BOOK CLUB KIT
A CONVERSATION WITH
ALLIE REYNOLDS Tell us what The Swell is about. The Swell combines aspects of three of my favorite stories: Point Break, The Beach, and And Then There Were None. Two young British women, Kenna and Mikki, best friends since childhood, share a love of surfing until Kenna’s boyfriend drowns in a big swell. Kenna blames herself and quits the sport. Mikki continues, moving to Australia in her quest for waves. When Mikki announces she’s about to marry a man she barely knows, Kenna flies out to bring her home. The story begins as Kenna arrives in Sydney. She meets Mikki’s fiancé and they take her to a remote Australian beach with perfect waves. There she gets to know the reclusive group of young surfers who live for the waves. Australian Jack is a former professional surfer who lives in constant pain from an accident. Brazilian big-wave surfer Victor has suffered from PTSD since his accident. Surfing has helped Sky heal after an abusive childhood. Californian Ryan seeks solace from anxiety and a high-pressure job. And Spaniard Clemente uses surfing as a distraction from painful events in his past. Sorrow Bay seems like a paradise at first but every paradise has a dark side. Kenna feels a duty to protect her best friend but is drawn back into the sport she left behind. The Swell explores the ties between friends and partners. It has themes of passion and addiction, and bravery vs recklessness.
PHOTO © MARCIOPHOTOGRAPHYAUS 2020
The majority of the story takes place on a beach in Australia. As an avid surfer yourself and an Australian, how much did you pull from your own experiences? I live on the Gold Coast, and my local surf spots are some of the most crowded on the planet. I’ve been on surf trips down Australia’s east coast to quieter spots, including some very remote ones which can only be accessed with a four-wheel-drive or a lengthy hike. Sorrow Bay is a fictional spot loosely based on some of these places. Surfing is incredibly addictive. As soon as I tried it, I made lifestyle changes that allowed me to surf as much as possible. Before I had kids, I used to surf ten times a week, surfing at sunrise before catching the train to work, then surfing again when I got home. I chose a job specifically because it offered a 4-day workweek allowing me to surf more. I had children relatively late in life because I knew it would interfere with my obsession. In the last few years, I’ve quit alcohol and spent a small fortune on vitamins, supplements, physiotherapy and other health treatments in my attempt to recover from injuries and continue surfing. I started wondering what other sacrifices other keen surfers might make—and how far they might go in their quest for waves. I grew up in the small English city of Lincoln, far
from the beach, so I’ve had to learn a lot about the ocean here for my own safety! Many beaches here in Australia have dangerous rip currents. They often look like the calmest part on the beach until you find yourself caught in them and getting dragged out to sea. The waves are shaped by the tides and the wind. When I began surfing, I was stunned by how much the conditions can change from day to day—even minute to minute. I remember sitting on my board in tiny swell as a beginner, yet within moments the waves became so big I felt terrified, but I somehow had to catch a wave to return to the safety of the sand. Even in smaller swell, large rogue waves can appear from nowhere. One thing’s for sure: you can never turn your back on the ocean. Sharks are an ever-present danger. As a beginner, I was surfing at a local beach when a lifeguard pulled up on a jet-ski and shouted: “Get out of the water, there’s a shark in your area!” I’ve never paddled so fast in my life! When I got home, I saw on the news that a shark had bitten a surfer in the thigh at a neighboring beach. There were twenty-two shark attacks in Australia in 2020, eight of them fatal, increasing to twelve fatal attacks in 2021, so sharks are always at the back of my mind when I surf here. Australia has many other dangerous creatures, including deadly snakes and spiders, which makes it a great setting for a thriller! Before you were a surfer, you were a competitive snowboarder. How did you get your start in snowboarding and surfing, and what are your favorite aspects of both sports? My parents were keen mountaineers, so all my childhood holidays were spent in the mountains. I skied from a young age and switched to snowboarding as a teenager way back in the early years of the sport. The first time I ventured into a halfpipe I was hooked. A snowboard halfpipe offers eight to ten jumps in the space of less than a minute. Nothing can match the adrenaline rush of a run
