‘Opening Windows’ The Rules by Tracy Darnton Blog Tour

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To celebrate release week for The Rules by Tracy Darnton, we have hopped on to the blog tour with a whole host of excellent bloggers. Tracy has kindly written a post for us about advent calendars and how they are used in her newly released YA thriller. We both adored her story The Letter in I’ll Be Home For Christmas the anthology, so thought it would be the best way to celebrate the connection between both of those stories. For now, we will hand you over to Tracy.

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Yes, it’s summer but I need to talk about advent calendars and how a story can be like opening a window each day.

My latest YA thriller The Rules has just been published. It’s about a girl on the run from her prepper dad – and I use an advent calendar to tick down the daysThis novel grew out of my short story, The Letter, in the YA anthology I’ll be Home for Christmas which was set on 1st December.

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It’s helpful in a thriller to have a ticking countdown so I picked an advent calendar leading up to Christmas. I’m not a natural planner so this also gave me a helpful structure to work with. And it turned out I really enjoyed working out what could be behind each window, and how to subtly reference that in the story.

My sister made me an advent calendar to match the one in the book:

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When I was little, I’d get an advent calendar every year showing a typical Christmas or snowy scene, usually plastered in glitter. I’ve continued the tradition with my kids and goddaughter. Before I worried about the amount of packaging and waste, we’d had the full range of advent calendars from Lego and Playmobil to stationery and expensive smellies. And, of course, chocolate. My youngest has been known to scoff the lot in the first few days – which for me was horrifying. You can’t open a window early! Maybe it’s superstition on my part and I put a little of the feeling that the advent calendar was something special, full of mystery, into the book.

Amber receives the advent calendar from her social worker Julie who’s kind and well-meaning, in the face of being constantly pushed away and insulted by Amber. She sees that Amber is vulnerable and seeks to alienate anyone who tries to help her or get close, so Julie, bless her, perseveres. Everyone needs a Julie in their life. Amber is not impressed with the gift. But deep down (and with Amber you have to go very deep!) it means something because when Amber leaves when she’s worried that her dad is going to find her, she packs the advent calendar.

As the novel grew, I thought more about why the advent calendar mattered to a girl like Amber. She isn’t counting down to the idealised Christmas of the TV adverts and glittery advent calendars. She joins up with Josh, also drifting about, and the pair of them don’t even know where they’ll be for Christmas. The calendar is a glimpse of a world they don’t really know at all.

Amber and Josh half-joke that it acts as a fortune teller and, although they don’t really believe it, when Amber is low, she looks to it for help. Maybe there’s also a link to the locked doors and windows she encounters in the past and the present. And I liked playing around with time and dates – we’re never truly sure of Amber’s past timeline and how much time elapsed in her different experiences. By the end of the novel, we see that Amber always needs to know the time and date. The calendar represents that for her. Finally (*mild spoiler alert*) we know that the biggest door – number 24 – is still left to open. What will it reveal of Amber’s future?

The advent calendar turned out to be a useful plot device because it represented gradually opened mystery windows. The whole story is a gradual reveal of what happened in the past and seeing where each of these calendar days is leading Amber now. We get a little piece each day. And I hope that’s satisfying. See what you think when you read The Rules

ffTracy 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 and still sends advent calendars.

You can follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyDarnton or Instagram tracydarnton

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We both want to say a huge thank you to Little Tiger and Charlie, for letting us be a part of this tour (and organising everything!), and also Tracy for giving us such a great insight in to Amber’s story. You can pick up a copy of The Rules right NOW – and we strongly advise you do!

Also, please check out the amazing content from the other bloggers on this tour. There are quite a few posts already up about The Rules and a few more to come, so make sure you’re following over the next few days!

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