Jonathan Trigell is the acclaimed author of 4 very different novels, taking everything from his seasonaire days in Chamonix to the tales of Christ's apostles for inspiration.
His first book, Boy A, was published in 2004 and tells the tale of a young man released from prison for a terrible crime he committed as a child. It was so well received that it was made into a film and won a handful of BAFTAS - as well as having a special premier at Chamonix cinema. Chamonix was the stage for his second book, Cham, a thrilling mix of suspense and adrenaline, memorably described as "The Beach on ice: deep powder, dead poets and moral free-fall in the death-sport capital of the world". With his third novel, Genus, we are taken into a dark vision of the future in which genetically "unimproved" citizens form an underclass in a London ghetto, while a murderer roams the streets... Jon's latest book, The Tongues of Men or Angels, is hot off the press and looks to be every bit as intriguing as we've come to expect.
What brought you to Chamonix initially and what then kept you here?
The first time I ever visited was for the Boss des Bosses bumps competition - sadly no longer running - just for a day trip, but my interest was aroused. Subsequently I came to Chamonix specifically to see whether it was somewhere I could see myself living permanently. Because it had the reputation as the ‘Alpine Capital’: bigger and more of a real town than purely a ski station. I’d already done a few winters in some ski resorts, so I was aware of their limitations in terms of being desolate for half the year and so confined, and I was very over moving house (and country) every six months, but didn’t want to leave the mountains. Chamonix felt like it might be the solution to all that, and I stayed around, so I guess it was.
You’ve become quite the celebrity(!) round these parts, with Boy A being made into a film that was shown at the Chamonix cinema and Cham being set here - what have people’s reactions been to your success?
It’s very kind of you to say so, but I’ve never felt like any kind of celebrity. I guess what success I’ve had is not necessarily the kind that Chamonix habitually celebrates anyway. Most people in town would be much more impressed if I’d had a single first descent than any number of books published or films made and I think that’s pretty healthy. But almost everyone seems to have been pleased for me and encouraging.
Did you feel that you might be opening a can of worms with Cham? Some of the places and characters are quite recognisable and an important part of the storyline is closely related to events that actually took place here not so very long ago… Were you concerned by how it would be received locally?
Interesting that you say the characters are recognisable, as far as I recall only one is based on a real person and they don’t live in Chamonix (it would likely be the very last one you would expect to be real too). Though some are almost archetypes of people we all know from doing seasons, so aspects of them probably seem very familiar. But, yes, the places are mostly real and the idea for the events that form the backdrop to the novel was sparked by being told that such things had happened. Although I deliberately made no attempt at all to research them - and they occurred before my time in Chamonix – so those in the book are entirely imagined beyond that initial spark. Was I concerned about how it would be received? Maybe a bit, but in common with most authors, my biggest fear was probably that it wouldn’t get published at all. My first novel Boy A was a lot more controversial and my last The Tongues of Men or Angels is about religion, a notoriously perilous area to write about, so perhaps I’m just not a writer who worries too much about that stuff.
You’ve experienced the joys of Chamonix as a holidaymaker, a seasonal worker and as a year-round resident - what’s your favourite thing about life in Chamonix?
It’s hard to pick a favourite thing, but I don’t think you ever get over the drive up: just the staring sheer massiveness of the surroundings. The first time you see it, it’s incredible, but it never truly loses that ability to awe.
How would you spend your perfect day in Chamonix?
Well, given this is a perfect day, it would obviously be a powder day, so I’d probably be skiing the back side of Le Tour. It would be one of those days where the clouds suddenly clear and the lifts seem to open only as you get to them. One of those days where everyone you see is grinning like a loon and whooping like a chimp. One of those days so good that you have to celebrate it with après in Monkey and then a meal out; at the Jekyll perhaps, although such a perfect day might demand a fondue…
Last but not least, your new book - Can you tell us a bit about it?
It has just been published. It’s called The Tongues of Men or Angels and, as I mentioned before, it’s about religion. Essentially explaining how a small sect of Judaism became a separate faith: Christianity. So it focuses on the generation which actually knew Jesus as a man and how they dealt with his death. But especially the apostle Paul, who both transformed the religion and lived an action-packed life: not only his famous Damascus road conversion, but being shipwrecked, flogged, beaten, stoned, surviving the great fire of Rome and generally finding enemies and adversity at every turn.
The Mail on Sunday recently called it “a high-octane take on the post-Crucifixion schism that emerged between Judaism and Christianity amid the brutality of Roman rule” and that’s probably as good a description as any. Although it’s a novel, it is how my research has led me to believe the events most probably occurred. It is ‘faction,’ rather than some Dan Brown-esque conspiracy fantasy.