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CJ Tudor is the novelist famously endorsed by Stephen King, and we caught up with her as she launches her new book, The Burning Girls. She speaks to Gillian Harvey in this interview about THAT tweet, and where she finds the inspiration for her novels.
Where were you when you found out about ‘that’ Stephen King Tweet?
I was on my way to London to an event. I’d just got on the train and opened up my laptop, supposedly to work but of course I opened up social media straightaway. And it happened to be the first Tweet I saw.
I remember seeing it and started reading it, and then thought “oh my God – he’s talking about my book!” I wanted to scream in the carriage!
I got on the phone straightaway to my partner Neil and asked him to get online and read it. It was just bonkers. I’m such a lifelong fan of Stephen King so it was the most amazing thing. I still get the shivers when I think about it.
Why do you choose to write under your initials rather than your name?
People often ask me that – thinking I chose my initials so that people wouldn’t necessarily know if I was a woman or a man. But the real reason is simply when I submitted my first book to my agent, I decided to use initials on the manuscript.
Caroline Tudor sounded a bit flowery for a thriller writer – it didn’t seem right when I typed it next to the title. And then of course everyone calls me Caz, but Caz Tudor didn’t seem like a very ‘authorly’ name. So I used my initials.
The publishers may have liked that people wouldn’t initially know whether I was a male or a female writer. But when I chose it, it was just because it sounded better than the alternatives.
Where do you get your ideas?
They usually stem from a single moment or image – it can be a word, something I see, something that happens. I think most writers start with that and then start to think ‘what would happen if…?’
The idea for The Chalk Man came about when someone gave my daughter some chalk to play with. We went out and started drawing on the driveway and she wanted to draw stick-men. When I opened the door later to put the dog out and saw them in the darkness they looked really sinister. That got me thinking.
The Taking of Annie Thorne was inspired by the area I used to live in. I used to walk the dog over what used to be an old mine site, and it was quite a desolate setting. I started to think about the fact there were lots of abandoned tunnels underneath where I was walking, and the idea stemmed from there.
For The Other People, we were following a car home one night on a dark road, and I started to think what would happen if a face appeared in the back of this car we were following.
The Burning Girls was inspired by the area we moved to a couple of years ago. We were driving to what is now our house and there’s a chapel on the outskirts of the village – it looked old and creepy. I thought: I have to put that in a book.
Do you ever scare yourself when writing?
Most of the time I can dip in and out of it quite easily. I can be sitting and writing something quite creepy with my little girl sitting next to me. Mind you, I have to be careful now that she can read. Before, I wouldn’t have to cover my screen, but now I have to make sure she doesn’t read over my shoulder.
You began writing in earnest in your 30s – what got you started?
I’d always dabbled. I’d written a lot of things that were unfinished. I’d have an idea and write it and then I’d drift away and think of another idea. And that idea would always seem better.
By the time I got to my 30s I thought to myself if I want to become a writer one day I really need to get on with it. So I finally finished something. It wasn’t particularly good – but I finished it, and I knew then that I could get to the end of a book. And the next time the challenge was to finish something good.
For a lot of people it takes a long time to get an agent. For me, I managed to get agent after my second attempt at a book, but that didn’t work out because I think in hindsight they weren’t the right agent for me. They represented a lot of straightforward, procedural crime writers and that wasn’t really what I wanted to write.
I found out if you’re pulling in different directions with your agent you end up with a book that doesn’t work because neither of you are really happy with what you’re doing. To write your best work, you have to be able to enjoy the process.
Eventually that agent told me that what I wanted to write – a hybrid crime/thriller – really wasn’t publishable. I left the agent and at the time I wasn’t sure if it was the stupidest thing I’d done because they were a good agent and it’s hard enough to get one!
It took me quite a long time to regroup and find another agent. I kept writing but I felt a bit burned by the experience. Fortunately, by the time I wrote The Chalk Man the market had changed. Timing can be a big thing in publishing.
You’ve had many different jobs in the past – which did you enjoy most?
I used to run a dog walking business; it was hard work and it didn’t pay a lot of money. But I love dogs and I love walking. I had lovely clients. I’ve always enjoyed working for myself.
I’ve also worked in radio, copywriting, and even did a bit of television presenting. Presenting was an amazing experience, but something that I fell into, not something I’d always wanted to do.
Do you do a lot of research for your books?
I think for any book you need to do some kind of research. Even if it’s just looking into a job or a setting. In The Other People some of the action is set on a motorway service station and I did a lot of research on distances – was it possible to get from one location to another within a set amount of time?
That said, some people love research. I’m not that person. I write and then go back to make sure things are accurate!
Buy The Burning Girls on Amazon here