Kathryn Foxfield on making characters tick in her thriller, Tag, You’re Dead

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When teen reality star Anton Frazer unveils his latest stunt – a live-streamed, citywide game of Tag in which the prize is to be one of his live-in acolytes – his fans go wild. The whole world is watching. The contestants are kitted out with body cams, GPS trackers and pressure sensors that, if activated by a competitor, will send them out of the running. They venture into night-time London to hunt each other down. Four contestants in particular have alternative motives for being there, secret reasons to want to win despite the risk: money, revenge, obsession, and fame.

We chatted with Kathryn Foxfield on her highly entertaining thriller, Tag, You’re Dead.

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Tag, You’re Dead has multiple POVs. Which is the hardest to write? And which POV do you enjoy writing the most?

I’ve never written a book from three POVs before and it was keeping track of where Grayson, Charlotte and Erin were at any time that I found most challenging! Grayson was the hardest of the three characters to get a handle on – he’s quite a complex, conflicted boy. Charlotte was so much fun to write with her clueless naivety and lack of self-awareness. I particularly liked the scene where, thanks to her single-minded determination to win at any cost, she bit another character.

Any tips for aspiring writers on how to keep the voices in a story distinct? For example, do you write different characters’ POV in different settings?

It’s really important to have a good grasp on who your characters are and why they are there, otherwise they can end up blurring into one. My three characters started out as cliches – the beautiful mean girl, the desperate fan and the quirky nice guy. This was to make sure that they were as distinct as possible (I then worked on humanising them and subverting the cliches as I wrote). I also made sure I gave them different (and conflicting) reasons for taking part in the game of tag and knew in advance how they were going to change during the course of the book. Their voices came naturally once I knew what made them tick. I discovery write a lot when it comes to the plot, but the characters themselves needed some planning.

Many of the characters are connected together in different ways. Did you start writing Tag, You’re Dead with all the connections planned already?

No, my writing process for this book was a big mess. I tend to have a rough idea of a plot before I start writing, but then I immediately scrap it and it’s trial and error to find something that works for me! I knew the characters would all be linked via a murder that happened before the game started, but everything else was teased out during the multiple rounds of edits. It’s the part of writing I like the most – those lightbulbs moments when you realise you can join the dots and everything fits together. Of course, it is also a nightmare when it comes to big revisions because you pull one thread and the whole thing unravels…

How well do you think you would do in a game of Tag in London? Or would you rather be the one planning the game?

I find being chased incredibly stressful and terrifying, even if it’s just playing chase with my toddler. I’m also scared of pretty much everything, so I would probably die of fear if I had to take part in a game of tag like the one in my book. I’m definitely more of a being the scenes puppet master.

Any fun stories from when you were researching on murder?

The other day, I fell down an internet (stuffed) rabbit hole and spent most of a day reading about Victorian taxidermy. Hats with stuffed birds perched on the top or, for the more daring, half a cat or a squirrel. Or Walter Potter, who posed these little scenes of stuffed kittens playing crochet, and squirrels smoking and playing cards. Or the Horniman Museum walrus, who was stuffed by someone who had never seen the animal alive and kept on stuffing until all the folds in its wrinkled skin were pulled taut. It looks ready to pop.

You mentioned on Twitter that you are going to prepare some cool two truths one lie for future purposes. Can you honour us with a round?

1) I once built a flying machine modelled on a giant flying squirrel. It didn’t fly.

2) I came second in an oyster eating contest but was disqualified for being sick.

3) I got my head trapped in a London underground ticket barrier.

Great that you will be at YALC this year! What are you most looking forward to?

Meeting the other authors! I’ve not had many opportunities for real life encounters with writers (thanks Covid). I am going to talk to everyone to make up for lost time.

Grab a copy of Tag, You’re Dead here.

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