Welcome to “The Third Degree.” This month, C.J. Tudor – author of “The Chalk Man” – has agreed to be the next victim to take the hot seat for a grueling interrogation about her published work and writing techniques. The chair is ready, the beverages are chilled and the spotlight is turned on, so let the inquisition commence. Enjoy!
Hello C.J., thanks for agreeing to be subjected to The Third Degree.
Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Let’s see – I’m 46, I live in Nottingham with my partner, little girl and Labrador pup. I’ve had many, many, many jobs over the years – waitress, copywriter, local newspaper reporter, radio scriptwriter, voiceover, dog-walker. I also did some TV presenting for a short while in my twenties during which time I managed to offend Tim Robbins and Robert Downey Jr. showed me his chest!
Describe “The Chalk Man” to someone new to your work.
“The Chalk Man” is a dark, creepy coming-of-age murder mystery. It’s set in 2016 and 1986. That’s when we first meet twelve-year-old Eddie and his friends. They invent a game, drawing chalk figures on the ground to pass secret messages between their gang. But the game turns sinister when the figures start to appear on their own and lead the friends to the body of a girl in the woods. Thirty years later, Ed thinks the past is behind him. Then, one day he receives a letter containing just two things – a drawing of a stick figure and a piece of chalk . . .
How long did it take you to write?
Around six months for the first draft but I spent ten years working up to it!
What were some of your influences?
Well, Stephen King, obviously. I’ve been a constant reader since I was twelve. But I’m also a big fan of Harlan Coben and Michael Marshall Smith. In fact, I loved “Only Forward” (MMS’s first novel) so much I used to have a framed quote from it in my flat [apartment]. I also loved all those eighties films like “The Goonies,” “The Lost Boys,” “Poltergeist,” and “ET.” Kids getting caught up in weird, spooky stuff!
Who or what was the inspiration for Fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Hoppo and the other characters?
I was a pre-teen in the eighties, so I suppose the inspiration was me and my friends really. Not in terms of individual characters but the stuff we’d get up to. We were all girls but real tomboys. We’d do the same stuff as Eddie and his gang – ride our bikes around the small suburb where we lived, hang out down the shops or the playground, build dens in the woods. Although, the worst thing we ever found in the woods was a stash of porn mags!
What did you enjoy most about writing “The Chalk Man,” and what did you find most difficult?
I loved writing all the 80’s parts – reliving my own childhood – and all the really creepy bits. I think the most difficult part was making sure that all the transitions between chapters (as they alternate between 1986 and 2016) worked smoothly.
Do you have a favorite line or passage from your work, and would you share it?
“We’re always giving ourselves time and then one day, it just runs out.”
How did it feel to see comments like “If you like my stuff, you’ll like this” from Stephen King and “Wonderfully creepy – like a cold blade on the back of your neck” from Lee Child?
Proper dream come true stuff. Stephen King has been my hero for over 35 years. His books are part of my life. They inspired me to write. For him to read my debut novel and actually recommend it meant the world. I still get this huge, crazy grin on my face whenever I think about it. And, of course, Lee Child is a legend. I feel really honored. Less than two years ago, I was walking dogs for a living. Now Stephen King and Lee Child have read my book!
Are there any other reviews, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
I have had some wonderful, wonderful reviews – ones that have actually made me cry! Unfortunately, it’s often the negative ones that imprint on your mind. Human nature. I accept that not everyone is going to love my writing. But I discovered that one individual on Goodreads had requested the book quite simply to ‘hate review’ it. Their words. I found that depressing, not just for me personally, but in general. Why go into a book with such a negative agenda? That has nothing to do with a love of reading. On the other hand, Stephen King likes it, so screw them!!
Any advice for someone new to writing or someone who is struggling with their writing?
The old adage. Keep at it. It took me over ten years to get published. I had a lot of rejections. But every small positive, every tiny bit of feedback pushed me on. I was told several times that the stuff I loved to write was not what publishers were looking for. But things change. So, stick to your guns. Give it your best shot. But also, know when to let something go. That can be just as tough as persevering. Some books are not meant to be or, at least, not right now. Always have another idea – it might just be the one.
What’s next? What are you currently working on?
The introduction to a special, limited edition of “The Chalk Man.” It will be out in the US next year and will contain some exclusive extra content! I’m also about halfway through Book Three.
Book Two – “The Taking of Annie Thorne” – is finished and proofs will be going out this month, which is bloody terrifying. I’ve just got over the fear of whether people will like “The Chalk Man” and now I’ve got to ride that rollercoaster all over again!
Who are your favorite authors?
As above: Stephen King, Harlan Coben, Michael Marshall Smith. Those are my ‘go to’ authors. But I’m discovering brilliant new writers all the time like Sarah Pinborough, Amy Lloyd, Julia Heaberlin, Stu Turton, Will Dean, Sarah J. Harris and many more that my tiny brain cannot summon up right now!
What does a typical writing day look like?
Well, I’m very fortunate to be able to write full time now, so most days I will take my little girl to school, walk the dog and go and sit in a coffee shop for a few hours. Then, I’ll go back home, walk the dog again, pick up my daughter from school and chaos descends until she eventually goes to bed. I might squeeze in a bit more writing in the evening if I’m lucky! I aim for around two-to-four hours a day. But I’m a fast writer!
Your writing process – Do you outline? Are you a plotter or a ‘pantser’?
Pantser all the way. If I tried to plan, I’d be bored before I started. I enjoy the journey, not knowing quite where I’m going, discovering unexpected diversions along the way. It keeps it interesting for me. Often, I have a vague idea of the ending but not always!
First drafts – handwritten, dictated, or is it a direct path from brain to keyboard?
Brain to keyboard. My brain works far too fast and my creaky old joints are far too slow for me to hand write. I like the transfer of words to be more instant. My laptop sometimes struggles to keep up when I’m on a roll.
Do you have any favorite apps or software you use when writing? Do you use Word or Scrivener? Any tools you feel are must-haves for writers?
I’m not very tech savvy. Word for me all the way. I have no idea what Scrivener does. I don’t think apps and special software are necessary. All you need is something to get the words down onto, whether that’s a laptop, writing pad or post-its!
What’s your editing process?
I love editing. I spend far more time on editing than getting the words down. The first part is the headrush. The editing process is the intricate surgical part. Both are fun in their own way and I enjoy the contrast.
Finally, what’s the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
Well, I’m a mum to a five-year-old and we’ve just got a new puppy so I suppose the question I would really, really, really like to be asked is: ‘Would you like a long lie in?’ YES! Dear God, YES!
Thanks for your time, C.J. I appreciate you answering my questions. I’m, looking forward to reading “The Taking of Annie Thorne” when it’s published.
C. J. Tudor was born in Salisbury and grew up in Nottingham, where she still lives with her partner and young daughter. Her love of writing, especially the dark and macabre, started young. When her peers were reading Judy Blume, she was devouring Stephen King and James Herbert. Over the years she has had a variety of jobs, including trainee reporter, waitress, radio scriptwriter, shop assistant, voiceover artist, television presenter, copywriter and now author.