Read like a writer: Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

1024 683 Writer and the Wolf Editorial
Title: Rules for Vanishing
Author: Kate Alice Marshall (she/her)
Published: Viking 2019
Agent: Lisa Rodgers at JABberwocky Literary Agency
Author’s other titles include: These Fleeting Shadows, Our Last Echoes, Brackenbeast
Genre: Supernatural thriller / horror
Audience: YA
Word count: 81,278
Main character: Sara (her age isn’t mentioned but I’d guess around 16)
POV & tense: Mostly Sara’s first-person present tense perspective but interspersed with interviews and found footage
Structure/format: The majority of the story is told through a regular, linear narrative in Sara’s voice but the frame story plays with the timeline
Comp titles: Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Tags: epistolary, found footage, multi-POV, violence, supernatural, family, friendship, LGBTQ+ representation, romance
Read this if you’re writing: an epistolary novel, a story with a non-linear structure, an unreliable narrator, a scary story
From the publisher:
Do you want to play the game? Once a year, a road appears in the woods at midnight and the ghost of Lucy Gallows beckons, inviting those who are brave enough to play her game. If you win, you escape with your life. But if you lose… It’s almost a year since Becca went missing. Everyone else has given up searching for her, but her sister, Sara, knows she disappeared while looking for Lucy Gallows. Determined to find her, Sara and her closest friends enter the woods. But something more sinister than ghosts lurks on the road, and not everyone will survive.

I really enjoyed Rules for Vanishing and it reminded me how much I love epistolary novels! Including additional content like newspaper clippings, video footage and police interviews can work really well in books for young readers: it breaks up the main narrative and increases the white space, meaning the story feels a little less dense and intimidating, plus it encourages readers to speed through the pages more quickly because each section is so short and easy to digest.

The story is told primarily through Sara’s ‘witness statement’ which reads as a linear first person, present tense narrative. She relates the events that took place in the woods when she and her friends attempted to find and rescue her sister from local ghost Lucy Gallows, but that narrative is framed by a present-day paranormal investigation trying to piece together what really happened that night. Sara’s statement is interspersed with audio transcripts, text message conversations, news articles and emails that fill the gaps in Sara’s own memory and reveal the truth about Lucy Gallows’ game. Sara is an often unreliable narrator and the reader discovers information she doesn’t have, making them active participants in the story and increasing the dramatic tension as events come to a head.

Questions for your notebook

On top of the standard questions to ask when analysing a novel, here are some specific things to look out for while reading this book. Warning: this list may contain spoilers so don’t read the questions until you’ve read the novel!

  • How does Marshall present Sara as an unreliable narrator and play with reader expectations?
  • What do the epistolary elements add to the story? Are they just a gimmick or do they help to drive the narrative or develop characterisation?
  • Is this a horror novel or a fantasy/thriller with horror elements? If you feel it’s horror, what moments in the text contribute to the tone and atmosphere that push the book into this category for you? If you don’t think it’s horror, why not?
  • Do you feel Marshall revealed information in the best order? Think about the linear timeline compared to the way the story is presented and how details are kept from the reader until just the right moment.
  • Who is the antagonist in this story? Is it Lucy Gallows, Dahut or the road itself?
The images in this blog are from the gorgeous Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Colouring Book by Johanna Basford, coloured in by my fair hand. 

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Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes is a developmental editor working with middle grade and YA authors. She specialises in speculative and genre fiction, particularly horror, fantasy, mystery, sci-fi and anything with a dash of magic or macabre. She is a member of the SfEP, EFA, ACES, British Fantasy Society, Horror Writers Association and SCBWI. She has an MA in Novel Writing and an MA in Children's Literature.

All stories by: Siobhan O'Brien Holmes