down the halfpipe. But I kept getting injured. When I quit the snowboarding at age twentyseven, I tried surfing and immediately became addicted. It offered a similar feeling without as much danger or potential for breaking bones, since you fall on water rather than ice. Being out in the ocean, experiencing the power of nature, is such an incredible feeling. When I’m out there, I’m focused and completely in the moment. The surfers in the book discover a gorgeous and secluded beach in Australia that they name “Sorrow Bay.” They love this beach so much that they go to extreme lengths to keep it a secret from tourists. What’s the best location you’ve ever surfed, and are surfers often territorial about their favorite beaches? My favorite beach is Ubatuba in Brazil, a peaky little beach break with warm water backed by dense jungle. I was married to a Brazilian for fifteen years and we moved to the country shortly after our marriage and lived there for a few months. We had to trek through thick jungle and paddle our surfboards across a river to get to the beach. Surfing definitely has a dark side and surfers have long been territorial about their local surf spots. Pipeline in Hawaii has the notorious Wolfpak, who decide who can surf there and where they can sit. Maroubra in Sydney is home to the Bra Boys. Before I had kids, I traveled to some popular surf spots and followed the advice from surf guides to “keep a low profile.” Surfing is a growing sport and surf spots are becoming ever more crowded. I live on the Gold Coast, home to most of Australia’s professional surfers and some of the world’s best waves, including Snapper Rocks, aka the Superbank, which is so crowded that I rarely surf there these days. I’ve witnessed countless instances of localism, racism, and surf rage, including violent assaults and punchups, as well as incredibly reckless behavior on the
part of certain surfers that endangered the lives of others in the water. It’s sad that such a beautiful sport has this ugly aspect. Your first book followed a group of snowboarders, and your latest thriller follows a group of surfers. What draws you to athletes, and why do you think they make such intriguing thriller characters? As a reader, I always love books that immerse me in a new world that I know nothing about and show me how people live their lives there: their lifestyle, culture, and quirks, and what makes them tick. Beartown by Fredrik Backman was my favorite read last year, with its focus on ice hockey, a sport I had no previous interest in. My two favorite sports— snowboarding and surfing—have unique and fascinating cultures, so I hoped readers might be interested to learn about them, even if they’d never tried the sport. Top athletes and the mental aspect of competition have always fascinated me. I admire top athletes, but they also intimidate me with how single-minded and driven they are. This personality type makes a formidable opponent for a thriller plot, in my opinion! I see myself as a failed athlete, because I never got as far in my sport as I hoped to go. I guess I also like to explore in my writing areas of personal interest to me, such as how far someone might go to succeed in their sport and the sacrifices they might be prepared to make for it. Clemente, one of the main characters, believes that sports can make you stronger but that they can also destroy you. Where is the line between obsession and passion in The Swell? Do you think that the characters take their love of surfing too far? And what are the consequences?
The general message we hear from our doctors and the media is: Sport is healthy and good for you! But what if (like me) the sports you enjoy are dangerous ones? I switched from snowboarding to surfing thinking it was safer, but I’ve done more damage to myself from surfing than I have from snowboarding. Broken ribs, whiplash, a torn meniscus, a torn rotator cuff, a herniated back… My most serious injury was a head injury two years ago—smashed in the side of the head by my own board—resulting in delayed concussion and a loosened retina. I briefly lost the vision in one eye and still suffer vision and concentration issues to this day. Looking back, it was pretty scary being in deep water and feeling myself start to black out. I fought it, knowing I might drown if I did. But my first thought afterwards was the same as it is every time I injure myself: How long until I can surf again? The doctor told me to wait 14 days, so on day 15, I paddled back out and sat on my surfboard thinking: I must be out of my mind! I felt guilty—I’m a single mum of two little boys, and if I banged my head again, I’d be in serious trouble—but at the same time, I knew I had to do it. So I often wonder how healthy my addiction is! How does Kenna’s relationship to adrenaline and to fear change throughout The Swell? How does her time at the bay help her deal with her past? Kenna is fearless as a child. It takes the drowning of her partner Kasim to make her realize how dangerous the ocean is. After that she tries to turn her back on surfing. She’s angry with the ocean and surfing and, more than anything angry, with herself because she feels responsible for his death. But it takes just one wave at the Bay to get sucked back in. Sky has her faults but she means well. As strange and as unconventional her methods are, she helps by getting Kenna to talk about what happened, then
