Earlier this month, I was exceptionally lucky to have had the chance to read The Chalk Man, a mystery thriller that everyone is keen to get their mitts on. It went firmly onto my list on the best books I’ve read this year, most definitely in the top 5 and I’ve been raving about it ever since. My mum read my copy too and it’s been one of our most talked about books for a very, very long time. We have many a discussion about the characters, what was going on and the shocking ending. And I think that marks an incredible book; the ability to have these long, lengthy discussions. Today, I’m buzzing to share with you an interview I did with the author, C.J Tudor, where we talk about all things The Chalk Man, writing advice and where the inspiration for this sinister tale came from. Enjoy!
1. Thank you for coming to chat to me on my blog today. First of all, give us a quick 1 or 2 sentence summery of what The Chalk Man is all about.
A: 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 to the body of a girl. Thirty years later, Ed thinks the past is behind him. Then he receives a letter containing a drawing of a stick figure and a piece of chalk…
2. As you know, I’ve read the book and absolutely loved it. But where did you get the inspiration for this from?
A: A friend gave my little girl a tub of coloured chalks for her 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 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…’
3. Obviously without naming names, were any of your characters based on or certain traits of theirs based on anyone you know in real life
A: No. All the characters are entirely out of my own weird brain. I suppose the group of friends and the things they do is loosely based upon the stuff my friends and I would do when I was a pre-teen (well, some of it!). Riding around on our bikes, meeting up and building dens in the woods. The town itself is based upon the small Wiltshire town where I was born.
4. I mention in my review how much I like the main character, Ed, despite that fact he’s not your typically loved character. Was it your intention to create a main character that loveable?
A: Not really. In fact, in many ways Ed is the opposite of a likeable character. He doesn’t make good decisions. He’s more than a little weird. He’s not heroic or handsome or sexy. But then, in real life, people aren’t. It’s often people’s flaws that make them interesting and attractive. If someone was amazingly nice, clever and good-looking they’d be bloody unbearable or totally boring wouldn’t they?!
5. The boys in the book played their chalk game as kids, can you remember what you used to play – alone or with friends – when you were a kid?
A: We would pretend to be characters out of Stars Wars and the A Team. We’d build dens in the wood and make up imaginary monsters and villains. There used to be this building, behind the woods, either half-built or half-demolished (we were never sure) and we’d sneak in and explore it, secretly hoping to find something scary – which was probably stupidly dangerous, thinking back!
6. What was a typical day for you like when writing The Chalk Man? Did you have a solid writing time or a certain place you would write? Or stick to a certain word count each day?
A: I don’t believe in word counts. I do not plot or plan. If I knew exactly where the story was going I’d get really bored! I think a book should be a journey, for the author as well. I was writing the book while running a dog-walking business and looking after my little girl. I crammed it in between dog walks, when my daughter was at pre-school and in the evenings. Like most people, the writing had to fit around my family and the stuff that paid the bills. My partner has spent so many evenings staring at the back of a laptop, I’m surprised he can remember what I look like!
7. What advice would you give to aspiring authors out there?
A: Keep at it. Don’t get disillusioned by rejections. We all have them. For most writers, it is a long slog, punctuated by knockbacks and disappointment. But that’s okay. Because failure means you don’t get complacent. You get better. Always remember why you started – because you love writing. Do not try to write what you think people want – write what you love, even if it seems like no one wants it, because trends change. You do not need contacts or expensive courses. The slush pile works. You don’t need a degree. I left school at sixteen. Everything I learnt about writing I learnt through reading. Also, it is never too late. I’m a debut author at forty-five. It took me over ten years. You’ve got time. Oh, and always have another idea. That way, if your first book gets rejected, you’ve got something else to work on. And it might just be the one!
8. The book covers some sensitive topics like dementia, abortion, bullying etc. Were these difficult parts to write in that you used the right language and made sure what you were saying came across correctly?
A: Much of the book is seen through Eddie’s eyes as a twelve-year-old, so it’s very much his words and language. I felt it was important not to shy away from some things – such as the bullying scenes. Kids can be brilliant, but they can also be incredibly cruel and sadistic. Most of us will remember one bully at school who scared the crap out of us. I also wanted to get across that there are no right answers in life. We shouldn’t judge others too harshly. We’re all capable of good and bad.
9. I know I already asked you this on Twitter and you said you didn’t know but I’m giving you some time to think about it now: if a movie was made of The Chalk Man who would be your dream cast?
A: Aaargh! It’s so difficult because I really like readers to create their own image of the characters. Sometimes, I think it spoils it if you give people too definite an idea, or compare a character to someone well known. You tell me – who would you cast? (I know, complete cop out!).
I like to picture an actor because it helps the story come to life in my head because I’m picturing it as a “movie”. I imagined Edward Norton as older Ed! Isla Fisher as Nicky and Krysten Ritter as Chloe!
10. And finally, what’s next? You’ve had a storming debut, is the next one going to be better? Can you tell us anything about it?
A: Yes, it’s set in a former mining village in Nottinghamshire. When Joe Thorne was fifteen, his little sister, Annie, disappeared. And then she came back.
Twenty-five years later, a ten-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 and the things they did… I think it’s more twisty and definitely more creepy than The Chalk Man. I have turned the creepy up to eleven. You have been warned!!