Regular frequenters of the site will know how much we love books so we were super interested to hear the story of Emylia Hall, who quit her London job to write books amongst the snowy peaks of the Portes du Soleil. Ahead of the release of her second novel she tells her story
If I hadn’t quit my job and moved to the mountains, I don’t think I ever would have written my first novel. After five years working in a hectic London advertising agency, I was worn out, and longing to do something more fulfilling. I wanted to live a freer, more imaginative life, but I also knew I needed a break to work out what that life might look like, which meant stepping back for a bit. Or… stepping sideways. In 2005 my boyfriend and I swapped tube passes for lift passes and took jobs with Rude Chalets in Morzine. Without any exaggeration, it was one of the most life-changing, and life-affirming, decisions I’ve ever made.
For me, life as a 27-year old seasonnaire turned out to be about far more than chalet graft, snowboarding, and partying. Every day I felt inspired by the extraordinarily beautiful landscape, and by my own decision that brought me to live there. Pushing myself on my snowboard gave me confidence; when you’re flying faster than ever before, maybe it’s easier to take leaps in other directions too. When I was a child I always wanted to be a writer. After a winter spent playing in the snow, those childhood dreams didn’t feel so remote any more. By the season’s end I had a new sense of purpose.
Aside from the physical beauty, I found working in a ski resort inspiring in other ways too. There was a real energy in Morzine, and an entrepreneurial spirit, especially among the people who’d had to make leaps of their own to move to the mountains. Free of the shackles of 9-5 (or more like 8-8) it was easy to feel like anything was possible. I wanted to write because, simply, I couldn’t imagine an existence that afforded better liberty; when you’re making up stories, you hold the world in the palm of your hand.
One winter season turned into two. The next year we lived in a tiny studio apartment, and I worked part-time in a girls’ snowboard shop. In the evenings, and on my brilliantly French 2-hour lunch breaks, I’d write. Towards spring I often worked on our balcony, fuelled by almond croissants, and strong French coffee. I experimented with short stories, snippets of poetry, and played around with novel ideas. It was my ‘adventure in writing’ and by the time I returned to the UK in May 2007, I knew the book I wanted to write.
I spent nearly four years working on The Book of Summers. The day my agent called to say I had a book deal, I was on a beach in Devon. My husband Bobby and I ran straight into the sea, kicking around the waves in total glee. That night we celebrated with fish and chips and champagne in an old fisherman’s pub. It was one of the best days of my life. The Book of Summers was published in 2012, translated into eight languages, and became a Richard and Judy Summer Book Club pick.
My second novel, A Heart Bent Out of Shape, is set in Lausanne, in Switzerland. As a nineteen-year-old student I spent a year living in Lausanne, and it was there that I first learnt to snowboard. We’d catch the ‘snow-train’ (a rail ticket that included a lift pass) and ride up into the mountains. My first ever time on a board was on a perfect bluebird and pow day in Verbier. I was rubbish, and by the end I was black and blue, but I was hooked. When I wrote A Heart Bent Out of Shape I wanted to put something of my love for the mountains into the story, to try and capture the beauty of the landscape, as well as the excitement of living abroad.
In fifteen years of snowboarding, I’ve only missed one winter, and snowy climes continue to be an inspiration to me. I was riding in Tignes when I came up with the idea for a short story that went on to be included in the Book Slam anthology, alongside the likes of David Nicholls, Marina Lewycka, and Jackie Kay. I love knowing where I was, and what I was doing, when that story idea came… hurtling down a mountainside.
The naturalist John Muir said ‘going out, I found, was really going in’. I know how that feels. I’m forever indebted to the high peaks of Portes du Soleil, for giving me the time and space to find my way with words. And I still get butterflies in my stomach every time the new season rolls around. For me, the start of the winter will always be linked with a sense of adventure, new beginnings, and an unending sense of possibility.