Interview: Meet Catherine Cooper, author of The Chalet
PUBLISHED: 14:48 07 December 2020 | UPDATED: 15:18 07 December 2020
The journalist turned best-selling novelist, who lives in south-west France, shares the inspiration for her debut book, a thriller set in the French Alps
Could you tell us about your background with France and your life as a writer so far?
I moved to France in 2009 with my husband and two children then aged four and six – there were many reasons for the move but a big part for me was wanting to ski more! As far as writing goes, I’ve loved it as long as I can remember. I wrote my first full-length novel in 2002 and between then and now have also written several YA novels – all unpublished! So The Chalet is my debut.
The Chalet is an utterly gripping read, keeping readers on their toes. Could you give us a taster of the plot?
In 1998, two brothers go out skiing and only one returns. In the same resort 20 years later, his body turns up. It’s for the reader to work out what the residents of the luxury chalet do (or don’t) have to do with what happened all those years ago – and what is going to happen about it now.
What was it about the French Alps that made you choose them as the setting?
I’m a bit obsessed by skiing and have spent quite a lot of time in the Alps. But also because even though I read a lot of thrillers, I’d never found one set in a ski resort and it’s actually a really brilliant setting – you have both beauty and danger. Plus you meet some really interesting characters in the mountains, I find. The luxurious aspect also appeals to me – the chalet is the book is very high-end.
You’re a skier yourself – do you have any particularly memorable skiing experiences in France?
Many! I learnt aged 14 on a school ski trip and fell in love with the sport then. I won the ‘wipe outs of the week’ award – I had no fear back then. Now we live near the Pyrenees and are lucky enough to be able to ski every week in the winter if we want to. I usually also visit the Alps a few times a year too – both with family and on press trips – The Chalet is inspired by some of the luxurious hotels I’ve reviewed there. I find most days skiing special for one reason or another but I guess the most memorable, even if not in the best way, is being helicoptered off the mountain in St Anton when I broke my leg. I was winched on a rope dangling beneath the helicopter! In France, memorable experiences have included a ride on a piste basher in La Mongie, a sunset ski with an apero by a frozen waterfall in Vaujany and a couple of Saturdays in La Plagne when we arrived on the first day of season ahead of the hordes to enjoy lovely quiet slopes. There are many though.
You live near the beautiful Pyrenees – what does an average writing day in your life look like?
It depends exactly what point I’m at but in the mornings I try to go to the gym or get admin out of the way (being in France, there is always a lot) and then write in the afternoon. I usually do most fiction writing on my laptop away from my ‘main’ computer to make it feel different to my journalism work – in summer often outside on the terrace, in winter usually downstairs by the fire where it’s warmer.
You’ve got a second book in the works set in France. Can you give us a snapshot of what it’s about?
It’s set in a fictional department in the South of France and is about a couple who have recently moved to the area with their two young children to escape something that happened back in London. But they soon find that the past doesn’t stay buried and that their dream château isn’t quite the paradise they hoped it would be.
The Chalet by Catherine Cooper is out now (£7.99, HarperCollins).
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