Peril, Compelling Characters and a Strong Story!

A fascinating guest post from Sophie McKenzie on what makes a teen thriller!

Most of my books are marketed at teenagers. As a result, people tend to think that I set out to write for those readers. But nothing could be further from the truth. I write, first and foremost, for myself: the kind of story that I enjoy. For me, the idea of writing ‘for’ any particular group feels more than a little patronising. After all, there is no homogenous ‘teenager’ identity, just as there’s no way that all mothers, say, or all bus drivers are the same as each other. Individual readers have their own specific tastes in stories, regardless of the communities to which they belong.

So what makes a thriller for teens? As far as I’m concerned, it’s basically the same ingredients that make a thriller for any reader: peril, compelling characters and a strong story. Lots must be at stake for the main characters and the reader needs to care hugely that those characters will overcome what stands in their way and survive. Along the way, they need to develop in some way, to grow and to learn. Teen thrillers need to be lean, but the teen characters within them must be as fully fleshed out as their counterparts in novels for adults. I would never claim to know ‘how adolescents think’, but I know how my fictional teenage characters’ minds work.

In my new book, Hide and Secrets, troubled, lonely Cat encounters many dangers in an attempt to find and save her much-loved father. The journey she goes on with her friend Tyler, takes her across England and into the path of multiple threats. But outsider Cat also goes on an emotional journey – where she learns that almost everyone feels out of place some of the time and if you can find a way to open up about things to someone you trust, you might end up feeling less alone.

Hide and Secrets starts with Cat at a low point: she is grappling with the (presumed) death of her father and feels very distanced from her mother. The family is completely broken by Dad’s absence – Cat feels isolated from her friends, Mum has become super-focused on making money as an ex-celebrity astrologer, while little sister Bess is a selective mute. I’ve never been in Cat’s position, but I have experienced sudden trauma – and the way a single, shocking event can have devastating consequences that ripple out for years.

For Cat, the hope of mending her family is held out: she receives a strange message that her dad is alive and in hiding from gangsters. Action and peril kick in as Cat discovers not only that her father is in terrible danger, but that she is the only person who can help.

In many ways, Hide and Secrets shares a lot of DNA with my first teen thriller, Girl, Missing. An ordinary girl who doesn’t fit in, is launched into a world of action and danger as she tries to find out the truth about her family. The stakes are high – and getting higher – from the start, thanks to a ‘desperate race against time’ climax and plenty of cliffhangers along the way.

I had a lot of fun writing Hide and Secrets and, now it’s out in the world, I hope that teen readers will find it and enjoy it too.

Hide and Secrets by Sophie Mckenzie is out 22nd July (Published by Simon & Schuster Children’s Books)

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