Ready or Not is a thriller about the disappearance of a teenage girl called Kat who goes missing during a game of hide-and-seek on holiday in Cornwall. The same group of three families have gone away together for years so the kids have grown up together, but cracks are appearing in their friendships. One year on, struggling to come to terms with Kat’s disappearance, the remaining teens return to Cornwall for closure. Secrets begin to be revealed…
The inspiration for Ready or Not was a strong image in my head of a girl with her hands over her eyes, standing by a tree, counting. What if when she opened them, she couldn’t find all her friends? I played with that idea and wrote the strapline ‘People don’t just disappear, do they?’ and began to build the story.
I was writing this book in lockdown. My previous book The Rules (ironically about preparing for disaster!) was launched in my ‘bunker’ basement by me alone in a plastic poncho with baked beans and toilet rolls as the guests. So when I was writing Ready or Not, I was definitely craving the outdoors, freedom and holidays. My setting was based on the Roseland Peninsula, Helford and Fal rivers. We holidayed there when lockdown was lifted. I spent hours walking the creeks and getting inspiration for Creek House. I saw some very lovely homes to base it on!
I felt so sad about the disruption endured by my own kids, and every young person, so wanted the book to have young people hanging out together in the sunshine and having parties. I needed the characters to be able to go paddleboarding, sit in the pub garden, and be planning carefree overseas travel. I set Ready or Not before 2020 to avoid the pandemic entirely.
Of course, despite all the sunshine and lovely Cornish location, Ready or Not is a thriller. Writing thrillers for this age has particular challenges and considerations. It’s important to keep your teenage protagonists at the heart of the story. It could be tricky to get rid of the adults if you have a major crime – all those police, lawyers, parents, journalists potentially swarming over the scene mean that I tend to focus on psychological angles rather than forensics.
Whereas an adult thriller writer can throw in a high body count and graphic violence, YA authors need to be more creative in their ways to up the stakes. High stakes only matter if you care about the characters and YA writing really focuses on great characters. Closed settings are a popular way to provide a crucible of pressure (and to get rid of the adults too) like the boarding school in my memory thriller The Truth About Lies, or the teens returning alone to the holiday home Creek House in Ready or Not. As well as the importance of big issues and ‘what if’ questions, you can tell your story in a creative way for this audience. I use multiple timelines, letters, articles and police interview transcripts in Ready or Not.
I love writing intelligent YA thrillers with memorable endings. I’ve always loved puzzles, escape rooms and a dash of Scandi-noir so I’m definitely drawn to intricate plots and working out who to trust, and I like spotting all those clues and red herrings. Nail-biting and thought-provoking is a great combination and why I love to write for the YA audience.
Ready or Not is available now at your favourite local bookshop or online.
You can follow Tracy on Twitter or Instagram @TracyDarnton