Author Spotlight Interview: C. J. Tudor
Hidden Gems regularly tries to sit down with some of the most exciting authors in print today, and although we (barely) missed Halloween – we still have a super-spooky writer to chat with today. C. J. Tudor is the author of The Chalk Man – a horror story so chilling that Stephen King himself recommended it. She kindly spared us some time to talk about her writing journey, inspirations, and what she’s working on next.
Those who know author C.J. Tudor in real life call her ‘Caz’ – and this British-born writer had a plethora of careers before her lifetime of writing finally led to the publication of The Chalk Man in January of this year. The Chalk Man is a breathtaking horror debut and you don’t need to take our word for that (although we did recommend it back in August). The sovereign of modern horror himself, the inimitable Stephen King, even described it as “something good” and told fans “if you like my stuff, you’ll like this.”
We were super-excited to be able to reach out to Caz and ask her a few questions – and her answers demonstrate the same wit and turn-of-phrase that have made her book so popular.
HG: Okay, so I know that you’ve been writing your whole life but The Chalk Man is your first published book. What was the journey that led you to getting this book published?
CJT: It was a long journey! Over ten years of failure, rejection and getting close – ‘but no cigar.’ I finished a couple of not-very-good books, half-finished many more. I managed to get an agent in my thirties, but that didn’t work out. They wanted me to write straight crime and I couldn’t contain my inner Stephen King. Eventually, I left them – which was either the bravest or stupidest thing I’ve ever done. Fortunately, it worked out in the end!
HG: I’ve heard you mention that you were encouraged to write by your teacher. I had a similar experience and I think that’s how I ended up as a writer. How important do YOU think that encouragement was, and how would you recommend encouraging young writers?
CJT: Mr Webster, my English teacher, was a huge encouragement. He once wrote on a piece of my work: ‘If you do not become Prime Minister or a best-selling author, I will be very disappointed’. I never forgot that. And it’s only taken me thirty years!
However, I didn’t have a great time at school. Despite good grades, I left at sixteen. One thing I always try to get across to young writers is that anyone, from any background, with talent, imagination and perseverance, can become an author.
I never did a degree or any type of writing course. Everything I learnt about writing, I learnt from reading. I was working as a dog walker when I wrote The Chalk Man. If a dog walker from Nottingham can become a bestselling author, anyone can.
HG: You mention that Stephen King is one of your favorite writers and The Chalk Man is definitely in the King mold – it’s beautifully written, and creepy, and has a kind of ‘Stand by Me‘ and ‘It‘ vibe. Do you think that’s a fair comment? And which other writers have inspired you?
CJT: It’s a huge compliment. Thank you! I grew up reading Stephen King. He’s my hero. I’ve always loved horror, but I’ve always loved a good whodunnit too. So, I enjoy mixing the genres. Other favourite authors are Michael Marshall and Harlen Coben.
HG: The remake of It was set in the 1980s and I think the writing of your book considerably pre-dates the remade movie, but I loved the 80s touches. What is it about the 80s that resonates so strongly with people? Or is it just how our generation has reached that certain age?
CJT: Yes, I wrote The Chalk Man in 2015, before the new It movie or Stranger Things.
I think age has something to do with it. People in their forties were teens in the 80s and your teenage years are always a very vivid time. The 80s was also a golden age for horror and movies about kids getting caught up in scary adventures – The Goonies, Stand by Me, The Lost Boys etc. – and I had always wanted to write something in that vein.
Plus, it was the last decade before the technology boom. There were no mobiles or iPads. So perhaps we feel a certain nostalgia for that too.
HG: The Chalk Man is UBER creepy. What inspired that particular tale?
CJT: A friend bought my little girl a tub of coloured chalks for her second birthday. We went outside and started drawing on the driveway with them. My little girl wanted to draw stick men so, we covered the driveway in stick figures. Then we went inside and I forgot about them.
Later that night, I opened the back door to let the dog out and I was confronted by all these weird chalk drawings everywhere. In the dark, they suddenly looked incredibly sinister. I called out to my partner: ‘These chalk men look really creepy in the dark!’ That was it. Lightbulb moment. I started writing the book the next day.
HG: What scares YOU?
CJT: Everything! Heights, flying, the dark, zombies! I think to write effective horror/thrillers you need to have a healthy amount of fear. You need to be able to see the darker side of any situation. Ask a thriller writer, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ and they’ll be able to tell you, in chilling detail!
HG: The Chalk Man is traditionally-published. How was that as a process and why did you choose to go the ‘traditional’ route instead of self-publishing?
CJT: The process of traditional publishing takes time. That’s the first thing I learnt. From getting my book deal to seeing my book on the shelves took around 14 months. The other thing I learnt is that there are always more edits. But that’s a good thing.
However polished you think your book is, it can always be improved by a professional editor. And that’s before you get to the copy-editor (who will tell you that you have used the word ‘eventually’ twenty-eight times) and the proof reader (who will point out that the cat changes sex halfway through the book)!
That’s why I never self-published. I didn’t want to do it badly. To do it well, you need to pay an editor, proof reader, cover designer and be able to spend a lot of time on promotion. I didn’t have the time or money.
Plus, signing with a traditional publisher is still the only way to get your book into book shops which, ultimately, is every writer’s dream.
HG: Are you working on another book? Can you tell us anything about it?
CJT: Book 2 – The Taking of Annie Thorne – is out in February next year. [HG Note – US version is titled “The Hiding Place”]
It’s set in a small mining village in the north of England. Joe Thorne grew up in the village. When he was fifteen, his little sister, Annie, disappeared. At the time, Joe thought it was the worst thing that could ever happen.
And then Annie came back.
Twenty-five years later, a brutal murder and mysterious message bring Joe back to the village of Arnhill. Not just to find answers. Joe has bad debts – and bad people – he needs to escape.
But coming back to the place he grew up, means facing the people he grew up with. The ones who were there the night Annie disappeared. The only ones who know what really lies beneath the abandoned mine. And some of them would do anything to stop the truth coming out.
Joe is about to discover that the deeper you dig, the darker the secrets. And sometimes, you should never come back.