Matthew Turbeville: I just read your novel The Chalk Man for the first time and it was incredible. My first question is this: Where did you get your inspiration for your book, how did you come up with such an intricate plot and is the final product what initially had in mind?
C.J. Tudor: The inspiration came from a box of coloured chalks that a friend bought for my daughter’s second birthday. We spent the afternoon drawing stick figures all over the driveway. Then we went inside and forgot about them. Later that night, I opened the back door and I was confronted by all these weird chalk drawings. In the darkness, they suddenly 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! The plot developed organically. That’s how I write. I’m not a planner. And yes, the end result is pretty much exactly what I had in mind, fortunately!
MT: On a similar note, the ending is incredible. Did you know the ending before you started the book, or at least in the beginnings of writing the book?
CJT: I knew the ending about halfway through the book. As I said, I’m not a planner. I just start writing and see where I go. But at about 150 pages, I knew what the ending needed to be, so I wrote it there and then!
MT: What books inspired your writing? The Chalk Manworks on several layers, sometimes as a mystery and sometimes as a horror novel. Would you mind listing some of your favorite crime and horror novels, as well as which books specifically helped inspire you to write The Chalk Man?
CJT: Well I’m a huge King fan, obviously. There are a few nods to Stephen King novels in The Chalk Man. I also love Michael Marshall – Spares is a one of my all-time favourites. I’ve also read pretty much every Harlan Coben novel.
MT: How many novels did you write before you landed and agent and then a publishing deal? Was The Chalk Mana quick entrance to the literary world or were there years of hard work involved?
CJT: Over a decade. So, not a quick entrance. More like loitering around for years. I wrote three novels prior to The Chalk Man and many other unfinished ones.
MT: What was your favorite part about writing this book and what were your least favorite parts about writing a book like this?
CJT: I loved reliving my 80’s childhood and also all the very creepy parts. My least favourite bit was waking at 3am convinced I would never make the plot hang together!
MT: What is your writing process like? When do you start in the day, how many hours do you write in a day or, perhaps, words? Are there days when you don’t write at all?
CJT: When I wrote The Chalk Man I was working as a dog walker, traipsing through muddy fields for up to six hours a day. And when I wasn’t doing that I was looking after my little girl. Time was limited, so I fitted the writing in whenever I could.
Now, I’m very lucky and I can write full time. I usually sit down at my desk after I’ve taken my little girl to school. I’ll write from around 9am-1pm and sometimes again in the evening. I don’t do word counts. Some days are just more productive than others. I write almost every day but I don’t beat myself up if life gets in the way.
MT: Would you ever write in another genre? Toni Morrison said write the book you’ve always wanted to read. Is that The Chalk Manor is there another book up your sleeve, or sometime in the future, that will be the “book you’ve always wanted to read”?
CJT: I can’t see myself ever writing romance! I’ve always written what I love to read. That means, dark, twisty and creepy. Book 2 is out next year. I’m editing Book 3 and have plans for 4 and 5. They are all books I would pick up from a book shop. I just hope others do too!
MT: I’ve been told to never be judgmental of the characters in my novel. Were you ever judgmental of the characters in your book? Were and are there any characters you frown upon, and characters you truly love?
CJT: I try not to be judgmental either. There was only one character I really didn’t like. But even then, I think you have to understand the character’s motivations. I actually prefer writing flawed characters. They’re always more interesting. I have a soft spot for Ed.
MT: How do you successfully combine two genres—mystery/crime and horror? Which do you feel is the most important genre in this book?
CJT: I think the mystery is the most important part. That’s what keeps people reading, keeps them guessing. But I love horror. I love chills. I think the two go hand in hand. All thrillers have to have a scary element and the best horror and ghost stories have a mystery at their heart.
MT: Would you ever write a sequel to The Chalk Man? Are there any characters that still linger with you, and if so, do they have stories you feel need to be told?
CJT: No. I wouldn’t write a sequel. But I do have plans to bring one character back in Book 4.
MT: When writing a novel with two parallel time lines, what did you do to ensure that book would be successfully executed and for you to keep your mind intact?
CJT: I wrote all of the 1986 sections first. Then I threaded in the 2016 sections. That way I knew what had formed my characters as children and it made it easier to write them as adults. The hardest part of writing in two timelines is not losing your readers and not making one timeline more interesting than the other.
MT: How did it feel to receive such high place for you book? Were there any reviews that got you down? How do you respond to both fans and critics?
CJT: Praise and glowing reviews are amazing, obviously. For someone who has had a lot of rejection and taken the long road it means a lot. Of coursenegative reviews hurt. But you have to respect all opinions – the good, the bad and the ugly!
MT: I know of many authors who find themselves or their personalities or their histories bleeding into their work. Did you ever have a chalk club? Did any parts of you bleed into the characters or their histories?
CJT: Well, the gang of friends in the book is very much based upon myself and my friends as pre-teens in the 80s. Not so much in terms of our individual characters but in terms of the stuff we did and liked. Eddie’s dark humour is mine. But I don’t project myself onto my characters. They are their own people!
MT: What lesson or idea would you want readers to take away from the book? What would you want them to understand not just about the characters and story, but concerning the way you present the world around them?
CJT: Every action has a consequence. Be kind. Never assume.
MT: Are you the type of author who listens to music while writing your books? If so, what sort of music inspires you to keep writing?
CJT: I can’t listen to music while writing as I find it too distracting. But I do find music inspires me. I’m a bit of a rock chick. I love Frank Turner, The Foo Fighters, The Killers plus I have a bit of a weakness for My Chemical Romance (even thought I am not 15)!!
MT: Do you have another book in mind or that you’re writing, and if not, will you be writing another book sometimes in the future? For fans of The Chalk Man, what books would you recommend readers who just can’t get enough?
CJT: Book 2 – The Taking of Annie Thorne - is out next year. I’m editing Book 3 which will, hopefully be out in 2020. I have Book 4 planned out and an idea I’m excited about for Book 5.
So, basically don’t read anything else - just wait for my books every year!
Recently I’ve enjoyed The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stu Turton, The Bone Collector by Luca Vesta, The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd, The Anomaly by Michael Rutger and The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J Harris (plus many more that have probably just slipped my mind!) Also, books out next year that I recommend: My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing and The Last by Hannah Jameson.
MT: CJ, I want to thank you so much for allowing me to interview you. I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to answer these questions and hope it will only encourage other people to read The Chalk Manas well. Please leave us with any comments, suggestions, thoughts, and so on.
CJT: Crumbs! Well, one thing I think it’s very important to get across is that anyone with talent and imagination can be an author. You don’t need to be educated at a certain school, you don’t need a degree, you don’t need to work in the industry or have contacts.
I left school at 16, grew up in the Midlands and was walking dogs for £10 an hour when I wrote The Chalk Man. If I can do it, anyone can.