Hello everybody! Today, I’m so excited to be of the blog for Tracy Darnton’s new book Ready or Not?, with both my review and a guest post from Tracy about writing thrillers. Onto the post!
When I was invited to be part of this tour, I absolutely had to say yes, because I’ve been meaning to read Tracy’s books for ages and for one reason or another, haven’t yet. This is her third book, and it follows the teenage children of a group of uni friends, as they return to the Cornwall holiday house at which one of their number (Kat) vanished during a game of hide and seek the previous year, in order to remember her and also try to understand what happened her. Soon, dangerous secrets and lies are revealed, and things only get more dark and twisty as the mini break goes on.
We see things primarily from the point of view of Millie, who tells us that she was Kat’s best friend, but the therapy-mandated letters she writes to her say otherwise, and I loved the way the unreliable narrator device was used because it had me absolutely hooked from the very beginning. I didn’t didn’t lots of the twists and turns coming, and the rest of the cast (including Kat, who we see in flashbacks) are equally as complicated as Millie, and add just as much intrigue. The atmosphere is so well built up, and I genuinely couldn’t put this down till I got to the end.
The ending is super ambiguous yet simultaneously satisfying, and I can’t decide whether the pet theory I harboured through the whole book was true or if there was in fact a different solution, given the last page or so. Overall, this was a very enjoyable thriller, and I’m definitely planning to now go and seek out Tracy’s other books!
And now, for Tracy’s guest post!
Do you have to be a planner to write a thriller? My latest thriller, Ready or Not, has just been published. Teenager Kat disappears during a game of hide-and-seek at a late-night party. The same three families have holidayed together since the kids were born and I tell the story through the eyes of 15-year-old Millie, who’s devastated by the absence of her best friend, Kat. The remaining teenagers all go back to Cornwall one year on, and secrets are finally revealed.
I think most of us writers are somewhere between planner and pantser (one who writes by the seat of their pants rather than with a detailed outline). I’ve tried hard in the past to be more of a planner by adopting index cards, or story structure spreadsheets, or plastering the wall in post-it notes but I find it paralysing. It’s just not me. I am not that sort of planner. Instead, I like to have a beginning and a sense of an ending and then head off into my first draft.
As my novel progresses, I’ll have a timeline in my notebook to keep track of events. But when I start writing I do not know what is going to happen – I discover it along the way. For Ready or Not I began with a very strong image of a girl with her eyes covered, standing by a big tree, counting. And when she opens her eyes, she can’t find Kat. This was the opening I wrote as a response to that image – which made its way to the beginning of the published book:
That was the day I stopped playing games. You’re meant to find everyone in hide-and-seek. Close your eyes and count to twenty. But when I opened them, I couldn’t find Kat. None of us could. But people don’t just disappear, do they?
My publisher used “People don’t just disappear, do they?” on the front cover. Having a clear hook like that right from the start brings focus to the story when I’m writing the first draft. So now I have a strong image that intrigues me, a title and an opening paragraph – even a strapline for the eventual cover. Next, I like to have a sense of how the book is going to end. With Ready or Not as with my previous books The Rules and The Truth About Lies, I write a paragraph or two for the last pages.
It’s important to me to have a ‘target’, something to move towards as the draft comes together. Having that ending ‘feeling’ is crucial to me. It isn’t set in stone; I can tweak it, but, in fact, the final section from Millie is barely changed from when I first wrote it.
My readers tell me they really like my endings and I love thinking about them and pulling a good ending together – especially if there’s a twist. There are always a huge number of ways a book can end. Every author will have their own preference for how happy, hopeful, tied up or open their endings are. If you’re writing a story yourself, I’d recommend trying this exercise I do with creative writing students. Get a big piece of paper and write the central question of your story – eg What have happened to teenage girl who disappears? Brainstorm and write down everything you can think of in a spidergram. Drill down further into each one, explore all the dark possibilities and cheerful outcomes. Consider the tone of your book and the ‘feeling’ you want your reader to have as they finish the book. Try out a couple of these possible endings in a final paragraph to see which one appeals to you.
Despite having all those different options scribbled on the page, I still like to find a solution in the gaps between – one that isn’t quite expected. One that excites me and makes me interested in all the foreshadowing I can do in writing it as a solution.
I hope you like what I’ve done with Ready or Not…
Ready or Not is available now at your favourite local bookshop or online. You can follow Tracy on Instagram and Twitter @TracyDarnton.
Thank you so much for reading! Have you read this, or are you planning to? What about Tracy’s other books? And which thrillers are you a fan of? I’d love to chat in the comments!