is as shocked as Claire when they meet again. The presence of Patrick Delacy, Al’s lawyer, with whom she has had a brief affair, ads to Lucy’s discomfort.
A luxury chalet in the French Alps. Six people thrown together by accident. And then it begins to snow…
Fresh Powder has just been published in German with the title Frischer Schnee