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The Rules

Tracy Darnton



Q: What kinds of books do you enjoy writing? Are the books you write, including The Truth About Lies and The Rules, the kind of books you would have enjoyed as a teenager?



A: I love writing thought-provoking, intelligent thrillers with interesting, flawed main characters. As a teen, I'd definitely have enjoyed the huge range of thrillers and other YA books available now. I seem to remember I went from Agatha Christie to George Orwell via Douglas Adams.





Q: Can you tell us what The Rules is about?



A: The Rules is a YA thriller about Amber on the run from her prepper dad and his extreme rules. Her whole childhood was spent preparing for disaster like climate change and pandemic (!) and having to live by the strict rules which he scrawled up on the walls.



Now she's got to hide from him but he's the one who taught her everything she knows about staying under the radar and survival skills. What's he got planned as the ultimate prepper's bunker, and is the pull of the rules too strong for Amber - or are rules always meant to be broken?





Q: Amber, your main characters, is observant, smart and doesn't find it easy to trust. How did she develop?



A: I first 'met' Amber when I wrote a short story on the theme of home which won the Stripes/The Bookseller YA short story prize and was published in the YA anthology I'll Be Home for Christmas.



She was a spiky but vulnerable personality who pushed away her kind, long-suffering social worker who was trying to help her. The feedback from readers was great and they wanted to know what happened to Amber beyond the short story which I'd ended rather enigmatically. My publishers asked me to develop it as a novel and I was very glad to get back into Amber's head.



Once I'd decided that she'd grown up with a father who was a prepper and who came and went in her life, enforcing his ridiculous rules, I thought about the effects that would have on her. How she'd missed out on parts of formal education, popular culture, friends. I thought about how her particular skillset of stockpiling and survival skills and constantly preparing for disaster would shape her, down to the relationship she'd have with food and material possessions.



Writing complex characters with flaws is much more interesting than writing 'perfect' or 'nice' people.





Q: Amber teams up with Josh, a lovely character, but was he always planned to be in the novel and how did he develop?



A: I'm so pleased that you describe him as lovely! And that readers have been telling me that they really like Josh. I'm so fond of him and wanted everything to work out well for him - which it never does.



He wasn't in the short story at all, but he was needed in the novel to be a companion to Amber - otherwise we'd have been in Amber's head way too much. But he also brings us his take and life experience on having to live by rules and conform and what happens when you don't.



I'm also able to explore a little more what 'home' means. I feel Josh has so much to offer but needs a lucky break. I stuck a picture of his green Parka jacket in my notebook which really conjured him up for me, hiding in his hood.





Q: Was it important for you to explore homelessness among young adults in this novel; young people who we often simply don't see as a society?



A: Yes, really important. I hope Josh provides a glimpse of what it's like to be moving on all the time, to be reliant on sofa surfing or the kindness of strangers.



Many people seem to assume that every young person has the bank of mum or dad and a family home to live in through their teens and twenties, and a huge social network. But that's just not true for so many.



Life's tough if you don't have a support network. Even more so with the economic challenges ahead after the way 2020 is turning out. I wanted to scoop Josh out of the book and help him.





Q: You also look into the life of 'Preppers' - those who prepare for a life post apocalypse. Is this a 'thing'? How did you find out about them, and did you attend any of their talks?



A: Yes, very definitely. I suspect it will be more of a 'thing' going forward from 2020.



There are plenty of prepping sites and videos to look at online. Preppers range from the very sensible type who have an allotment, some canned food stocks and a decent first aid kit to the extreme prepper in a camouflage vest, fortifying a bunker somewhere. Amber's dad is very much at the extreme end of the scale.



I really wanted to visit some bunkers - there's an amazing decommissioned one very near me owned by the MOD which was designed to house 4000 people during the Cold War. Sadly, nobody's allowed access as it would have been the perfect book launch venue. Maybe one day...





Q: Were you tempted into prepping at all? What kind of prepper would you make? What would be the toughest part for you?



A: It's certainly made me think about how prepared we are as a family. Like Amber, we now have a grab-and-go bag packed and a few days' supply of canned peaches and loo paper.



Sadly, I've come to realise through lockdown that I am the least useful member of the household with so few practical skills. I have managed to grow some lettuces but I seriously doubt they'd give me a spot in any prepper's bunker. But as a claustrophobe who craves daylight, I can't imagine anything worse than being cooped up underground or in a disused missile silo.





Q: Do you plan to revisit Amber's story - and possibly Josh's, too?



A: I'd love to. They feel very real people to me and are still popping in and out of my head. But right now I'm trying to write my next book which has a very different cast of characters.





Q: How have you found writing during lockdown - has it inspired any apocalyptic storylines? Many authors have found it hard to be creative, have you had a similar experience?



A: Pandemic was one of the scenarios that Amber is prepared for, so it felt very strange when plans for the book were cancelled because of Covid-19. I had a period of crisis management on the family side before I could settle to writing or even reading again.



I need a clear desk and a clear mind to be able to throw myself into writing a novel so it's been tricky. However, deadlines have a way of concentrating the mind...





Q: Where and when is your favourite writing time / place



A: I'm still an author in search of a routine. I write in bursts when the mood takes me which is very inefficient. After many weeks of having to share my study, which was very unsettling, I've now reclaimed my desk from the rest of the household and write with a view of the rooftops of Bath. But I do miss the bustle of hanging out in a coffee shop with my laptop.





Q: And what has been your favourite escape during lockdown?



A: I've been walking most days around Bath. Although I've lived here for years and years, I discovered so many new views and footpaths. It was weirdly comforting to see Bristol and Wales in the distance and to wave from afar at my friends. The only problem is the hills. So many hills!





Q: Have you come across any other recent YA books you would like to recommend to our readers?



A: I've just finished Sue Wallman's latest - Dead Popular - perfect for any lovers of boarding school thrillers. And, as usual for me, I'm halfway through two completely different books; Randy Ribay's Patron Saints of Nothing and Finbar Hawkins' Witch. Each of them is showing me something new and interesting that I haven't thought about before - and that's what I'm always looking for in a good book.
 
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