The Rules by Tracy Darnton
Published by: Little Tiger
Release date: 09/07/2020
Summary: A gripping thriller from WATERSTONES CHILDREN’S BOOK PRIZE-SHORTLISTED Tracy Darnton, author of THE TRUTH ABOUT LIES.
Amber’s an expert when it comes to staying hidden – she’s been trained her whole life for it. But what happens when the person you’re hiding from taught you everything you know?
When a letter from her dad arrives, Amber knows she’s got to move – and fast. He’s managed to find her and she knows he’ll stop at nothing to draw her back into the extreme survivalist way of life he believes in.
All of a sudden the Rules she’s spent so long trying to escape are the ones keeping her safe. But for how long?
The Rules – The short story that became a novel – by Tracy Darnton
The Rules is a YA thriller about a girl called Amber on the run from her prepper dad. The novel grew out of my short story The Letter which won the Stripes YA Short Story Prize, run in partnership with The Bookseller’s YA Book Prize, and was published in I’ll be Home for Christmas, a YA anthology.
What’s it like converting a short story three years later into a whole novel?
The Letter was 2000 words set across the course of an evening at a bowling plaza. The brief was the theme of home, so it was about a spiky but vulnerable girl called Amber who wasn’t ever going to get the Christmas you see in the TV adverts. And her Christmas season is set to take an even darker turn when it seems her dad has tracked her down.
When I left Amber and her kind and long-suffering social worker, Julie, at the end of the story, I didn’t expect to be in Amber’s head again – but she, and Stripes, had other ideas. I was touched that we had great feedback on Amber from readers of I’ll be Home for Christmas who wanted to know what happened to her. So, one thing led to another and I was asked to revisit The Letter and see if I could work up a synopsis for a novel-length story.
I had to think about Amber’s life in that space after the short story, beyond the moment I’d chosen to end it. Did she run? Where would she go? What had her dad done which meant she needed to throw away the life she was building? Aside from Amber and Julie, I had the bare bones of a plot and backstory hinted at in The Letter: an American dad, a deceased mum, and a start date of the beginning of December. The date gave me a natural timescale through an advent calendar counting down to Christmas Eve. But the main thing I had was Amber’s voice. I needed a reason for Amber to be the way she was. What had made her like that?
So much flows from ‘voice’ and hitting that from an early stage is key for me in thinking about a story and how it will develop. I need to come clean and say I’m not a plotter. I like to write by seeing where that voice will take me. This was Amber’s story – what was she going to reveal to me?
I wanted a ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ timeline and knew there would be a big climactic finish when Amber and her dad met again in the ‘Now’ timeline. And, ahem, I didn’t have much else before I started writing. Over time, the story became about the Rules enforced by Amber’s dad, a prepper or survivalist obsessed with preparing for disaster, and her constant battle to follow or to break the Rules.
The line “What if the person hunting you taught you everything you know” on the front cover of The Rules is lifted from the initial pitch paragraph I wrote for my editor. A strong pitch really does get carried through from those initial stages when your editor is championing your book at acquisitions to the marketing and publicity phase. But I find it helpful as the writer too – it brings a focus when I’m working through my first draft.
The Letter now sits near the beginning of The Rules and the novel carries on immediately from where I ended the short story. I considered it a challenge to keep as much of the short story intact as possible – which I did, making only a couple of very minor changes – and also to make it fit so that a reader didn’t need to know its ancestry.
So there we have it – the story of the short story that grew up to become a novel. I hope you enjoy The Rules.
Tracy Darnton’s The Rules is published by Stripes. Her first novel The Truth About Lies was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and was a World Book Night title. She lives in Bath surrounded by shelves of short stories and novels.