forcing her to confront her guilt. By the end of the story, Kenna’s love of surfing has been restored and she has grown stronger, physically and mentally. What is your writing process? I never used to plan my novels. After spending twenty years trying and failing to complete a novel, it finally occurred to me to try planning. Shiver was the first novel I planned. I spent one month brainstorming and plotting scenes onto Post-It notes and wrote it in six months. The process was so smooth! I assumed it would be just as smooth the second time around, but it was much harder. The Swell required more research into topics like rock climbing, cliff jumping, PTSD, and the psychological aspects of fear and thrill seekers. Then I spent months planning, made harder by my head injury as well as having my young children at home during the COVID lockdown. I eventually got my scenes plotted onto Post-It notes, but as I began to write, better ideas occurred and I had to make changes to the storyline, even coming up with a whole new ending. Editing also took much longer, and from start to finish The Swell took me two years to write. I hope book 3 comes more easily! What is your favorite thriller novel? And what authors did you look toward for inspiration while writing The Swell? One of my favorite thriller novels is The River at Night by Erica Ferencik. It’s a tense, action-packed tale of four female friends white-water rafting down a remote Maine river. I love stories with atmospheric, unusual settings and a strong sense of place, like
the work of Sarah Pearse, Ruth Ware, Karen Dionne, and Jane Harper. I love high-concept stories. The Beach by Alex Garland was a huge inspiration for The Swell. I love the intricate character webs and clever plotting of Lucy Foley and Lucy Clarke. I also love books that make me feel intense emotions. Fredrik Backman is an author I only discovered last year. I’m in awe of how he creates emotion so effortlessly with his subtle yet extremely powerful prose. Clare Mackintosh’s thrillers also really tug at the emotions. My thrillers tend to have romance subplots because I love reading romance. I draw inspiration from Colleen Hoover, Helen Hoang, and Christina Lauren who give us all the feels. I’m also inspired by superstar authors such as Lee Child and Suzanne Collins, who write such addictive stories. What are you working on next? I’m currently taking some time to recharge and recover after a crazy year! I have several different story ideas in mind but I haven’t chosen one yet. I need to brew them some more in my head before I decide.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 1. The Swell is narrated primarily by Kenna in the first-person present tense. How did this style of narration impact your reading experience? Did it heighten the suspense of the plot?
7. While not all the members of the tribe are killers, they all are hiding significant secrets. Look at each of the characters and the ways that their secrets impact the events of the novel.
2. Each of the characters also has a section told from his or her own point of view. How did these interludes affect your interpretation of events at Sorrow Bay? Was there one voice you connected with more than others?
8. How does Kenna’s relationship to adrenaline and to fear change throughout The Swell? How does her time at the bay help her deal with her past?
3. How does the location of The Swell impact the storyline and atmosphere? Could this novel have been set anywhere else? 4. Have you ever tried surfing? If so, did you think the representation of the sport felt accurate? If not, has reading this novel made you more or less likely to try it? 5. Compare and contrast the different romantic relationships depicted in The Swell. What drew certain characters together? How did romance impact the dynamics of the tribe? 6. Clemente believes that sports can make you stronger but that they can also destroy you. Where is the line between obsession and passion in The Swell? Do you think that the characters take their love of surfing too far? What are the consequences?
9. Are there any hobbies or activities in your life that you have been as obsessed with as the characters in The Swell are about surfing? If so, what were they? What do you think drew you to them? 10. Each of the main characters in The Swell is facing a significant fear or phobia. Take a look at the different ways that the characters handle their fears. Which techniques seem successful, if any do? 11. Were you able to predict the identity of the killer (or killers)? Did your thoughts about the killer’s identity change over the course of the read? 12. What do you think will happen to the surviving characters after the novel’s end? Do you think that the murderer will strike again?