Survive the Night by Riley Sager

Survive the Night by Riley Sager, paperback, 336 pages, Hodder & Stoughton, £8.99, Waterstones.

This is the first book I’ve read from Riley Sager and this definitely won’t be the last.

Survive the Night follows a student called Charlie Jordan, making her way home from university. But what seems like a smooth ride, isn’t as smooth sailing as you may think. Charlie leaves behind her boyfriend in exchange for a ride home from another student. However with the campus killer still on the loose, Charlie can’t seem to grasp that she could be driving home with him. She can’t be the next victim after all… can she?

Sager begins his novel by introducing a handful of characters into Charlie’s life. We discover early in the novel about Charlie’s loss of her best friend Maddy and her boyfriend Robbie. However from the first chapter, the main focus in Survive the Night is around Charlie and Josh’s journey to her hometown. Not only does this keep the scenes intense but it also allows the readers to grow an attachment to the characters on a deeper level. Car journeys are brilliant for getting to know more about someone and as we follow their journey, the readers are well and truly along for the ride. Throughout the journey, Charlie begins to question who the driver is to reassure herself and to find out what his intentions of leaving so soon are.

Throughout Survive the Night, the tension is kept incredibly tight. So tight that suspicions are constantly among the characters and you can’t help but question character’s motives. Some characters you might like at the beginning but by the end, you might have a whole different take on them. If your views on the characters wasn’t change enough, then fasten your seatbelts because this ride is going to be bumpier than you think! If this novel could be summed up in three words they would be:

Don’t trust anyone.

I feel that Sager has built the tension up perfectly and has included more action in his scenes that I strongly favour over previous thriller authors. 

When I first read the blurb of this book, I was so intrigued. I knew it would seem very minimal with most of it taking place in a car but if anything, it showed a rawness to characters that I hadn’t seen before.

For anyone who is a fan of Ruth Ware, Lucy Foley and Allie Reynolds, I would strongly recommend Riley Sager. I was previously torn between reading Ware or Sager for my holidays and thought I’d picked well with Ware. Little did I know both choices would be so amazing.

Riley Sager’s Survive the Night is officially out in paperback in the UK and I strongly recommend anyone with a love of psychological thrillers and plot twists, to give this book a go. Oh, and brace yourselves!

Enjoy the ride!

Shiver by Allie Reynolds

Shiver by Allie Reynolds, Headline Publishing, Hardback, 421 pages, Waterstones, £12.99

They don’t know what I did. And I intend to keep it that way.

Allie Reynolds’ debut novel Shiver has kicked up a storm that readers didn’t even knew they wanted – until now. Failed ex-athlete Milla Anderson attends a ten year reunion, in the hopes that she can rekindle some of her friendships she longed for, off the slopes. However with Saskia still missing, presumed dead, and an ice breaker to set the tone, Milla soon realises that this isn’t the type of reunion that she’d hoped for.

Characterisation

Shiver is the type of novel that runs away with its characters. Each character, whether likeable or not, has a distinct way of acting and speaking. The reader can also relate to each character, which can be tricky to do. At the beginning of the novel Reynolds pulls her readers straight into Milla’s thoughts and allows the reader to become emotionally attached to the circle of friends, up on the mountain. This connection only gets stronger, the more you find out about them. The characters in this novel have been so well thought out, that it hurts that they’re not real in the first place. Wanting the characters to be real, just goes to show how developed these characters actually are. I cannot imagine the time and effort that has gone into the characterisation, in order to get them to this standard.

Setting

Although the characters could be anywhere, the thought of isolating a circle of friends in such stark conditions reminds me of the sublime. Whilst the mountains are mesmerising and the snowfall magical, there’s also the risk of an avalanche, hidden cliff drops and sharp ice that could do some damage. Now, stop the cable cars, remove their phones and disconnect the electricity. What are you left with? Survival instincts.

Experience

Before reading Shiver, the most I knew about snowboarding was from the game SSX Tricky. Thankfully I didn’t need to know much about snowboarding as Allie Reynolds guided me through the snowboarding jargon. Reynolds was previously ranked in the top ten for UK Snowboarding. Not only did her knowledge help me understand the tricks of snowboarding, it also highlighted the difficulty in the tricks – yes, I’m looking at you, Crippler. This is the first novel that I’ve been able to read, knowing that the author has experience in subject that would normally just be research. This really made a difference as it allows the reader to be immersed in Milla’s experience.

I thoroughly enjoyed Shiver. It was the characterisation and the setting that kept me turning the pages. It could be argued that this novel may peak the interest of Ruth Ware readers, however this novel itself has more grit within. I was initially apprehensive about reading this as I’d just finished reading a novel in a similar setting. How wrong I was. They were completely different in plot and perspective. In all honesty, I preferred Shiver out of the two and the other was written by an author I read constantly. It looks like I may have found a new author to watch out for.

After all, what’s life without a little competition?

The First Line

First lines matter. Whether they are in a blog post, a newsletter or a novel, the first line is crucial.

Whilst you’re in the editing phase of your writing, it can be easily forgotten to revise your first line. The first line will have different purposes in various texts but there is one thing it needs to be. Good.

Your first line, if writing for a newsletter or a blog, must intrigue your reader and invite them to read more. Your purpose here is to keep them reading right until the very end. A great way to revise your first line is to read your writing as a reader. Would you be interested? Would it stop you scrolling? What could you add to the line to make it more gripping? If you’re still unsure, it could be worth letting someone read the first line to give you another point of view. They may even see something that you didn’t.

If however you are revising a first line of a novel, the aim and purpose of your writing may be different. Your goal, as a writer, is to lose your readers in your novel. Allow your readers to become invested in your characters and don’t settle for anything less. Although you still need to grip the reader with your opening lines, you have a variety of techniques open to you. Here are a few that you may wish to try:

Surprise the reader

This type of hook causes the reader to raise questions or surprises them by catching them off guard. A great example of this is from Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit: ‘It was a pleasure to burn’. The concept that some would like the feeling of burning seems very unusual. The sentence itself could also suggest that someone likes the action of burning something. As your mind begins to question alternatives, it has sparked the interest of the reader to keep reading. 

Begin with dialogue

This can also have a similar effect on the reader as it can catch the reader off guard. An example of this can be seen in the opening lines of Rose Macauley’s, The Towers of Trezibond: ‘”Take my camel dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass’. The animal itself may surprise the reader in this sentence, as well as Aunt Dot’s previous actions. Using dialogue in your first line brings your readers straight into the action and provides them with wanting to figure out what is happening and why.

Setting the Mood and Atmosphere

Although this technique may seem simple, it can be really effective when used correctly. Louise Erdrich does this beautifully in Tracks: ‘We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.’ In this first sentence Louise Erdrich has managed to set the sombre mood perfectly by using the setting to help set the tone and atmosphere. This technique can work really well with the show don’t tell principle, as the sentence has given its readers an insight to what is to come.

Another suggestion could also be to revise what you like to read yourself. If you love a particular author like Lee Child or John Grisham, look at how they start their first lines. How did they interest you? Why did you want to read on? This technique also works if you are wanting to write a blog post or newsletter. If you follow several blogs, which article did you really enjoy and how did it start?

Once you have tried a few of these techniques, reflect on your work and see if any of them work for you. Remember the best way to get your writing noticed is to make your writing the best it can possibly be.

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