I’d like to start by asking, have you always wanted to be a writer?
I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. As a child, I loved both reading and writing and I always hero-worshipped my favourite authors. Recently, I found a piece of my old school work from when I was about five or so where I had written about my dream job – my answer? ‘Book writer’ – I don’t think I’d quite yet learnt the word ‘author’!
And where did the idea of The Sanatorium come from?
The idea of The Sanatorium came from a variety of experiences. When I moved to Switzerland from the UK in my early twenties, I was immediately drawn to the nearby mountains, which I found strikingly beautiful but also so raw and wild—particularly in the winter. When the snow starts falling and totally transforms the landscape, you get a real sense of the power of nature and its inherent dangers, and I began thinking that the mountains would be the perfect backdrop for a chilling thriller.
The idea of setting the novel in a converted sanatorium came about when I was on holiday in Crans Montana, an alpine town a few hours from Geneva, and read a fascinating article in a local magazine about the history of tuberculosis sanatoria in the town. The article described how when antibiotics became available in the mid-twentieth century, some sanatoria were converted into hotels. I started thinking about the darker side of this—how would it feel to stay in a hotel that had once been a hospital, a place where people lived and died? I was also drawn to the fact that sanatoriums were often based in remote locations to stop the spread of infection. I realized that this isolated setting could be a great way of putting my characters under pressure.
I explored the town and found a clinic that had once been a sanatorium which provided some great inspiration for the building in the book and its surroundings. The book Une Histoire Culturelle de Crans-Montana by Sylvie Doriot Galofaro provided some great detail on sanatoria and I also liaised with a local photo historian, as well as looking online. The more I researched, the more I became convinced that an old sanatorium would be the perfect creepy, gothic setting for a thriller. I’m fascinated by the idea that an old building holds such a history—not just one story, but many. I became excited by the idea of making the building itself a character within the novel, and that the malevolent energy of the sanatorium might still be lingering despite its conversion into a modern hotel.
I discovered that sanatoria were often designed according to the principles of “functionalism”—the design and decor optimized to stop the spread of infection and help tuberculosis patients recover (so the building itself became a kind of medical instrument). The design of these buildings became so influential that Modernist architects picked up elements of the minimalist design of sanatoria (large windows, balconies to maximize exposure to sunlight, clean, smooth surfaces without clutter, floors and walls clear), so there were fewer places for germs to hide. I began thinking about how this clinical design might be used in the conversion into a hotel and how it would be viewed by a guest (and reader!) especially if some eerie reminders of the building’s clinical past were incorporated.
My research into sanatoria also led me in another interesting direction when I discovered that there were sanatoria in Europe for people classed as “morally insane.” In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, women were often placed in medical care for spurious reasons by a male guardian, sometimes loosely diagnosed with “Nervenkranke” (those ill in their nerves). Sometimes this was trickery, a guise to take control of an inheritance, or to suppress independent thought and ideas. This gave me the idea to explore this theme within the novel and the present-day echoes where women are still being judged for their emotions and experiences.
How much research did you have to do for The Sanatorium, lots of visits to The Alps?
After reading the initial article in Crans Montana Life Magazine, I explored the town and discovered one of the sanatoriums that used to treat patients (still a clinic) which provided a lot of inspiration for the design and exterior of the building! I then found the recently published guide to Crans Montana (Une Histoire Culturelle de Crans-Montana (1896-2016) by Sylvie Doriot Galofaro which provided a lot of information and photographs.
I also liaised with a local photo historian who lives in Crans Montana. I then did a lot of research online, focusing not only on the history of the sanatoria but also their design. I also did some research into abandoned sanatoria using a lot of Urbex (Urban exploration) videos on Youtube. These really gave me the feel for the interior of the old sanatoria.
I have a retired UK police detective who helps me with police procedures, but he obviously isn’t versed in Swiss protocol, so while in Switzerland I visited the Valais Police, based in Sion. I was lucky enough to spend time with a senior sergeant there and meet the regional Commander to run through the story, its plot points and Swiss police procedure. We had some fascinating ‘what if’ discussions both in person and over email which helped greatly with the plotting.
Yes, it involved lots of visits to Crans Montana, in Valais in Switzerland – our ‘happy place’ as a family which made the research very pleasant to do!
I must ask how do you write a book so spooky and creepy? Did you have to learn that or is it a gift you have?
I personally love to read creepy books so writing one was a natural step for me. It helped that the setting for The Sanatorium is naturally very atmospheric, so it gave my imagination license to create those ‘spooky vibes.’ For me, writing in a ‘creepy’ way isn’t something I’ve learnt but I think it probably helps that I tend to see the scenes for my novels in my head as I write in a very cinematic way, which I think helps in creating the atmosphere – if I scare myself when I’m writing then I know it’s a good sign that the fear might translate onto the page!
As a child growing up, were you an avid reader or was television your thing? Do you have a favourite childhood book or television programme?
I was an avid reader but I also loved watching TV. I think one of the most memorable shows I watched as a child was the TV adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – Aslan’s death scene still haunts me!
Do you have a favourite author or favourite book of all time?
One of my favourite books of all time is Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins. Moving, memorable and beautifully written – it has everything I love in a book!
When you’re writing do like silence or do you listen to music?
Total silence – it’s the only way I can concentrate!
If you could invite four people to dinner, living or dead, who would you invite and why?
I’d invite Agatha Christie – I’m a huge fan of her work and would love to chat about her writing process, Sir Lewis Hamilton, as I’m a massive motorsports fan and would enjoy listening to his stories, Blake Morrison, as I’d love to hear him read some of his poetry aloud and my great-grandmother – she was apparently a lovely woman so I’d like to meet her and fill her in on the past few years!
If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I’ve never visited Canada and would love to explore some of the wildest and most remote places they have on offer.
Are you currently writing another book, and when will it be released?
Yes, it’s called THE RETREAT and is out in July 2022. The book sees Elin return to her job as a detective in another dark and dramatic setting with a complex case that pushes her to the edge in both her personal and professional life.