Better Reading sat down with C.J. Tudor, author phenomenally popular thriller, The Chalk Man. We know many of you in our reading community loved this book, so thought we should try and find out where C.J. got their inspiration for such a creepy and unsettling novel!
Congratulations on the publication of The Chalk Man, could you tell us a bit about it?
The Chalk Man is a dark, creepy coming-of-age murder mystery.
It’s set in 2016 and 1986 – that’s when we meet twelve-year-old Eddie and his friends. They invent a game: drawing chalk figures on the ground to pass secret messages. But the game turns sinister when the figures start to appear on their own and lead them to the body of a girl.
Thirty years later, Ed thinks the past is behind him Then he receives a letter containing just two things – a drawing of a stick figure and a piece of chalk . . .
What attracts you to stories about crime and murder and mystery, and how did you decide that you wanted to write suspense novels?
I’ve always been attracted to dark stories. When I was young I loved ghost stories. Then I moved on to Agatha Christie and after that, Stephen King.
I suppose I like scaring myself – and I also like puzzles and mysteries! I never wanted to write a straight, crime procedural book though. I prefer something with a mix of elements. Something a little stranger!
There are certainly elements of Stephen King’s ‘small-town horror’ that ring true in The Chalk Man – has he influenced you as a writer?
Definitely. I read my first Stephen King book when I was about 12 or 13, maybe younger! I love his mix of the very ordinary and the very scary. But, at the heart of all King’s books are the people, the characters. Horror isn’t scary unless you care about the people it’s happening to.
In a way, The Chalk Man is a homage, not just to Stephen King, but to all the things I loved as a pre-teen in the 80’s – Spielberg, The Goonies etc. But it’s twists and turns are grounded in reality. In the end, it’s more about human frailties than a monster in the woods!
Could you tell us some other writers who have inspired you?
Well, when I was young – Agatha Christie. I love a writer called Michael Marshall (The Straw Men trilogy) and also Harlan Coben – the master of the twist and twist again!
How did you end up inventing ‘the chalk man’ as a sinister presence throughout the book? There are moments in which he feels supernatural, and at times very human. Were you intentionally trying to create a character that was enigmatic, hidden, and seemingly omnipotent?
I like the idea that ‘the chalk man’ works on many levels throughout the book. From the nickname given to the new teacher at the school to whoever may be responsible for the chalk drawings and even the drawings themselves. The book hints at something supernatural but, in a way, readers can take what they want from it.
Many writers recall their debut book as their favourite. Sometimes they’ve brooded on the idea for many years before ever putting the words on the page. What’s your experience with The Chalk Man?
The complete opposite, actually! The idea for The Chalk Man just popped up out of the blue.
Later that night, I opened the back door and was confronted by these weird chalk drawings everywhere. In the darkness, they looked incredibly sinister. I called out to my partner: ‘These chalk men look really creepy in the dark. . .’
I started writing the book the next day and had the first draft done in about 6 months. I’m not someone who plots and plans for ages. Once I get an idea I just get on with it. Life’s too short – and too full of rejection – to spend years on one book!!
Are you working on the next book?
Book 2 is finished and I’m working on Book 3.
I can’t say much about Book 3 yet but Book 2 is another dark thriller set in a former mining village in the north of England:
When Joe Thorne was fifteen, his little sister, Annie, disappeared. And then she came back.
Twenty-five years later, an eleven-year-old boy is bludgeoned to death by his own mother in the same village.
Joe returns, to work as a teacher at the failing school, but also to find answers. However, coming back to the place where he grew up means facing the people he grew up with, the things they did . . . and what they found!
I think it’s more twisty and definitely more creepy than The Chalk Man. I have turned the creepy up to eleven!!
And finally, pineapple on pizza: yes or no?
Not by choice but I wouldn’t pick it off either – so, I guess that’s a no!