Chasing a Miracle
By J. H. Bográn
At the heart of WHITE PEAK is Greg Rask, a billionaire desperately hunting for a miracle. He’s invested millions from his tech company chasing a cure for the rare disease that’s killing him. In a last throw of the dice, he’s put together a team willing to go to the ends of the earth to save him.
Rye McKenna, our gateway into Rask’s world, is the newest member of the team. He’s reeling from the harrowing loss that opens the story, when Rask approaches him with an offer we have to wonder if we—as readers—would refuse…
Frost is the pseudonym of the bestselling British writer Steven Savile. “My editor, Peter Wolverton, kept saying, ‘Give me something like [my novel] Silver,’” he says. “They needed an author name to go on the contract, and because I’ve got a terrible sense of humor, I gave him something exactly like Silver, given Frosty is the lead character of that novel. To be honest, it was only ever a placeholder for the contract. So when I delivered the final manuscript, I put the name I had carefully selected. I worked through lots of choices to nail down the perfect pseudonym for the book, and as soon as Pete opened the file, I got one of his infamous one-line emails back, ‘Why do you keep changing the pseudonym?’ I decided screw it, and embraced the meta nature of the name.”
The bio for Ronan Frost is authentic, however. It claims that Frost worked with the British Ministry of Defense where he was a liaison with intelligence operatives working behind the Iron Curtain.
“It’s all true,” Frost says. “I spent a couple of years post-university in that world, and was escorted out of it at gunpoint, described by higher-ups as a massive disappointment. There were 10,000 people that applied for the job I got. I was not the best person for the job. Not a prayer. It just so happened one of the admirals on the selection board had seen me playing cricket a couple of years earlier when I’d had one of those games I’d never be able to replicate in a million times of trying, a proper ‘snatching victory from the jaws of defeat’ kind of thing. His grandson had been on the opposing team. Funny how the world works sometimes.”
People often view artistic inspiration as some sort of cosmic revelation or being touched by a flash of illumination. But the idea for WHITE PEAK had no such thunderous origins.
“I pitched an idea about a town in Florida where all the cops were on the take, and an Internal Affairs officer had been sent in to dig out the rats, not realizing he couldn’t trust anyone. That idea got bounced with the line ‘Give me something more like Silver’ so I came back with another one, this time the answer that came back was ‘I’m not loving it… give me something a bit more like Silver…’ See what I mean about the one-line thing? So, I came back with another one, almost deliberately obtuse, and it was nothing like that book,” Frost says. “The funny thing is those ideas were so memorable but I couldn’t tell you a single thing about them now. While all of this dicking about was going on, another idea, a much bigger one, was coming together inside my head, a four-part story that was a bit like a Russian nesting doll, with each revelation leading to a bigger truth, and a bigger truth and a bigger truth.
“In practical terms, the key decision that shaped the book was one of those coffee shop moments. I wrote three words at the top of the page in my notebook: Hostile Environment Thrillers, and put a circle around them. My mind started going to the obvious Antarctic frozen wastes, to the depths of the Amazon rain forests, and the blistering deserts of Africa… and of course the most hostile terrain of all, the Himalayas. Once that was set in my head a lot of the rest of it fell into place, if not exactly like dominoes, then at least like the old game of 52 card pick-up.”
A ticking clock is a core component of any good thriller, and WHITE PEAK is not an exception. It’s more than grand conspiracies and clever villains—without that sense of an impending resolution, a pivotal moment when it’s all going to come crashing down, there’s no real jeopardy.
“That’s what I’m trying to confront in WHITE PEAK. I wanted a thread of ticking clocks, of time running out… you’ve got Greg Rask, the team’s benefactor, he’s dying, no two ways about it. He’s out of time. This is a last throw of the dice,” Frost says. “You’ve got Rye scrabbling around for coins to listen to his wife die, the relentless countdown of the seconds as he runs out of money cutting Hannah off from safety. You’ve got the one night in prison, needing to get in and out before the implications of Rye’s actions can play out… and those are just the opening dozen or so pages. There’s so much more, right down to the ultimate ticking clock… it’s about ramping up the stakes. That’s how you have the reader burn through the pages. You treat the story like it’s your house and it’s on fire.”
Little nods toward the environment and ecology populate the novel. Even the title, WHITE PEAK, refers to a massive book with hostile terrains and dying cultures at its center.
“But how do you make something like climate change work as a thriller?” Frost says. “Sure, you can give the guys fighting to save the world a cool name like the Extinction Revolution, but that’s window dressing. You’ve heard the Greta Thunberg quote about how ‘Our house is on fire. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.’ There’s an imperative here— the house is on fire. Fire consumes. It doesn’t do it slowly. It’s fast. Voracious. So, if you’re in a house on fire you’ve got a ticking clock situation. You’ve got to find a solution. And you’ve only got seconds.”
Tick tock, indeed.
Kurt Vonnegut once claimed that all stories can be reduced to “a stranger comes to town” or “going out on a journey.” Rye’s arc is almost textbook into the second category.
“Oh absolutely,” Frost says. “Rye’s story is definitely a journey. I think part of that is probably down to my roots as a fantasy fan and writer. I made a conscious decision with WHITE PEAK to not treat it as I would a fantasy novel—by that I mean look at something like Game of Thrones, which has about 30 main characters, and gives them all equal time and individual arcs. This is Rye’s story. Here begins his watch. Everything goes through his eyes. He’s our way into this world. It means that we learn as he learns. We discover more twists and turns as he does. The stricter point of view also means that the story has to channel through him. You read Rye’s book, Rye’s your POV for the entire book. So, when the rest of the team are ‘off camera’ we have no idea what they are doing, because Rye has no idea. It’s his journey, not theirs. This plays into where I intend to go with the series.
“I always joke I’m the bestselling author you’ve never heard of. Chances are you’ve encountered my stuff somewhere without realizing it’s me behind it. For instance, I wrote the storyline for the massive hit computer game Battlefield 3. I have written for a lot of very popular media franchises like Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Stargate. For the last few years, I’ve been writing a lot of old-school roleplaying games.”
Frost is also a devoted fan of the Tottenham Hotspur football team and often hides the names of players in his novels.
“In one, Sunfail, I was looking through the academy list for a very English-feeling name, and there was this kid who was awful. You looked at his stats and there was no way he was going to make it. He’d been out on loan again and again, and done nothing. No one would ever know who he was, which made him perfect,” Frost says. “So I nicked his name and gave it to the assassin/villain of that novel. How on earth was I to know he’d end up being the Golden Boot in the Premier League three years on the trot, win the World Cup Golden Boot, and become pretty much the most famous English player of his generation? For me Harry Kane will always be that university lecturer-assassin.”
And that’s probably for the best.
Photo credit: Stefan Lindblad